Chhath is a great folk festival of nature-worshipping mainly celebrated in Bihar, eastern Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand. However, the philosophy behind celebrating this festival can be applied worldwide. Perhaps, this is the reason why the migrants of such areas having faith in this tradition celebrate it not only in other parts of the country, but all over the world.
Chhath is a pious festival celebrating protection of the environment, prevention of diseases, and maintaining discipline; a mention of which is found in the epic Rig Veda, an Indian scripture.
Particularly on the occasion of Diwali, the festival of lights, people clean their houses. On the other hand, people on Chhath, clean their surroundings and the banks of reservoirs like a river, pond, lake, etc. with great piety. This cultural tradition of cleaning the reservoirs has been in practice since ancient times in those areas. From the very next day of Diwali, people get involved in this virtuous work.
In cyclical nature, what comes after the rainy season is the good of autumn which, however, inherits a plethora of wastes and weeds breeding flies, insects, and reptiles. All these somehow pose a threat to human habitation. The festivals like Diwali and Chhath are so designed as to steer clear of all of them and make our habitation disease-free and worth living.
Thus, Chhath is the festival of worshipping the Sun and cleaning reservoirs. Further, it makes us culturally and spiritually strong.
Currently, schemes like Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and Namami Gange are among the favoured projects of the prime minister Narendra Modi. For the past few years, the Modi government has been campaigning vigorously on the sanitation drive and the cleanliness of the Ganges. Both these programs have a theoretical and practical connection with festivals of public faith.
The people of these areas well understand the intents and purposes of the project of cleaning the water body during the festivals, which is in line with the Modi government cleanliness drive. On the practical side, what the prime minister has envisaged – a clean India – is not possible without public participation. People’s participation in such a government campaign merely with the policy is not as easy as faith and reverence do, especially in a country where religion is a way of life.
The Sun is worshipped in Chhath during which stringent fasts are observed and stricter rules followed. In other words, it is a festival of nature-worshipping as well as maintaining discipline in physical and mental exercise, which is its ethos.
The festival, which is celebrated for two consecutive days, falls on the sixth day of the Kartik month as per the Hindu calendar, that constitutes the months of October and November in the Gregorian calendar. Those who fast for these two days on the trot follow the special rules of purification from the Chaturthi (the fourth day) date itself. The worshipping on Panchami (the fifth day) and Shashthi (the sixth day) is performed in the evening and at the crack of dawn on Saptami (the seventh day) when it concludes.
While worshipping, devotees stand in a water body up to the waist for a pretty long time which is called Katisnan in hydro-medicinal therapy. It is believed many diseases such as leprosy are prevented and cured with such therapy.
The latitudinal position of India is as such that there is plenty of sunlight in every part of the country. The sun is curative and restorative. Many say that houses where the Sun’s rays reach directly have no habitat of insects, and are generally disease-free. This is the reason why people like to build east facing houses, according to Vastu Shastra (a Hindu way of planning and architectural to build your house to ensure peace and prosperity, akin to Feng Shui).
The festival of Chhath is celebrated before the beginning of winter. The importance of sunlight grows more in winter. Therefore, by worshipping the sun, people pray to God to protect them from the severe winter.
Nature worshipping is the crucial to the culture of Hinduism. Through the tradition of worshipping rivers, ponds, trees, etc. people express their gratitude to nature for anything and everything they are obliged to. In the Rig Veda, the sun, the river and the earth are placed in the category of deities.
Hinduism is a philosophy in itself, which teaches us the way of life, life styles and cultural values. Chhath is a great way to learn those lifestyles, in which cleanliness, and purity have special significance. Therefore, I believe, that this Mahaparva of public faith should be declared a national festival of cleanliness.
Also, this festival of energy preservation, water conservation, disease prevention and discipline-abiding can and should be celebrated all over India. This will raise people’s interest in public welfare and will help in realising the vision of Swachh Bharat.
The declaration of Chhath as a national festival will also create awareness among the people about the cleanliness of the reservoirs spread in every corner of the country and this will also accelerate the water conservation campaign. Recognising the importance of this festivity, the Delhi government has made special arrangements for Chhath Puja in its budget.
Hundreds of ghats and places of worship have been arranged for the celebration by the government of Delhi. However, its political significance is also extracted, because there are about 50 seats out of 70 in Delhi Assembly, where no political party can attain Delhi’s power by ignoring the precincts.
Even if it is a matter of respecting the feelings of the Purvanchalis (people from UP, Bihar and Jharkhand), the kind of faith that is being seen among the residents of the National Capital Region (NCR) regarding this event is a sign of awareness of environmental protection.
Purvanchali migrants celebrate the occasion with great devotion in various metros including Mumbai, Surat, and Ahmedabad in the country. Moreover, the Purvanchali diaspora celebrates Chhath in overseas countries like Mauritius, Fiji and the US.
In recent times, under the Right to Breathe, several steps have been taken by the Supreme Court of India to reduce pollution levels in Delhi. As such, manufacturing units have been taken out of Delhi. There is a ban on setting brick and kiln in the NCT of Delhi. Selling and setting off firecrackers, is banned on festive occasions too.
All these preventive things are underway. However, on part of the central and state governments and with the help of devotees, linking festivals like Chhath with environmental protection would be a positive initiative to ensure the contribution in the development.
Chhath is, of course, a good occasion to understand this fact. It reminds us of the value of energy and power. It also speaks of our cultural values which need to be protected and boasted of. Keeping a tradition in continuity by understanding its values gives mankind a dignified life to live. All religions, including Hinduism, propagate living a collective life.
Celebration of Chhath puja with devotion purifies our body and mind. It stands to reason how it makes us environmentally sensitive. It also maintains a standard of how we stick to the rotational system of worshipping gods and goddesses in obeisance throughout the year in our beautiful country, India.