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This Chhath Puja, Ram ke naam: Mahtab Alam

November 17, 2010

Guest post by MAHTAB ALAM

Last week, after a gap of almost 12 years, when I was asked by my family members to accompany them to see Chhatth Puja, an ancient Hindu festival dedicated to Surya, the Sun God, I could not resist myself and readily agreed to join them. As a school going boy, I had always enjoyed watching the festival and devotees performing the rituals observed for the Puja in my hometown Supaul, a district of Bihar, which borders the Tarai region of Nepal. In the last 12 years, I couldn’t get a chance to do so due to the mobile nature of work I am involved in. The Puja, most elaborately observed in Bihar, Jharkhand and the Terai regions of Nepal in modern times, and those areas where migrants from these regions have a presence. Chhath, usually observed six days after Diwali, was observed on 12 November this year.

Like every year, the preparations for Chhath start days in advance, with the local municipality cleaning up talabs, ponds and river bodies and creating steps on the banks to facilitate ease for the devotees offering puja. The day begins with decorating the surroundings of the water bodies, putting in place the stage and the sound system. On the day of the festival, around 3: 30 in the evening, along with my family members in tow, we set out to board an auto in Ranchi, casually referred as tempo in local parlance, the usual means of public transport in states of the east, to witness yet another year of the puja celebration at a pond around 3 kms from our place of residence. Most of the tempo’s were loaded with families decked in their festival best, holding onto basket loads of prasad to be offered to the Sun God and on their way to local water bodies. The water bodies, mostly ponds that we crossed on our way were decorated with balloons and streamers swaying with the flow of water.

The pond we stopped at, Jail talab, named after the prison of the capital city and located at its heart, had devotees thronging in large numbers, all ready with their offerings while members of the organising committee were busy spewing out announcements through the loud speakers. Following tradition, the women of the house had observed a fast and had a thick mass of vermilion smeared on their forehead. In the light of the setting sun, the women entered the stomach deep water, braving the cold and offered silent prayers for the well being of their family. The offerings included sandalwood, vermilion, rice, coconut and other fruits and sweets loaded on small baskets made of bamboo. The puja concluded with the family members touching the baskets offered and carrying these back with them for distribution among extended family members, friends and neighbors.

I was filled with nostalgia on watching the Chhath Puja after a long time, I must confess. For one moment, it reminded me of my childhood visits to talabs to witness the merriment in the air. My friends and I would team up with families observing the puja and we’d collectively proceed to the talab. We would watch the puja patiently, waiting for it to get over while our mouths would water for the delicacies. I smile while remembering the struggle that used to ensue as kids amidst my group of friends to get a better glimpse of the devotees offering the puja and, on days that followed, amongst my siblings and cousins for grabbing as many sweets as possible, sent from the homes of our Hindu family friends.

But unlike previous years, when I was present as a spectator, there was something unusual this year, it being the kind of song that was being played on the loudspeaker. As opposed to the pujas conducted previously, to which I was a witness, God Ram overruled the Sun God in the message given on the occasion through the song being played. With the typical Punjabi bhangra beat and copying the tune of a famous Hindi film, the words of the song were as under:

“Sapna ye poora kar ke rahenge, Hum ne hai ye man me thana.
Har had ko hum par karenge, dekhega ye zamana…
Hum tere hain diwane, Mitane na denge tera naam,
Banayege Mandir,Qasam tumhari Ram, pran se pyara hai,
Awadh puri ka Ram banayege Mandir… Jai ho!

Nas nas main joh khoon bahe hain, khoon tumhare naam ka.
Hindu dharma ka Bachcha bachcha, prabhu tumhare kaam ka.
Chahe kuch bhi ho anjam, Banayege Mandir,Qasam tumhari Ram,
pran se pyara hai, Awadh puri ka Ram banayege Mandir… Jai ho!

Jab tak mandir bane na tera, chain se na baithenge.
Goli, khanjar kuch bhi chale ham, seene par le lenge.
Banayege Mandir,Qasam tumhari Ram, pran se pyara hai,
Awadh puri ka Ram banayege Mandir… Jai ho!

Maryada purushottam Ram, maryada purushottam Ram
Maryada ke honge kaam, hum hain deewane Ram ke
Banayege Mandir,Qasam tumhari Ram, pran se pyara hai,
Awadh puri ka Ram banayege Mandir… Jai ho!

Badte kadam, rukenge nahi hum…
Mandir banaye hum, sab ko dikhaye hum, chahe nikal jaye dum.
Banayege Mandir,Qasam tumhari Ram, pran se pyara hai,
Awadh puri ka Ram banayege Mandir… Jai ho!

A nearly possible translation of the above song can be as follows:

We’ll surely complete the dream
We have made up our minds
We’ll cross every limit and this world will be a witness to it.
We are thy faithful lovers, we’ll not let thy name be erased.
We will build the temple, we swear in thy name, O Ram, more precious than our lives.
The Ram of Awadh and Puri, We’ll build the temple, Jai ho!

The blood which flows in our veins, that is for thy name.
Every child of Hindu dharma, is for thy sake, O Lord
Whatever be the consequences,

We will build the temple, we swear in thy name,
O Ram, more precious than our lives.
The Ram of Awadh and Puri, We’ll build the temple, Jai ho!

Till the time thy temple is not built, we will not rest in peace.
Bullets, daggers, whatever comes our way, we’ll take it on our chest.
We will build the temple, we swear in thy name, O Ram, more precious than our lives.
The Ram of Awadh and Puri, We’ll build the temple, Jai ho!

Ram, the supreme moral being, Ram the supreme moral being.
Thy work will be done, we are thy faithful lovers.
We will build the temple, we swear in thy name, O Ram, more precious than our lives.
The Ram of Awadh and Puri, We’ll build the tempe, Jai ho!.

The steps taken forward will never cease
We will build the temple, We’ll show everybody,
Even if, we cease to live, We will build the temple,
We swear in thy name, O Ram, more precious than our lives.
The Ram of Awadh and Puri, We’ll build the temple, Jai ho!

Standing at the Jail talab and listening to this song, surrounded by hundreds of devotees, it was impossible to ignore the message of the chorus being played. For a moment, it reminded me of the famous rather, notorious slogan—Saugandh Ram ki khate hain, Mandir wahi banayege (We swear in the name of Ram, the temple will be built there itself)     and Bachacha bachacha Ram ka, Janmabhoomi ke kaam ka’ (every child belongs to Ram, belongs to his birth place), of the Ramjanabhumi movement led by L. K Advani and his gang, which culminated in the demolition of the Babari Masjid. But then I thought, it could have just been a mistake or an unintended attempt, so it should not be generalised, as the song was not played again for the ten-fifteen minutes that I stayed there. I then proceeded to the city for some other work, leaving my family members behind at the talab. On my way back from the city, my ears picked up the now familiar tune being played yet again on the loudspeakers of Line talab, half a km away from the one I had earlier visited. On reaching my home, I was ‘surprised’ to hear that the same song had been played repeatedly on regular basis at Jail talab.

Here, while it is interesting to note how the communal fascist forces are utililising festivals to communalise the public mind for pursuing their agendas, at the same time, it is also necessary to ask that just a month and a half after the controversial verdict on Ayodhya, and barely a month before the 18th anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition, what could be the message or the reason behind it. It seems, it has a very loud and clear message—the Sangh Parivar and its allies are determined to build the Mandir at Ayodhya no matter what the Supreme Court of India decides. But for this, they need the support of ordinary Hindus. So, this Chhath Puja, Ram ke naam.

(Mahtab Alam, a civil rights activist and freelance journalist and can be reached at activist dot journalist at gmail dot com.)

6 Comments leave one →
  1. geeta seshu permalink
    November 17, 2010 6:03 PM

    thanks for this post.
    I really liked the description of the atmosphere in your childhood – I didn’t know it was such a major festival in the North.
    Only recently, it has made a huge entry into Mumbai – where I live – and is seen partly as an assertion of the identity of the north indians in Mumbai as well as an indicator of the number of north indians in the city!
    So, in this age of lost innocence, the dying sun indiscriminately gives life to faith and faithlessness!

  2. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    November 18, 2010 11:09 AM

    Thank you Mahtab, for this rare and touching first person account of the gradual appropriation of yet another Hindu festival by the politics of Hindtuva…

  3. shama zaidi permalink
    November 19, 2010 5:24 PM

    not all north indians observe chhat, only those from bihar and neighbouring areas of eastern uttar pradesh.

  4. Yogesh permalink
    November 19, 2010 8:56 PM

    Very interesting and instructive post. The Sangh Parivar has been consistently communalising Hinduism. It is yet another sober warning to the secular forces that their lazy dismissal of religion and religiosity of common people will only strengthen the communal forces in society and politics.

  5. Sahab Shabbir permalink
    November 25, 2010 11:27 AM

    Mahtab has presented a clear picture of what the lay hindu doesn’t thinks but is made to think. I am writing this comment when a day back only, Bihar has got another chance to shine at the hands of Nitish, who came in to power with the help of the fanatic hindu party. His this support from all the people shows that gone are the days of those who found it easy to allure in the name of caste or religion.

  6. Tariq A Siddiqi permalink
    December 23, 2010 2:39 AM

    I too sometimes become nostalgic while seeing chhathh pooja. But these days chhath pooja, like other Poojas, has been overpowered by Communal Eliments.

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