Patna, Nov 4 Festive fervour erupted on the streets of Patna -- and other cities and towns of Bihar -- as celebrations of the state's most popular Chhath festival got underway on Friday.
Melodious tunes from folk and devotional songs filled the streets of Bihar's capital and the drive to clean the roads, narrow lanes, river banks and ponds reached its final stage.
The annual four-day festival began with the age-old ritual of Nahai-Khai -- preparing traditional food after elaborate bath -- across thousands of villages and hundreds of towns spread all over Bihar.
Millions of devotees, mostly women, took a holy dip in rivers, ponds and other water bodies across the state, on the first day of the festival.
Thousands of women devotees have also been busy preparing the ritualistic meal of boiled rice and pumpkin in a hand-made earthen hearth after bath in the Ganga or the river nearby.
"Many of them arrived Thursday night itself and others have thronged since early Friday at different ghats (built-up embankments) of the Ganga in Patna to follow the rituals and offer prayers to the Sun God," Kamini Devi, a devotee also known as "varti", said.
Clad in a new cotton sari, Kamini, who came at the Collectorate Ghat near the Ganga, said "Nahai-Khai" symbolises purity and discipline.
"We are 'varti' and have to follow strict customs to perform the Chhath prayers and follow rituals associated with it," she said.
Another devotee, Munia Devi said: "We use only dry wood from mango trees and bamboo baskets for cooking the traditional meal on earthen stove on the first day of Chhath."
In Patna alone, hundreds of roadside vendors, mostly poor men and women, sold essential items like earthen pots utensils, daura, soop (winnows), and sindoor (vermillion) that go into the Chhath celebrations.
"The banks of the Ganga, Falgu, Punpun, Bagmati, Gandak and Kosi rivers as well as big and small water bodies were crowded as devotees prepared vegetarian food on earthen 'chulhas' (firewood stove)," a police officer said.
On Saturday, the second day of Chhath, observing another ritual "kharna", people cook the sweet dish "kheer" and share it with neighbours, friends and relatives.
The main offering to the Sun God -- called argya -- will take place on Sunday. That's when devotees stand waist-deep in water, offer prayers to the setting sun on river banks or other water bodies and again to the rising sun on Monday.
Chhath is celebrated six days after Diwali. It is dedicated to the Sun God, and is one of Bihar's most popular festivals.
During the festival, married women observe a fast for 36 hours and devotees offer wheat, milk, sugarcane, bananas and coconuts to the Sun.
The administration has set to work, along with dozens of voluntary organisations, to clean the roads leading to the banks of rivers as the festival gets underway.
Over the years, Chhath has come to be closely identified with Bihar -- on the lines of Bihu in Assam, Pongal in Tamil Nadu and the Ganesh festival in Maharashtra.