Chhath—Festival of Migrants
Image Credit: Benjamin Vander Steen

Chhath—Festival of Migrants

 
 

When people migrate, they usually take their culture and way of life with them. Over time, imported cultures and festivals often start to take on political overtones as parties start supporting certain celebrations in an effort to woo growing migrant populations.

This could explain why Chhath, a festival predominantly associated with Bihar and other neighbouring states, has become increasingly visible in Delhi during the days immediately after the Diwali festival.

Chhath was barely noticeable even just a few years ago, and the state government provided few facilities for celebrating it.But the growing population of Biharis and migrants from eastern Uttar Pradesh has changed the demographics of the capital. Punjabis, who used to dominate and influence the city largely because of their established economic and political status, have given way to those moving here from eastern states.

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Chhath is an ancient Hindu festival dedicated to the Indian sun god, Surya. The festival is performed in order to thank the sun god for sustaining life on earth and to request the granting of certain wishes. In Hindu mythology, worship of the sun is believed to help cure a variety of diseases, including leprosy, and is supposed to help ensure the longevity and prosperity of family members, friends and elders.

The rituals of the festival are rigorous and include holy bathing, fasting and abstaining from drinking water or vratta, standing in water for extended periods and offering prashad (sweets) or prayers to the rising and setting sun.

Traditionally, Bihar, Jharkhand and some parts of Nepal have been the main centres of Chhath festivities. However, migrants have carried this rural festival to different parts of the country, adding a cultural richness to the cities where it has been introduced.

Today, migrants from Bihar and eastern UP constitute around 40 percent of Delhi’s population, something that has transformed the cultural and political landscape of the capital.

No political party now can think of ruling Delhi without significant backing from the recently arrived population, a point underscored by the competitiveness of the politics between the Congress Party and the Bhartiya Janata Party.

The ruling Congress Party, which has been a real beneficiary of the migrant vote and has been ruling Delhi on the basis of their solid support, leaves no stone unturned in its efforts to find the best ways to organize Chhath. The government makes all the necessary arrangements and cleans along the bank of the Yamuna river, where the main prayers are offered during this festival.

Not to be outdone, the main opposition BJP has been trying to please migrants by organizing a separate function in east Delhi on the banks of the Yamuna.

This phenomenon isn’t unique to Delhi. Similar political competitiveness is shown in Mumbai, where migrants from eastern India and Uttar Pradesh constitute one of the most productive forces in the country’s financial capital.

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