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Religious fault lines go for a toss as that special Chhath religiosity grips Bihar jails

Hundreds of under trial and convicted prisoners, including Muslims, are performing Chhath Puja in scores of prisons across the state, many observing fast and following all the rituals that go with the festival.

india Updated: Oct 25, 2017 19:33 IST
Avinash Kumar
Avinash Kumar
Hindustan Times, Patna
Bihar jails,Prisoners do Chhath,Observe fast
Chhath celebrations are at a feverish pitch in the prisons of Bihar. (Representative image)

If you think Chhath is observed only along the banks of the Ganga, hold on! Again, if you think only Hindus celebrate the festival, dedicated to the Sun God, think again.

Elaborate preparations have been made even inside Bihar prisons, where hundreds of under trial and convicted prisoners, including Muslims, are performing Chhath Puja across the state. As the festival, ending Friday, demands, many are observing fast and following all the rituals that go with it.

In the 58 jails, including eight central jails spread across the state, prisoners, cutting across religious beliefs have geared up for the strict Chhath rituals. On their part, prison authorities are extending all help to them.

The devotees prepared ‘kheer’, made of milk and rice, on Wednesday, to offer it to other prisoners, as well as officials.

In view of the strict norms associated with Chhath, the jail administration has banned non-vegetarian food until the completion of the festival. The inmates have been singing devotional songs over the public address system as part of the rituals.

Over a dozen Muslim convicts, serving life term in Beur model jail in the outskirts of Patna, besides several in Muzaffarpur and Bhagalpur central jails, are also observing fast and performing other rituals of Chhath, the most popular Hindu festival of Bihar, prison authorities said on Wednesday.

This has strengthened the bonding. Prisoners of all communities are helping each other on the occasion. “Chhath demands a very high level of purity and hygiene. All jail inmates - whether Hindus, Muslims or Sikhs - have been actively engaged in cleaning and decorating the premises. There is a complete change in the environment. It doesn’t look like a jail at all,” said Beur Jail superintendent Rupak Kumar.

Manoj Kumar, superintendent of Motihari central jail, said why Chhath was such an important religious festival was evident in more ways than one. “It has a huge spiritual impact. Those facing serious charges also seem completely taken over by the Chhath spirit, which calls for utmost devotion. As it is a matter of faith and piety, jail authorities provide all help to the devotees,” he added.

The Muzaffarpur jail superintendent said that a pond had been dug up inside the jail premises and filled with fresh water mixed with ‘Ganga Jal’. “All devotees have been provided new clothes and ‘puja’ material, including fruits, milk, sugar, rice and flour,” he added.

A senior official of home department told HT that though no centralised data regarding the number of Chhath devotees in the prisons is maintained, it was a fact that several of the inmates in various jails undertook fast and performed rituals on the occasion.

“Many prisoners volunteered and cleaned the campus as well as decorated the premises. May be it is also a way of performing penance and reforming. The entire environment here has turned spiritual,” he added.

First Published: Oct 25, 2017 19:33 IST