Photojournalist and Documentary Photographer Abhishek Singh is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography. From the project ‘Chhat Puja’. To see ABHISHEK’s body of work, click on any image.
An ancient Hindu festival amidst modern-day pollution
Chhath Puja has evolved into a popular solar festival, and is celebrated with fervor across north and east India. While it’s classified as a solar festival, Chhathi Mai, wife/consort of the Indian sun god, Surya, is worshipped as well .
Chhath Puja has its origins in the Indian states of Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, and in Nepal, but its popularity has now spread not only across north and east India, but even across the world. The four-day celebrations attract so many people that city and state authorities often have to make special arrangements.
Celebrated six days after Diwali, Chhath Puja falls in the lunisolar month of Kartik (October-November of the Gregorian calendar). It’s often referred to as a solar festival since the principal god is Surya, the sun god; it is called Surya Shasthi Vrat, with the word chhat coming from shasthi or the sixth day of the new moon. The goddess Chhathi Mai/Usha, said to be Surya’s consort, holds a significant position of reverence and worship. Interestingly, this is one of the few solar festivals that start at sunset rather than sunrise. This is not a gender-specific festival, but has traditionally and socially been female-centric, partly also because Chhathi Mai is said to be the protector goddess of children, ensuring their longevity and good health.
Apart from the popular lore associated with Chhath Puja, the festival also has a connection with agriculture. This can be classified as a post-harvest festival, as the worship of the sun is a show of gratitude for the bountiful harvest in the season just ended, rice being one of the crops harvested at this time.
For four days, devotees from northern India and even Nepal fasted, made offerings of sweets and fruits, and immersed themselves in sacred rivers—particularly the Yamuna.
In fact, it’s the festivities around the Yamuna that were the most striking.
One of India’s most sacred rivers, it has turned into one of its most polluted as institutional neglect has allowed industrial effluents and untreated sewage to flow into it over the years. Environmentalists have now labeled it as “ecologically dead.” And though successive state governments have promoted plans to clean up the river, none have delivered as yet.
But for millions, the Yamuna remains a key water source and deeply resonates with their faith. So, for the Chhath Puja, thousands entered its waters covered in toxic foam.
All images 2019 and text © ABHISHEK SINGH
ABHISHEK’s Previous Contributions To Edge Of Humanity Magazine
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