Chhath, also known as the festival of Sun God, which used to be celebrated only in the Tarai until a decade ago, is now fast evolving as a national festival, bringing joy and excitement to people living across the country.
Spurt in the rural-urban migration as a result of various political movements over the last decade has led to expansion of Chhath celebrations beyond Terai, say cultural experts and Madhes-based social activists.
As a result of the Tarai movement, Madheshi communities living outside Tarai have also started celebrating the Chhath festival. According to social activists, the recent celebration of Chhath festival outside their region has emboldened the Madhesi community.
I originally wrote the news story for and published in Republica.
“Previously, Chhath was just a Madhesi festival; but it has now become national,” said Dipendra Jha, an advocate at the Supreme Court.
For the Madhesi people, Chhath is their most important festival. During this festival, most of them tend to visit their homes from wherever they are working or studying. Even those who cannot go home celebrate the festival in the place they are living.
Of late, people from Tarai region have been observing Chhath festival in Rani Pokhari of Kathmandu. Since Rani Pokhari became the center of Chhath celebration for the Madheshi people living in the capital, the festival has gained more prominence.
However, the way people celebrate Chhath festival is fast changing now.
“During my childhood, cultural events like drama used to be performed in my locality on the occasion of Chhath festival. But, such a practice no longer exists,” said advocate Jha, who hails from Mahottari district and has been living in Kathmandu for a decade now.
Gone are the days when cultural shows like plays, dances, wrestling competitions and other entertaining events used to be integral parts of the Chhath festival, according to Chandrakishore Jha, a Tarai-based political analyst known for his ring-side view about the issues of Madhes.
“Chhath was earlier nature friendly and people would use locally produced materials like clay pots and bamboo-wares,” Jha said. “But, people are now mostly purchasing items available in the market.”
Dhirendra Premarshi, a socio-cultural expert, shares a similar view. “People used to celebrate Chhath in a simple way but now it has become an occasion to show off,” said he.
He said that the festival holds a great significance from socio-cultural, agricultural and scientific perspectives. According to him, there used to be local markets of agricultural products such as fruits, sugarcane, carrot, clay pots and bamboo-wares.
Premarshi, a native of Siraha district, shows his concerns over the waning effect of the festival due to modernization and migration of rural people to urban centers and even abroad.
Tula Narayan Shah, another social activist from Saptari district, said, “Electronic media and technology has affected performance of different cultural events such as plays and dances during the Chhath festival.”
“After I moved to Kathmandu some two decades ago, the celebration of Chhath festival in Kathmandu was very rare,” recalls Shah, who is also executive director of Nepal Madhes Foundation (NEMAF). “Now it is observed on almost every river and reservoir of Kathmandu.”
The fact that Chhath used to be a regional festival in the past is also upheld by Badri Shrestha, a development practitioner. “I knew about Chhath only when I went to work in Biratnagar in 1996,” said he. “Until then, I had very little idea about spirituality and aesthetic value of Chhath.”
Shrestha said, “Today, Chhath is celebrated almost all over the country and by all social groups.”
Celebration of ´Chhath´ dates back to the Vedic age. According to Lunar Calendar, it generally falls on the sixth day of Suklapaksha of Kartik month and is observed for four days with great enjoyment.
On the first day, devotees, mostly women, take a holy dip in rivers, ponds or reservoirs and avoid non-vegetarian food. On the second day, known as ´kharana´ in local language, they fast rigorously without even drinking a single drop of water. On this very day, they make arrangements for the festival, including decoration of ghats (the banks of rivers and reservoirs).
On the third day, homemade special sweets such as Thekuwa and Bhusuwa (sweets made from wheat or rice flour, ghee and sugar) and rice pudding are prepared, while the devotees enter into water to offer those items and seasonal fruits to the setting sun. On the last day, devotees offer prayers to the rising sun.
Chhath celebration in major towns of Tarai districts, including Biratnagar, Rajbiraj, Lahan, Janakpur and Birgunj and even at the Rani Pokhari in Kathmandu is the center of attraction. On the occasion, a great number of people from all communities visit those places to watch and enjoy the celebrations.