— Ruchi Lal

A festival is an event celebrated by a community that centers on one or more aspects such as religion, tradition, season, agriculture cycle, or thanks giving. It may be observed with acts of worship, offerings to deities, fasting, feasting, vigil, rituals, fairs, charity, celebrations, and so on.

India is much diverse and multi-layered country—particularly in terms of its region, religion, language, food, dressing, art, and culture—that some of its festivals are celebrated all over the country and a few others in specific states only. A state as old as Bihar—with its own rich culture, history, and heritage—has its fair share of festivals that are unique to it. Besides, it also celebrates a few pan India festivals in its own distinct manner.

Let us start with the most awaited festival in Bihar, i.e., Chatth.

Chatth (October–November): As I sit down to write this article I find myself humming a song that I have been hearing all my life, a song sung by many as long as I can remember. Before I know it, nostalgia silently seeps in. “Kaanch Hi Baans Ke Bahangiya,” so familiar are the lyrics, a song that is a memoir of the childhood days, where we find ourselves standing at the shore of the Ganges with the Sun rising before our eyes and a sweet chill in the air. The aroma of “thekuas,” “pedakiyas,” “kheer,” and other such delicacies would fill our hearts and the next thing we know is that we yearn to go back to home to celebrate with our loved ones.

Almost every civilization, from time immemorial, has worshipped the Sun as a God, but it takes a unique form in Bihar. Chatth is the only festival where one worships not only the rising Sun, but also the setting Sun. Just as the case with life, people are generally in awe of the rising or upwardly moving individuals, not many are concerned to salute the retired and the old. When the sun of your life sets, not many people think twice of you. However, this festival, in particular, reminds us of our humility and our “sanskaar” that people—irrespective of their age, rise, fall, or backgrounds—are to respected and treated as one.

This is considered to be one of the most sacrosanct and revered of all poojas, and those who celebrate Chatth can tell you that it entails the toughest rituals. This pooja is performed on “Karthik Shukla Shashthi,” which typically falls in the month of October or November according to the Gregorian calendar. Being observed for 4 days, this festival includes bathing in the holy Ganges, fasting and abstaining from drinking water, and offering prashad and arghya to the setting and rising Sun. Some devotees also perform a prostration march as the head for the river banks. During this festival, the whole family flocks together to participate in the pooja and offers their assistance to those observing the fast. The worship of Sun is believed to help cure a variety of diseases, including leprosy and ensures the longevity and prosperity of family members. Biharis all over the country, for that matter all over the world, observe this fast with the same pomp and vigor as they would have been doing back at their homes.

Sama–Chakeva (November): All of us have heard of Raksha Bandhan and Bhaiyadooj, but not many may have known this festival. This is one of the most important festivals for the young brothers and sisters, mainly celebrated in the Mithila region of Bihar. It is celebrated in November and is commenced when birds begin to migrate from the Himalayas down toward the plains of India. As legend goes, “Sama,” a daughter of Krishna, who had been falsely accused of wrong doing, was punished by her father by turning her into a bird, but the love and sacrifice of her brother “Chakeva” eventually allowed her to resume the human form. This festival starts with the welcoming of the pair of birds, Sama–Chakeva. Girls make idols of various birds and decorate them in their own traditional ways. Various rituals are performed and it is joyfully ended by the “Bidai’’ of Sama with a wish that the birds would return to this land in the next year.

Bihula (August): Bihula is a prominent festival of eastern Bihar, especially famous in the Bhagalpur District. Many myths are related to this festival. People worship goddess Mansa for the welfare of their family.

Madhushravani (July–August): This is the main festival observed in Mithilanchal in the “Shravan” months of July–August. It is celebrated for 13 consecutive days and ends with an elaborate pooja and feasting. This pooja represents the arrival of the monsoon season. During this festival, the women folk worship the “Naga Devtas,” “Gauri,” “Shanti Kalash,” “Surya,” “Chandrama,” and the “Navgrah,” This festival carries a message within itself. It teaches how to weave together religion and tradition in everyday life.

Jitiya (September): This is a festival in which mothers fast without drinking water for the wellbeing of their children. It is a 3-day long festival and is celebrated from the 7th to 9th lunar day of “Krishna Paksha” in the “Ashwin” month of “Bikram Samvat,” that would mean around the month of September. As legend goes, an eagle and a female fox that lived in a jungle in the Himalayas once saw a woman performing this pooja and observing the fast and they also wished to do the same. However, during the fast, the fox became unconscious due to hunger and stealthily consumed the food, whereas the eagle completed the fast and the pooja. As a result, none of the kids of the fox survived, whereas on the other hand the eagle’s kids were blessed with long lives.

The festivals that have been discussed so far are those celebrated only in Bihar. Other than these there are a few festivals that every Bihari relates to, and for some of us are an integral part of our lives.

The pomp and vigor shown during the Saraswati Pooja (February–March) in Bihar can only be compared to the celebrations of Durga Pooja in Kolkatta. The preparations begin several months in advance by the youngsters and various student organizations of the state. Traditional society and religious fervor along with cultural activities would mark Saraswati Pooja celebrations across schools, colleges, hostels, and local pooja pandals.

Durga Puja (September–October), mainly due to a pronounced Bengali population, is celebrated not only in Bengali localities but also in many cities of Bihar with much gusto. From Dhakeshwari style to the local ones, idol stylization has become increasingly competitive. Pandal hopping is in routine during the last 3 days of the Puja celebration, and it is marked with enjoyment of street delicacies and buying of new clothes and pairs of shoes for the occasion.

Teej is another festival celebrated with absolute devotion in Bihar. Married women both young and old observe a fast on this day and worship Goddess Parvati. The fast is “nirjal,” i.e., without consuming a single drop of water for the entire day. Such hardship is undergone by women in the belief that this would result in a prolonged healthy life of their husband and a blessed strong marriage like that of Shiv and Parvati. Women are dressed up in bright beautiful clothes and jewelry just like a newly wedded bride.

While speaking of festivals in Bihar, it is almost impossible to not talk about Holi and Eid celebrations in the state. Although these are national festivals, they are celebrated with a unique ardor in Bihar.

During Holi (which falls in the month of March), the legend of Holika is prevalent. On the eve of “Phalgun Poornima” (Holi day), people light bonfires and offer dung cakes, “pakoras,” freshly harvested grains, and unwanted wood leaves in the fire. People of the community gather around this bonfire, colloquially known as “Agja,” and the eldest member or “Pandit” smears others with color as a mark of greeting.

The next day, the festival is celebrated with colors and frolic. Holi in Bihar is played with colors mixed with water in the morning, and with “Gulaal” in the evening. Biharis are famous for their “Maalpuas,” which are made on this particular occasion and are relished by one and all.

Eid-Ul- Fitr is an important festival celebrated by Muslims all over the world. It is the “festival of breaking the fast” that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. This festival celebrates the conclusion of the 29 or 30 days of dawn-to-sunset fasting during the entire month of Ramadan.

The night before Eid, “Chaand Raat,” people often visit “bazaars” for their Eid shopping. Women, especially young girls, apply the traditional “Mehandi” on their hands and feet and wear colorful bangles. After Eid prayers, it is common for some families to visit the graveyards to pray for salvation of their departed family members. On the day of Eid, before prayers, people distribute a charity locally known as “Fitra.” Many people also avail themselves of this opportunity to distribute “Zakat,” an Islamic obligatory alms tax of 2.5% of one’s annual savings to the needy. “Zakat” is often distributed in the form of new clothes and food. Special celebratory dishes include “Lachcha” or “Sewaiyaan,” which are relished by families and all close friends.

All these festivities are not only seen in India. These days, increasingly so, “non-resident Biharis” also celebrate their native festivals with the same exhilaration and tradition that is seen in Bihar itself. Festivals other than Diwali and Holi are also celebrated even in countries like America, Australia, England, etc., where the younger generations are seen participating in the festivities and preparations. As a result, the younger generation, most of whom are born and brought up outside India, get to see an extremely important face of their origins, and they also get to know their customs and roots. The “sanskaar” that was instilled in us by our forefathers will hopefully be carried on, no matter which place we live in.

Be it any festival, the streets of Bihar are always clad in bright beautiful hues. Colourful lights, “pandals” at every nook and corner, “bhajans” being played at every single “mandir,” and not to forget the sweet scintillating aroma of “agarbatis” that fill the air mark the celebrations of festivals.

Chitragupta Puja After Navratri, Dhanteras, Diwali and Bhai Dooj comes Chitragupta Puja. On the second day after Diwali celebrations, in the Kayastha community, a special worship ceremony is organized in the honour of Lord Chitragupta.Lord Chitragupta is considered to be the God of Justice. He keeps account of all creatures including Rishis, and assign them heaven and hell as per their deeds. Lord Chitragupta has been mentioned Padma Purana, SkandaPurana, Brahmapurana, Yamasamhita, and YajnavalkyaSmriti. All members of Kayasth community worship pen and inkpot and read Chitraguptakatha, and they don’t use pen or any writing work for a day.

Saraswati Puja is celebrated on the day of Vasant Panchami that marks the beginning of preparations for the King of all Seasons, spring around February. For many Hindus, Vasant Panchami is the festival dedicated to goddess Saraswati who is their goddess of knowledge, language, music and all arts. The season and festival also celebrates the agricultural fields' ripening with yellow flowers of mustard crop, which Hindus associate with Saraswati's favorite color. People dress in yellow saris or shirts or accessories, share yellow colored snacks and sweets.