Kathmandu, Nov. 3: As the sun was setting below the Kathmandu horizon on Saturday evening, thousands of women donning colourful attires standing in knee-deep water in the Bagmati River, were offering argha to the Sun god. Gaurighat, the venue set for the Chhath worship has appeared like a colourful canvas, as it was decorated with pandals, colourful lights, decorations and red carpets welcoming the faithful to the ghat for taking holy dips. As the devotees offered water to the Sun god, Sandhya Devi Thakur, a native of Parsa currently residing at Baneshwor, was offering argha to the setting sun along with her landlord Bimala Dahal, 52. Dahal, a lady of hill origin, had followed the rituals as performed by Thakur, a lady of Madhesh. The ritual of Chhath puja was a new affair for Dahal because this was the first time she observed the festival. “Being a Kathmandu local, I have never seen my family performing Chhath puja. But I got fascinated seeing others performing the festivalin such a vigorous and colorful manner.” However, worshipping the Sun god is not a new phenomenon for her. While performing morning rituals every day, she offers argha to the Sun god. “So from this year onwards, I have decided to take fasts on Chhath, meant to worship the Sun god, the Lord of life-force. I’m doing this puja for the well-being and long life of my family.” Ambika Thapa, 40,of Ilam now living at Kalanki gave birth to her first child seven years ago after she had observed a fast during the festival. She has been celebrating Chhath ever since. Thapa said she has learned the rituals of Chhath puja from her neighbor Sita Devi Yadav who hailed from Mahottari. “How could I stay away from a vibrant festival!” Lately, Chhath has transformed into one of the biggest festive congregations at Kathmandu. Essentially a festival of Madhesh (native of Maithili and Bhojpuri speakers of eastern Terai) region, Chhath’s cultural and religious influence has swollen over the years among different communities. According to Nabal Yadav, Secretary of the Gaurighat Chhath Puja Samiti, 40 per cent of the total devotees performing Chhath puja at Gaurighat were of the hill origin. Gaurighat hosts the biggest congregation of Chhath devotees every year. Organisers claimed over 10,000 devotees have performed Chhath puja at the site while 100,000 visitors visited the place to observe devotees performing worship. Binita Khatiwada, 28 of Janakpur, currently residing at Pespsicola, said she had seen Chhath being celebrated by her family members since her childhood. Although her family is of the hill origin, they have been celebrating the festival of the Madhesi communities for a long time. “We perform all the rituals like taking bath, fasting, standing and worshipping sun for a long time and offering prashada (seasonal fruits and other food items) and argha to the rising and setting sun. We are giving continuity to this tradition.” Like Khatiwada, the Chhath celebration is in practice for the hill origin people residing in the plains, mainly in State 2. But the popularity of Chhath puja is rising even in the capital in the recent years, thanks to the unique and vibrant aspects associated with the festival. Over the past few decades, Chhath Puja dedicated to the Sun god, has developed into one of the biggest festivals in Kathmandu, manifesting the growing aspiration of the largest migrant group in the city after the political changes in 2046 B.S, said Ramananda Gupta, founder of the Gaurighat Chhath Puja Samiti. Gupta said for the past two decades, the number of people observing Chhath, both the Madhesi and hill origin, have increased significantly in the Kathmandu valley. Recalling his past, Gupta said when he first shifted to Gaurighat from Lalitpur, there were only 20-25 Madhesi origin people performing the Chhath puja at Gaurighat. To celebrate the Chhath puja in a more organised way, Gupta and some of his Madeshi friends formed Gaurighat Chhath Puja Samiti in 2060 B.S, he recalled. After the samiti was formed, they were involved some local people in the samiti, so that they could take ownership of Chhath celebration, said Gupta adding that gradually the locals got familiar with the rituals and its importance. “Nepal has been a home to the diversified settlements in terms of ethnicity, religion and culture. And Chhath is bringing communities together. Though it is a festival of the communities of Madhesi origin, Chhath is now celebrated together by women of the hill too.” Dev Narayan Thakur, 43, a permanent resident of Kalyanpur Municipality, Siraha currently residing in Kalopul, said since the Chhath puja was gaining popularity among the people of the Kathmandu, many of his neighbours had asked him to perform Chhath puja on behalf of their families.” Showing the seven
earthen oil lamps lit in the bank of the Bagmati River, Thakur said,
“Of them, six lamps are of my neighbours. This year, I have to offer six separate argha and Prashada in the name of my neighbours.” Brajesh Jha, Divisional Manager of Salt Trading Cooperation, who is also a founder of the samiti said Chhath is a thanks giving festival to lord Surya for sustaining life on earth and to worship him to provide his continuous blessings to all mankind, regardless of their caste, religion, gender and ethnicity. “No life is possible without sun and water. Therefore on the day of Chhath devotees offer arghas to sun by standing in within the water resources,” he added. Jha said the people were attracted with the beauty of the Chhath celebration, because this was the festival which brought all the communities and castes together. There is no differences among the people of the hill and Madhesi origin and any other caste groups while celebrating the festival. Jha, who hailed from Manrasiswa Municipality of Mahottari, said when he was child one of his Muslim family neighbor used to perform Chhath puja. “I have seen one Muslim couple, performing Chhath Puja at Gaurighat also. The festival has been lowering the barriers between the Madhesi and Padhadi, Hindus and Muslims. This is once again set an example of inter-faith harmony.” Apart from Gaurighat, rivers and ponds inside the capital were spruced up for Chhath puja, where thousands of devotees from both the Madhesh and hill origin had performed rituals and offered evening arghas. Lately, 17 ghats were set up in the water bodies of the Kathmandu Valley for the Chhath celebration that included major places like Gaurighat, Kamalpokhari, Teku Dobhan and Naagpokhari.