Patna: All roads in the city led to the mighty Ganges today as lakhs made a beeline to the myriad ghats, all sparkling clean and decked up to receive devotees taking part in the Chhath Puja.
Patna roads, which are otherwise notorious for huge traffic snarls, looked different today as cars, bikes and other modes of transport gave way to devotees walking on foot and carrying kalsoops (wicker basket) on their heads containing offerings to be made to the Sun god.
The more enthusiastic ones went through the arduous ritual of prostrating on the ground after every single step while undertaking the journey to the ghats where people, cutting across social backgrounds, converged to offer Arghya to the Astaachal Surya (the setting sun).
The fervour that had started building up with Nahai Khai on Tuesday, followed by Kharna yesterday, hit a crescendo today as the Chhath vratees, who observe a rigorous, 36-hour fast and refuse to take even a sip of water as part of mandatory discipline for the occasion, made their journey to the ghats singing hymns in praise of the sun god in local dialects like Bhojpuri, Maithili and Magahi.
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The festivities will conclude tomorrow when the devotees re-converge on the banks of the Ganges, standing in waist-deep water, and offer Arghya to the rising sun.
The Chhath vratees thereafter break their fast consuming Prasad offered to Chhathi Maiya, the main item being thekua a pancake made of wheat flour, shredded coconuts and jaggery.
While not all members of a family observe the gruelling 36-hour-long nirjala fast, there are a number of austerities which every relative of a Chhath Vratee is required to observe for the four-day period.
These include complete abstinence from food containing onions and garlic, non-vegetarian items, tobacco and other intoxicants.
People often have a tough time preventing children from touching the delicious and aromatically tempting thekuas and other fruits until the Arghya is offered to the rising sun.
Politicians use the occasion for a public relation exercise on a grand scale by inviting people to partake at kharna prasad on the eve of obeisance to the setting sun. They include Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and opposition RJD leader Lalu Prasad Yadav alike.
Kumar, who is known to tour ghats on the evening Arghya days, has chosen the Nasriganj Ghat at Danapur this year. At the Kharna Prasad distribution organized at his official residence last night, the Chief Minister lauded amazing self-discipline and mankinds connect with nature that is displayed during the Bihar’s most significant religious festival.
Kumars deputy Sushil Kumar Modi and Acting President of the state Congress Kaukab Qadri too took the opportunity to strengthen their connect with the people by undertaking distribution of kalsoops, coconuts, incense sticks and other items that are used in the puja.
The festivities present a daunting task to police personnel with congregation of a vast crowd of women and children at the river banks through makeshift pathways. They remain on their toes as nearly a score of people were killed in a stampede in 2012.
Preparations have been underway for the mammoth gathering since last weekend when Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi held separate inspections of the numerous ghats in Patna and the satellite township of Danapur and gave instructions to officials for sprucing up the arrangements.
Kumar laid special emphasis on ensuring safety and security at the ghats.
The Deputy CM Modi has said that the Bihar government is treating the festivities as a state event and arrangements have been made accordingly, which include barricading at strategic points to avert stampedes, a modern communication system to disseminate correct information and prevent any rumours that could trigger panic.
Besides, teams of National Disaster Response Force and its state counterpart, armed with lifejackets and inflatable boats have been patrolling the ghats to deal with any eventuality.
Water ambulances with doctors and paramedics on board are also patrolling the ghats to deal with any medical emergency that might arise.