Almost all civilizations have worshipped the ‘sun god’..But it has a unique form in Bihar. Chatt Puja is the only occasion where the setting sun is worshipped.
The people of Bihar have immense faith in this festival. It is celebrated twice a year. Once in ‘Chaitra’ (according to the Hindu calendar) which falls in March and in ‘Kartik ‘ which falls in November. For this 4-day festival, people maintain sanctity and purity from even a month ahead. People celebrate this festival with immense faith the folk songs sung in the honour of ‘Surya Dev’ and ‘Chatti Maiyya’ can be heard at every nook and corner the sweetness of the songs lets you feel the holiness of the festival. The Chhath festival, celebrated by the people of this ancient capital of the Mithila region, has been a cultural convergence of both the Maithili-speaking people and the people migrated here from hill areas. Janakpur is believed to be the capital of the legendary king Janak, the foster father of Sita, who was married to Lord Ramchandra from Ayodhya in India. People of the Mithila region are of the opinion that the Chhath festival, also known as Surya Pooja (worshipping the sun) has been described in the Rig Veda, which is believed to be the oldest text available in the world. Chhath emerged as a traditional festival after Draupadi, wife of the Pandavas, began worshipping the sun during their one-year disguise in the palace of king Birat. People believe that worshipping the sun would help cure the disease like leprosy and bring about prosperity and longevity to their family members. Local people say that the festival has become more important after migrants from the hills also adopted it as their own cultural asset. Women of the Mithila region were busy in purchasing varieties of articles to offer to the sun god. The Chhath festival is marked for four days. Men and women prepare special dishes made up of special rice and molasses and taste them after an audience of the moon. They took a dip in Ganga Sagar and Dhanush Sagar, the famous lakes of the area. During the four-day-festival, the devotees worship the rising and setting sun.
Women fast for the good of their family and the society. Regardless of the social status, to celebrate this festival only the faith counts. Though it is a festival of the Hindus, some of the Muslims also participate actively in the puja.
The full moon day of Magh (Jan-Feb) is known as Maghi Poornima. It is a great bathing day and is as important as Karthik Poornima. The dead ancestors are offered libations, and the poor are given clothes, food, money, etc. Then Brahmans are fed and given "Daan- Dakshina" according to one's means. On this day great bathing festivals are held at various places along the banks of the holy rivers like the Ganges, Yamuna, Sarayu, Narmada, Tapti, Kaveri, Krishna, etc. A bath in the sea at Kanyakumari or Rameswaram or Puskhar or at the sacred tank in Kumbakonam is considered to be very meritorious. The Magh Mela at Prayag near Allahabad held on this day is very famous in India. More than a million devotees assemble at the confluence of the Ganges and the Yamuna and earn merit.
Also known as Tila Sankranti, the festival marks the beginning of the summer season. People believe that from this day on, the days become longer and the heat of the sun also increases. Every year it is observed on the 14th of January. People celebrate it by giving offerings to the poor.
"Pag-pag pokhar machh makhan
Saras bol muski mukh paan
Vidya vaibhav shanti pratik
Saras kshetra Mithilanchal theek."
(On every step you will find ponds of water. People are fond of fish and makhana, produce of a water plant used in making tasty milky dish. They speak sweetly and like to chew 'paan' (betel leaf). Thus, Mithilanchal that abounds in learning and is the symbol of peace is an enjoyable region.)
Though festivals are celebrated in every part of the world and more lusciously in India, but people of Mithila celebrate from their hearts.
Diwali begins in Mithila with great festivity. Modernization has changed the way Diwali is celebrated in towns and cities where electric lights have devoured the traditional beauty of the earthen pots and excessive use of crackers and pollution-making fireworks has taken the place of customary norms conducive to socialization. In towns, Diwali is a show of prosperity and Laxmi is the fondest goddess of the people.
Such processions are taken out from all the villages of a cluster and they meet at a junction place, normally any famous temple of lord Hanuman in the cluster, where all the 'jhandas' are brought together a place. Drums beat, folk dancers - all men and women - go on their swing, reverberating slogans of "Jai Ho" (may lord Hanuman be victorious) together with the sounds of dholaks and trumpets turn the whole atmosphere as if all were in a battle-field. Youths brandish their swords, participate in 'kushti' (dual fight), display their strength and skills in several ways, all join together and greet one another collectively with "Jai ho, jai ho" and then go back to their respective villages while 'Hanumanji ka Jhanda' will now rest at that sacred spot till next year.
The spirit of unity and collectivity, of bravery and gallantry is remarkable and one will be really fascinated that high and low, rich and poor, men and women all dance and sing together with utmost hilarity.
Two days after Diwali, Bhaidooj is celebrated. This is the festival symbolizing a sister's love for her brother and is also known as Bhratri Dwitiya and Govardhan Pooja. Rakshabandhan is all over known as festival of fraternal love but Bhaidooj is observed only in some parts of North India and particularly in this North-Western Mithilanchal region. The association of 'Hanumanji ka Jhanda' with Diwali is also a typical feature only of this area and cannot be observed in any other part of India. While on Rakshabandhan, sisters tie a silky 'rakhi' on the wrist of their brothers and it is expected of brothers that they will safeguard their sisters, Bhaidooj is a festival when sisters pray for the strength and long life of their brothers. Instead of a silky 'rakhi', beads of raw cotton are tied on the brother's wrist. Sisters ask their brothers to eat, apart from sweets, three symbolic things: coconut, nut and a corn named 'vajri'. These are hard-shelled edibles and especially 'vajri' is very hard to chew.
The implied meaning is that the sisters wish their brothers to be as strong as nut and like a 'vajra' (fatal mythological weapon of Indra, the god of rains). Unless brothers are strong how can they safeguard their sisters? So, Bhaidooj is, in fact, other part of the coin and a supplement to Rakshabandhan. On this same day, Govardhan Pooja is also celebrated. This is an important festival for the farmers perhaps associated with the joy of reaping sugarcane, wheat and other important crops of winter.
Govardhan Pooja is also a symbolic submission to the will of God and, in practical terms, the farmers express their happiness over the harvest they have reaped - be it sound or poor, they are content that God granted them what was their share. Cows and oxen, the closest friends of the farmers of Indian village, receive special attention on this day. Their horns are painted, colors applied to their bodies and generally they are given a break of rest on this day as homage to their tireless labor.
Another significant celebration underlining the sisters' love for their brothers is "Shama-Chakeva". Starting some days after Diwali. Shama-Chakeva is rather a traditional game which lasts for over a fortnight. For a girl or women living in towns, this game perhaps will seem like a babies' game with dolls. In a village set-up, there are joint families still surviving in most rural areas. And then there are neighboring families. Girls and women relieved from their daily toils and routine work, gather in the evening and sit in a circle, light a lamp and sing songs remembering their brothers. They play with the images of Shama and Chakeva. Chakeva is the brother and the sister's name in the game is Khirlich. Shama is Chakeva's elder brother's wife. A villain is also present named 'Chugla' who backbites and tries to raise barrier between the pious love of the brother and the sister but the reality is revealed and 'Chugla' gains nothing. As a punishment to 'Chugla', his long moustache is burnt with the burning lamp bit by bit. On the fifteenth day, his moustache would completely vanish leaving a burning mark and with this the traditional game of Shama-Chakeva is over.
The songs sung during this game reveal many truths and realities and underline the sisters' selfless love for the brothers. In the songs, they reveal their grief of separation as the brother is earning his livelihood in a remote part and does not come often to meet his sister, as the sister is tortured by the step-mother and even exploited by the brother's wife and only her brother can understand her plight, as the sister is married and now going far, far away from her brother and inviting him to come and meet her frequently. Their are solemn, deep emotions in the songs of 'Shama-Chakeva' whose in-depth implications can be understood only by those who are familiar with the Indian village set-up, situation of families, their problems and conflicts and, amidst all these, the holy bond of friendship and understanding between a brother and a sister.
On the sixth and seventh days of Diwali, there is a mega festival celebrated and this is not celebrated only in Mithilanchal but in the whole of Bihar with great honor and sense of sanctity and even in some parts of the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh. This festival is known as "Chhath" (i.e. the sixth day festival).
"Uje kelba phar le ghaud me o pe suga mandraye
Uje khabari janaibo Suruj se suga delo juthiaye
Uje marbau re sugba dhanush se sugga gire murjhaye".
(See the bananas fructified on the tree in a big bunch, a parrot is hovering over to partake of it. Refrain, O Parrot! or I will inform about this to the Sun God. He will shoot you with His bow and arrow and you will fall down senseless). Such a deep sense of sanctity surrounds this highly significant worship.