Hundreds of thousands of people, especially women, across Bihar took a dip in the holy waters of Ganga and Kosi rivers offering prayers to the Sun God to mark the beginning Sunday of a four-day Hindu festival Chhath Puja.
The banks of the Ganga, Punpun, Gandak and Kosi rivers were thronged early on Sunday morning by devotees, especially married women, for bathing before preparing vegetarian food on handmade earthen chulhas (stoves). All the while, they sang traditional songs dedicated to the Sun God.
Kamla Singh, clad in a new cotton sari, said: "We first took a bath to clean ourselves before preparing food, popularly known as 'Nahai-khai'. We cooked special rice and gourd vegetable without onion and garlic on an earthen stove using wood as fuel."
Singh is a 'varti' who performs the puja with old-age rituals and strict discipline and enjoys a high-level of respect from her family and others.
Another varti Sanehlata Devi said the ritual of bathing followed by preparation of food is a symbol of worship in the next phase of the festival.
The devotees will Monday observe 'kharna' when sweet dishes are prepared before the main offerings - "argya" - to the Sun God on the banks of rivers Tuesday.
During the course of the festival, married women observe a fast of 36 hours and devotees traditionally offer wheat, milk, sugar cane, bananas and coconuts to the Sun.
Chhath is celebrated by Hindus six days after Diwali. It is a festival associated with faith, purity and devotion to the Sun God.
Colourful idols of the Sun God riding his chariot with seven horses, a new attraction this year, were also sold on the riverbanks, which were cleaned up and decorated by the devotees.
The administration along with dozens of voluntary organisations is working round-the-clock to clean the residential localities and roads leading up to the banks of rivers and water bodies.
Over the years, Chhath has become closely identified with Bihar - comparable to Bihu of Assam, Pongal of Tamil Nadu and the Ganesh festival of Maharashtra.