Identity in alien land: What explains the unique Chhat spirit among migrant Biharis?

By Badri Narayan

What makes Biharis celebrate Chhat with such infectious enthusiasm in big cities? The answer to this question is linked closely to the issues of identity and migration. With the migrants also travels their cultural baggage to the destination points. Their rooted culture finds expression in the form of celebration of prime festivals like Chhat.

In our research project on ‘Migration and Cultural Traditions’ implemented by the Dalit Resource Centre of GB Pant Social Science Institute, an initiative of Tata Trusts, we extensively explored the significant role of culture in the tangible and intangible facets of the migrants’ life.

 Identity in alien land: What explains the unique Chhat spirit among migrant Biharis?

Representational image. Reuters

As per the 64th round survey on Employment and Unemployment and Migration Particulars by National Sample Survey Organisation 2007-2008, migrants constitute 29 per cent of the Indian population. Out of 1000 persons in rural Bihar 189 migrate; the number is 256 for rural Uttar Pradesh. Similarly, for urban Bihar and UP the migration the numbers are 345 and 310 persons per thousand respectively. Maharashtra (5,658,400) gets the highest number of internal migrants in India, followed by Delhi (4,358,500). Gujarat (2,077,800) stands at number five.

The ambience of the destination points where these migrants live in clusters provides respite from absolute alienation. Along with migration this local festival has proliferated in far flung regions and metropolitan cities such as Mumbai, Surat and even Delhi. With due cognizance of the dominant section of Bihari and UP migrants in these regions, let us unravel the intricate socio-political dimensions of the cultural festival Chhat Puja.

The elaborate four-day celebration of Chhat puja or ‘Dala Chhat’ begins with Nahai Khai on the sixth day of the month of Kartik. The 'Vrati' or devotees take bath in the sacred river Ganga and take back the holy water to cook offerings (prasad) at home. On the second day (kharna), a day-long fast without water is observed. The devotees end their fast only after offering puja in the evening. The third day of Sandhya Arghya (evening offering) is also observed with fast without water.

The entire day is spent in preparing puja offerings which are made and kept on a tray made out of bamboo. The offerings include thekua, coconut, banana and other seasonal fruits. The evening rituals are done at the banks of a river or pond or any clean water body. On the last day of Bihaniya Arghya (morning offerings), devotees reassemble along the river banks or ponds to make offerings to the rising Sun. This festival is dedicated to the Sun God.

In addition to this, prayers are offered for the well being and happiness of family members. The festival connects with purity, devotion and to the Sun as it is the source of life on earth. People also worship 'Chhathi Maiya' Usha on this day.
What makes the Chhath Puja so vibrant and special is the grand scale of the celebration and the public patronage and support for it. Political associations, politicians, and Samitis (also with political support) get heavily involved in the celebrations. This year, the organisers of Chhat Puja events at Juhu beach in Mumbai and other prominent areas in the city tried to abide by the Bombay High Court orders to keep the events as low profile due to the forthcoming crucial Mumbai municipality elections in 2017.

The star studded annual event of Chatt Puja celebrations with “celebrities” like Sonu Nigam, Amitabh Bachchan and Manoj Tiwari provide an apt platform to address the religious sentiments of the migrant population. The UP government also capitalised on the occasion declaring holiday on November 17 on the occasion of Chhat Puja. The politicos in Delhi did not lag behind in cashing on this formidable vote bank. While Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal promised clean banks for Chhat Puja, the Congress raised the pitch against poor preparedness. The obsession of the politicians in participating and facilitating the organisation of Chhat bears political meaning.

Amidst the political gimmick, the Chhat celebrations also showcase the deep association of the Bhojpuri migrants with their cultural identity. They leave no stone unturned to make these events mega ones, often referred to as “show of strength” by the political outfits such as the MNS. There is a conscious struggle and constant effort to create their visibility and maintain their identity in the destination points.

The extravagant celebration of Chhat Puja also sends ripples of apprehension among the local community in destination points.
Our researches indicate that the migrants are constantly attempting to bridge the hiatus between their aspirations and the quotidian realities of their existence in a city that exposes them to an entirely new culture.

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Updated Date: Nov 19, 2015 18:27:04 IST