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Chhath Puja : Collective Personal Sacrifices do build a Cohesive Society

By Samir Kumar

New Delhi, Nov 01: In India, Sun is said to be the manifested living God who has given life various forms and sustains it. There is an age old practice of worshipping this God at both rising and setting times in most austere way, popularly known as Chhath Puja.

Bihar. Undoubtedly one of the strongest identities of this land today is acutely divided society on the lines of various castes and sub-castes. Till couple of decades ago there were mass murders carried out by armed extreme caste based groups against each other.

Chhath Puja (Inset): Samir Kumar

Yet, perhaps the oldest festival in the world, Chhath Puja sees every member of this society behaving in unison for a good cause.

No one is bothered about caste or even religion before offering services to clean the roads or prepare ghats ( sitting place on the side of water body) or carry heavy baskets filled with seasonal fruits and deliciously baked offerings for Sun God. The Prasad collection as blessings from those observing the fast is a sight to be seen to believe that caste or religion doesn't exist on this day in this society. Everyone is happy today, as even the most distraught receive a new lease of hope due to Prasad received after this extremely austere worship of a God you can see with your own eyes.

The faith of fulfilment of wishes seems to have been working well for this festival as it is said to be practiced since pre-Vedic times. Lord Rama and Sita had observed these fasts after returning on Deepawali before taking over the reins of the state, a manner of purifying themselves and getting ready for the big task ahead. Same festival was observed by Pandavas and Draupadi after Mahabharat war before taking over the reins of the kingdom.

Along with many Sun worshippers in Bihar and other parts of the country and now various cities of the world, I am observing these fasts this year. First day is a 'normal' fasting called Nahaye-Khaye (Purifying and Eating). On this day one sumptuous meal is prepared in purest, most hygienic manner. Freshly pounded grains, fresh green vegetables, cold pressed oil etc are used for meal preparation in a newly erected fire place. After this day of preparatory fasting of just one meal during the day, the austerities intensify over next 60-65 hours.

Since that meal, one goes without water and food till next evening's celebrations called Kharna. A standard diet of Kheer (rice cooked in milk and jiggery) and roti is prepared in every house and friends and families visit those fasting who break for this meal and then to resume. The next drop of water comes for them after around 40 hours! Meanwhile, they actively work and do lots of cooking of thekua (delicious sweet dish made of flour, ghee and jiggery) for distribution to anyone who asks for it at the end of the festival. Pause and imagine yourself going through these austerities and you can perhaps understand the source of energy in the air which brings every member of the society together.

When individuals make personal sacrifices and selflessly offer their services to the needy, the society amalgamates and becomes one. Perhaps a blueprint for all of us to live in harmony - by acting and praying for the poor and needy in the society.

[Author is Head of PBNS ( Digital arm of India's public sector broadcaster, Prasar Bharati) and views are personal.]

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