A week after the festival of lights, Diwali, is celebrated chhath. For one night, people of Bihar virtually live on the banks of river Ganga and other water pools to offer obeisance to Sun god.Since the obeisance has to be offered from mid-water, the ideal venue for this unique festivity is .the banks of rivers. The festival is dedicated to the worship of Sun god and is, therefore, also known as Surya Shashti Chhath is considered to be an opportunity to thank Sun god for bestowing the bounties of life on earth and also to pray for fulfilment of wishes.The word Chhath denotes the number six and, thus, the festival begins on the sixth day of the Hindu month of Kartik in the Hindu lunar calendar, corresponding to October-November. It is one of the holiest festivals for Biharis and extends for four days with the devotees offering prayers on the last sunset and sunrise from the middle of a water pool.It’s popularly believed that all the wishes of the devotees are fulfilled during Chhath. Also, an element of fear is present among the devotees who dread the punishment for mi deeds during Chhath. So much so that even criminals stop their activities for these four days and the stale becomes a safer place to live in.
Day 1: Devotees take a dip, preferably in the holy river Ganga, and bring the sacred river water 10 prepare offerings.
Day 2: Devotees observe a fast for he whole day, which is broken in ate evening after offering prayers at home. The offerings — ‘kheer’, ‘puri’ and bananas — are then distributed among family and friends.
Day 3: The day is spent preparing the offerings at home. In the evening, the devotees along with their family and friends move to a riverbank or a pond. There, the offerings are made to the setting sun. At nightfall, the devotees along with the family and friends return home where another colourful celebration takes place. Clay elephants containing earthen lamps and containers full of the offerings are placed under a canopy of sugarcane sticks. There the god of fire is worshiped.
Day 4: On the final day of the festivities, the devotees and their family and friends again move to the riverbank before sunrise. Offerings are made to the rising sun this time. At the completion of the offerings, the devotees break their fast. It is a joyous and colorful festival. While fasting devotees have to wear unstitched, new cloths, others are dressed in their best attire.Devotional songs reverberate in the air, purifying the whole atmosphere. Folksongs are sung both at home and on the riverbank. Each and every street is cleaned by volunteers,
who also decorate all the streets leading to rivers and ponds with illuminating lights and colorful festoons and banners.
Strict vegetarian menu is followed in every home, and even onions and garlic are considered a taboo during the four-day festivities. All possible purity of food is ensured. SHRAVANI MELAShravani Mela is organized along the 108-km route that links Sultanganj and Deoghar in Jharkhand in the Hindu month of Shravan; that is, the lunar month of July-August. Lakhs of “kanwarias” or pilgrims, wearing saffron, collect water from the sacred river Ganga at Sultanganj and walk barefoot to Deoghar in Jharkhand where they bathe a sacred Shivalinga with the water brought from Sultanganj — as their holy offering or service.Deoghar or Devagriha, the abode of gods, is located four miles to the south-east of Jasidih Junction on the Howrah-Delhi main line of the Eastern Railway. There’s a small branch rail line from Jasidih to Deoghar. The railway station at Deoghar is called Baidyanath Dham.An all-weather road connects Deoghar with Kolkata and Delhi. Passenger buses run regularly to Deoghar from Bhagalpur, Dumka, Patna, Gaya, Munger and other places in Bihar.Deoghar has picturesque surroundings. To the north of the town is a wood called Data Jungle; to the north-west is a hill called Nandan Pahar and to the east, about 10 miles away, there is a low range of hills known as Trikutaparvata. There are a number of small hills to the south-east, south and southwest. Two rivulets, Yamunajor and Dharua, flow nearby. The countryside is also dotted with water courses and small hills. The climate is dry, and Deoghar is considered a health resort.As a matter of fact, Deoghar is a far bigger and more important town than Dumka, the divisional HQ town. Deoghar has a large number of temples. The temple of Baidyanath or Shiva is the most important of all the temples and attracts a large number of pilgrims throughout the year.Three other important fairs are also held here __ Shri Panchmi Mela in January, Shivaratri Mela in March and Bhadra Purnima Mela in September. About one lakh people visit Shivaratri Mela in course of a fortnight. A number of lodges are available for pilgrims. The “pandas” or priests also rent out their houses to the pilgrims.Several legends are associated with the Shiva Temple. One legend has it that demon king Ravana of Lanka once propitiated Lord Shiva and wanted Him to come over to Lanka. Shiva did not agree to it, but told Ravana that one of the twelve emblems of His divinity, Jyotirlingam, would be quite as effective as His presence and that he might take it away on the condition that there should be no break in the journey and the lingam would not be deposited anywhere on the earth. If the lingam were put anywhere on the earth in the course of the journey, it would be fixed to that spot forever. Ravana took the lingam and started his journey back to Lanka.Other gods, however, dreaded the effect of the lingam being established at the seat of the demon king. A ruse was devised and Varuna, the god of waters, entered Ravana’s stomach and the demon had to descend on the earth to relieve himself. Soon Vishnu, in the garb of an old Brahmin, appeared there, and Ravana requested the Brahmin to kindly hold the Jyotirlingam for a few minutes so that he could relieve himself. Lord Vishnu obliged him, but the moment Ravana turned his back to relieve himself, Vishnu left the Jyotirlingam on the spot and vanished.When Ravana came back, he found the Jyotirlingam firmly fixed to the earth and realized that a trick had been played on him. Furious, he even tried violence to remove the lingam, but to no avail. In the process, however, the lingam was broken at the top.Having failed to remove the lingam, Ravana paid obeisance to it and returned. He regularly used to come from Lanka and worship the divinity. The spot where Ravana descended on the earth is believed to be Harlajori, about four miles north of Deoghar, and the place where the lingam was deposited is known as Deoghar.The present nomenclature of the lingam is Baidyanath, and there is a legend about it as well. According to the Padma Purana, Lord Vishnu, after taking the lingam from Ravana, consecrated it with the water from a neighbouring tank. A Bhil witnessed it, and spilled the beans to Ravana. Ravana then dug up a well with an arrow and brought into it waters of all the sacred pools on the earth.The lingam, after the death of Ravana, used to be worshipped by a hunter Baiju, and thus it was named Baidyanath. The story of Baiju is more prevalent as a Santhal tradition.Yet another legend has it that when Sati, the consort of Shiva and daughter of Daksha, committed suicide because of the discourtesy shown towards her husband by Daksha’s father by not inviting him to a yajna, Lord Shiva stuck the corpse of his wife on the point of his trident and roamed around in a frenzy of fury.Lest Shiva’s anger and frantic movements should destroy the world, Vishnu cut the dead body with his discus into 52 parts, which fell in different parts of India and became 1Mahapeethasthans. According to the legend, the heart of Sati fell at Deoghar.Yet another legend says Lord Shiva, in the first age of the world, manifested himself as a lingam of light at twelve different places under different names, and Baidyanath was one of those twelve places. Sati worshipped the emblem and lived in a nearby grove for the purpose. This place is called Ketakivana.The temple of Baidyanath faces the east and is a plain stone structure with a pyramidal tower, which rises from a square base to a height of 72 feet from the ground. To the east of the northern verandah of the temple there is a large vat into which flows the water and milk offered to the lingam.The lingam is of a cylindrical forming, about 5 inches in diameter and projects about 4 inches from the centre of a large slab of basalt. It is not possible to ascertain how much of the lingam is buried.There are different porches in the temple. One porch leads to the cell where the lingam is fixed. The second porch is in front with a row of pillars spanned by blocks of basalt and on the right side is a sandstone image of a bull. There are bells fixed in the ceiling and pilgrims are supposed to pull the bell ropes to announce their approach to the divinity.There’s an inscription, which mentions that Puran Mal built the temple at the request of Raghunath and tradition has it that the inscription was forcibly put up by Puran Mal after he had the temple repaired. This claim does not enjoy local support.There’s another inscription at the entrance of the temple of Baidyanath, which mentions that Aditya Sena with his queen had built a temple of Vishnu and one Bala Bhadra had built an image of the boar incarnation of Vishnu.There is also an inscription on Mandar Hill, which mentions that Konadevi was the actual name of Aditya Sena’s queen and she had a tank excavated there, which is still in existence.Pilgrims bring water even from the source of the Ganga near Badrinath or from Manasarovara Lake in Tibet for offering the same to the lingam at Deoghar. Many of the pilgrims worship the lingam and lie down on the bare pavement of the verandah till next morning for fulfilment of their wishes. In the morning, they worship the lingam, drink a mouthful of water from the vat and lie down again. This continues for three days and three nights. It is said that usually the pilgrim, if he is to be redeemed, has a dream about it.According to the legend, Deoghar has many other names such as Harda Pitha, Ravanavana, Ketakivana and Haritakivana. The sanctity of the place has been particularly referred to in the Purana. In front of the main entrance to the courtyard there is a well called Chandra Kupa which is said to have been brought into being by Ravana and contains the holy waters of all the sacred pools on the earth.There is a large tank nearby known as Shiva Ganga. The tank is also known as Manasarovara. The rituals followed here consist of pouring water on the lingam, smearing it with sandal paste and offering flowers and a few grains of rice. Offerings of money, silver or gold or even movable and immovable properties are made here.
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