Chhath Puja, when inter-religious bonhomie is celebrated
Chhath — the four days festival that began with nahay khay (a ritual river bath) on 17 November and will end on the morning of arghaya (prayer and dedication) on 20 November — is seeing hundreds of Muslim potters prepare earthenware stoves sold to devotees to cook their offerings on.
Raisa Khatun has been making these terracotta stoves (mitti ka chulha) for 30 years, and currently sits at Beerchand Patel path near the income tax office roundabout. “At this time, I don’t eat meat, and even avoid garlic and onion,” she says, with the knowledge that devotees believe these are inauspicious. Ms. Khatun follows the way Hindu women begin preparation a week ahead. This includes getting wheat pounded at a local mill rather than buying a packeted version, and making thekua, a sweet made at home with this wheat and jaggery. “Even the daily rotis are out of this wheat,” she says, knowledgably.
It takes more than three hours to prepare one chulha and she sells it at different prices, ranging between ₹250 to ₹500, depending on the size. Hailing from Vaishali district of Bihar, the chulha makers on this stretch buy clay at ₹2,500 per tractor from Naubatpur village in Patna district. Each chulha is made with 3-5 kg of clay, and a potter can sell anywhere from 200-250 stoves at this time. Ms. Khatun is one of hundreds of Muslim families engaged in this work for the festival. They make these stoves the traditional way, for a festival in which lakhs of women gather at the Ganga ghats to pray for family, without the presence of a priest.
Chandni Khatun, another potter on the same stretch, busy working with her husband Mohammad Shahnawaz, says that just as they enjoy Eid, they revel in Chhath as well. “Devotion is not restricted to religion. That’s why devotees have total faith in what we make,” she says, as buyers praise the potters.
“This is the beauty of Chhath — anyone from any religion can contribute. Everyone is equal in front of Chhathi Maiya,” says Rashmi Kumar, a resident of Mithapur in Patna. Bihar’s latest caste survey showed that of approximately 13 crore people in the State, 17% were Muslim.
Najma Khatun, a resident of Police Line colony in the city has been observing this festival for the past 10 years. “I had two children. Both died soon after the birth,” she says. “A Hindu friend suggested I perform Chhath. My wish of having a child was fulfilled; in fact, now I have five children,” she says. She admits that initially people of her community boycotted her, but now the festival has become a part of her life, and people around have accepted her belief.
Before Chhath’s commencement, Patna’s eight Ganga ghats are spruced up and decorated with pandals. Arrangements are made by the district administration, including the provision of watch towers, temporary changing rooms and toilets, a medical centre, and drinking water points. Every year about 1.5 to 2 lakh women assemble at each ghat.
The first day of the festival is nahay-khay in which vratis (women who are fasting) have a bath in the morning and offer prayers to the rising sun at home or on the ghats, before eating rice and bottle gourd. Gourd prices, usually ₹15-20, soar to ₹70-80 per piece at this time. The second day is observed as kharna, in which kheer and roti with dollops of ghee are eaten. This is the last meal before fasting for two continuous days. Thekua is also cooked as prasad. It is these food items that are prepared on earthen stoves.
On the third day, devotees offer arghaya to the setting sun while standing in water at the ghats. However, many devotees pay obeisance to the sun god using artificial ponds on their terraces as well. The festival ends on the fourth day after offering araghya to the rising sun, followed by breaking the two-day-long fast with thekua.
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