June 23, 2021

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writing, mostly, on contemporary issues of human rights, politics & social justice

Judhshital: Water Festival in Terai

Nepalis across the country revel in various festivities to mark New Year according to Bikram era calendar. The pattern of celebration is the same across the nation.

However, people in Mithila region—mostly the geographical areas stretching from Rautahat to Morang in Tarai—have recently celebrated New Year 2071 for two days. On the first day, they mark Satuwain festival on the first day of Baisakh, by eating satu, the roasted flour made up of assorted beans, cereals and legumes. Most importantly on the second day, they observe WATER FESTIVAL wherein junior people received blessings from their seniors as the latter put water on their forehead.

Here's the link of the article originally published in Republica.

Like southern part of Nepal, other Southeast Asian countries like India, China, Burma, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos also observe the water festival for their New Year celebrations. In Thailand, water festival is called Songkran, a word from Sanskrit language meaning the beginning of a new solar year. Thai people consider it the festival for cleaning and purification as they clean houses and surrounding areas. They regard it as one of the most enjoyable festivals and it is generally celebrated from April 13 to April 15 on the occasion of Thai New Year. On the first day, Buddha statues are gently washed with scented water. Young people in Thailand pour scented water into the hands of their elders as a sign of respect and also seek blessings from them. Songkran is also observed in Burma, Laos and Cambodia.

More or less the reason and manner behind celebrating water festival in the South Asian countries are the same, and so is the occasion of welcoming New Year. It normally falls around from April 13 to 15. People observe the festival at the onset of summer and celebrate it with a view to cool in the scorching heat. Besides, sprinkling water gently at one another during the celebration shows a sign of respect. It is also a show of blessings and good wishes.

Sadly, Nepal’s water festival, according to Mithila culture experts, has failed to receive due attention from Nepali media, largely because of lethargy of media persons from the Tarai. Media across the country widely cover another festival of this region ‘Chhath’, also known as festival of Sun God. As a result of media coverage, celebration of ‘Chhath’ that was once limited in certain areas, has extended to other parts of the country in the recent years. Even in Kathmandu, people of Tarai have been observing the festival at the Rani Pokhari.

Celebrating a festival gives a sense of unity and togetherness. Nepali communities are diverse in terms of their own diverse identity, culture and religion, and also geographical landscape but they stand together when it comes to celebration of national festivals like Dashain, Dipawali, and Holi. For instance, people from all religions in the country celebrate Dipawali and Holi since they take them for the victory of good over evil. The way they observe the festival fosters a sense of unity.

Nepal’s water festival is celebrated by all the people in Mithila region, mostly in Rautahat, Sarlahi, Mahottari, Dhanusha, Siraha, Saptari, Sunsari and Morang districts. They call it Siruwa or Judshital in the local language. The local term ‘Judshital’ consists of two words, ‘jud’ which means blessing and ‘shital’ refers to cool. Hence, this festival, as its literal meaning suggests, is observed by people, offering blessing to their juniors, by putting water on their foreheads.

The Tarai region during this season bakes in scorching heat and with a belief that water brings cool environment, people residing there observe this festival. On this occasion, people maintain cleanliness in their surroundings. They sweep premises of their houses and streets, and sprinkle water on them.

Water festival is linked with nature and agriculture. Even trees and plants are watered and given a new life. As this is the time for harvesting, people cook many varieties of food items, including mango fruits as one of the special items, and they are served to their friends, relatives and neighbors.

Water is lifeline for plants, animals and human beings. At a time, when water resources are drying up due to massive deforestation, climate change and rampant exploitation over natural resources, its values are much important. Water festival teaches community about significance of water. It gives the message of socialization and cleanliness.

Cultural experts argue that compared to the past celebrations, enthusiasm for celebrating the festival of water has diminished each year due to modernization and migration of rural people to urban areas. This festival needs to be promoted and kept alive.