Chhath 2017: Author Pallavi Nigam Sahay pays an obeisance to the Sun God
An excerpt from the book—The Bhojpuri Kitchen, that explores various cuisines of the state.books Updated: Oct 26, 2017 14:04 IST
Daura mathua pé uthaiyé pintu ké papa, chali ab ghaat chali.
(Dear husband, let’s carry all the holy dishes prepared for today’s prayers, and proceed to the banks of the holy river).
When you hear such songs sung in almost every street, and watch people dressed in colourful traditional clothes, the women resplendent in their jewellery, even as homes are decorated in full splendour, then you truly understand the spirit of Bihar as it readies itself to celebrate its grandest festival, Chhath.
Chhath is beyond doubt the most awaited festival of Bihar and Jharkhand. It’s also celebrated with equal fervour in eastern Uttar Pradesh, parts of Madhya Pradesh and Nepal. During the four-day festivities, families, distant relatives and neighbours come together to pay their respects to Suryadev and Chhathi Maiya (the Sun God and his consort). It is a strongly held belief amongst some people of Bihar that worshipping Chhathi Maiya with complete devotion ensures Her blessings for health, happiness and prosperity – Araghwa ké bera bhai poori hoiyé aswaa (All your wishes will come true during the evening prayers to the Sun God).
Chhath is probably the only festival in India where there is a direct connect between the worshipper and the worshipped. There are no intermediaries – no Brahmin is required to chant mantras on your behalf, or even guide you through each step of the puja. Moreover, it is a wonderful community festival— people come forward to help each other through these very tough four days, which includes fasting for over thirty-six hours without even a drop of water! The rules being extremely stringent —people performing the puja are mandated to sleep and eat in a secluded place, away even from other members of the family. In fact, even their food is cooked on a separate gas stove that is bought especially for this occasion, or best, on the traditional wood-fired one. It is believed that while doing the sunrise and sunset aragh (offerings to the Sun God), the devotee performing the puja is at her most pious self and being in her presence is like being in the presence of God. It is therefore no wonder that one often sees even little children waking up at 3 a.m. to reach the ghats before sunrise, in order to participate in the morning aragh.
However, visiting the ghats serves several purposes, and is not just limited to the religious part of the festival. Even as an entire city descends on a single spot in the spirit of festivity, the ghats turn into a meeting place to bond with old friends and make new ones! I was familiar with the festival of Chhath since childhood, as many Bihari migrants in my home town of Bhopal, celebrated it with gusto. Little did I know then that it would become such an important part of my life after my marriage.
For me, the highlight of the festival is when everyone sits together to prepare the Prasad (offerings to the gods), while singing folk songs — my favourite being, ‘U jé kerva jé pharela khabad sé, oh pé suga medhrayé’ (The birds are eating the holy dishes, I must protect them to ensure that the rituals are held in the most pious manner and the food for the Lord remains pristine).
Certain specific food items are prepared and served during Chhath. Thekua (Sweet Wheat Flour Fritters, Khajuria (similar to Thekua, but moon-shaped), Chawal ka Kheer (the pan-Indian and traditional rice pudding), Baingan Badi ki Sabji (Aubergine Curry with Black Gram Cakes), Kohré ki Sabji (sautéed pumpkin curry, Kohra Sarson ké Latpat Sabji or Pumpkin in a Thick Mustard Gravy) and Gobhi ki
Sabji (cauliflower sautéed curry) are some of the more delicious dishes that are made at home. During my first Chhath, it fell on me to prepare these dishes in a pristine environment and true to the original recipes, under the very watchful eyes of the elders. With a little help from the chachis and bhabhis, fortunately everything came together quite well. So much so that my chacha sasur (father-in-law’s brother) said, ‘Baah ré, Pallabhi, tum toh khoob kamaal kar di. Pahilé hi Chhath mein baaji maar li’ (Well done, Pallavi! Kudos to you on performing all the prescribed duties perfectly, that too on your very first Chhath).
Excerpted with permission from ‘The Bhojpuri Kitchen’ by Pallavi Nigam Sahay, Westland.
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