Ode to god of green things

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  • Published 28.10.14

Chhath, Bihar’s biggest festival, would win hands down should there be a contest to choose the cleanest and greenest festival.

It in no way threatens the environment. All that people do is worship Mother Nature in the most pious way.

In fact, the speciality of the festival lies in the fact that it revolves around nature. All the things needed to observe the festival are obtained naturally. Besides, it does not even require a temple, as all rituals are performed on the riverbank or in some other water body. Also, there is a ban on the use of LPG or kerosene stoves, or any machine, to cook edibles including prasad during Chhath.

Some festivals are known to adversely impact the environment. For instance, hundreds of idols made of toxic material like plaster of Paris, baked clay, chemical colours, synthetic costumes and jewellery, which disturb the river ecology, are immersed into the already-polluted Ganga in Patna after Dussehra. During Diwali, people burst crackers causing both noise and air pollution. Also, harmful chemicals exist in the colours people smear on each other during Holi.

But most items used during the four-day Chhath rituals are biodegradable. Add to that the practice of cleaning up water bodies and the riverbank, prohibition on use of synthetic material and you have a most eco-friendly festival.

Such an eco-friendly form of worship is most relevant in these times when environment degradation and the resultant climate change is a global concern. In recognition of this challenge, Government of India even renamed the ministry of environment and forests as ministry of environment, forests and climate change. “Chhath is an eco-friendly as well as scientific festival,” said Ashok Ghosh, chairman of the state-level expert appraisal committee, the technical face of the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority. Ghosh is also a senior faculty at the environment and water management department of Patna-based A.N. College.

Elaborating further, he said: “Chhath is observed to worship the Sun God. All green plants depend on the Sun God for photosynthesis, which converts solar energy into chemical energy to produce agricultural products like fruits and crops. During Chhath, we offer the same fruits and vegetables as thanksgiving to the Sun God. In a way, by observing Chhath, we acknowledge the importance of environment for our basic survival,” said Ghosh.

Naveen Kumar, a senior scientist with the Bihar State Pollution Control Board, claimed Chhath was probably the only Hindu festival in which only natural products are used. “Chhath is the most environment friendly festival celebrated in Bihar. Most prayer items used in Chhath, say the daura and soop, are bamboo products, which are biodegradable. In fact, Chhath is a festival meant for worshipping nature itself,” he said.

Ashok Ghosh went on to say Chhath was the only festival that was real. “Despite being a Bengali, I have a great deal of respect for Chhath as it is the only festival where I can see God — Sun — being worshipped in front of me. Most other festivals are based on belief, but Chhath is truly real,” he said.

During Chhath, also referred to as Dala Chhath Puja, the rituals are performed on the banks of a flowing river where women take a dip and offer prayers. The duration of the prayers is from two to three hours. River Ganga occupies centrestage during this festival, as it flows all through the heart of Bihar, from west to east. The river comes alive with thousands of earthen lamps lit as women observe puja at frequent intervals on its banks, around sunset and sunrise.

Women also sing songs related to the prayer and on Ganga while engaging in the different rituals. These songs are mostly traditional folk songs, which have been in existence for ages.

In fact, after the Sun God, the river Ganga occupies the most important position in Chhath Puja. Since the launch of the Ganga Action Plan, way back in 1986, Government of India has spent crores of rupees on cleaning up the 2,525-km-long Ganga river.

However, not much has improved over the years. Experts have suggested the government take more realistic measures in acknowledgment of the greatness of the river, which attracts lakhs of devotees every year to observe Chhath.