Fairs and Festivals of Bihar
Ancient Vediv Religion Festivities of Bihar are steeped in history that has no means
to fathom. Moreover, history is not always written by historians but by people who
ake up legends. and legends to the skeptics are in fact revelations to the faithful.
At one time Bihar was beyond the pale of Aryan culture and remained free fro the
influences of Vedic religion. During this period, the people of ancient Bihar worshipped
the forces of nature, like serpents, stones, trees, Chaityas (funerary mounds) Yakshas
(semi divine beings), etc. Gradually these objects were incorporated into the Aryan
pantheon and in exchange Brahmana leadership and Vedic sacrifices were accepted
by the people of this region.
The Festivities in Bihar
The majority of people are Hindu. So all traditional Hindu festivals are observed
- Holi, Saraswati Puja, Durga Puja or Dusserah, Deepavali, Bhaiya Dooj etc. But
there is one festival that is uniquely associated with Bihar, and that is the festival
Muslims comprise a vast minority. (At the time of partition of India, in 1947, a
very large number of Bihari Muslims migrated to Pakistan - then comprising of East
and West Pakistan. When East Pakistan was liberated from Pakistani rule and became
the nation of Bangladesh, these Bihari Muslims had a second migration, this time
to West Pakistan, now simply known as Pakistan. This Bihari minority in Pakistan
is known as "mujahirs" and they are engaged in a fierce fight for their
survival in Pakistan.)
Christians, although proportional to the whole population a small minority, are
very large in absolute numbers. Many beautiful Catholic and Protestant church buildings
dot the landscape of towns in Bihar. Special mention may be made of Patna and Ranchi.
Some examples are: the St. Joseph's Convent, the St. Xavier's School with its chapel,
Padri-Ki-Haveli, and the church at the Holy Family Hospital in Patna; and the Gossner
Evangelical Lutheran Church at Ranchi.
Surprisingly, Bihari Sikhs, in the land that gave the tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh,
are very few in number. A large number of Sikhs from the Punjab migrated to Bihar
during the partition of India in 1947. This uprooted, but highly enterprising, group
of people quickly established itself as very successful member of the business and
industrial community in Bihar. They are now an integral part of the Bihari population.
The Harmandir Takht, the gurudwara that commemorates Guru Gobind Singh, is a sacred
place of pilgrimage for the Sikhs. To the Sikhs this holy place is reverentially
known as Patna Sahib.
The amalgamation of Vedic and non-Aryan religion was not an easy affair. It is not
surprising to find the Rig Vedic word for festival, Samana, which has been rendered
both as ‘battle’ and ‘ ‘festival’. We hear of Bhima
and Arjuna as destroying the great Chaitya on the hills of Rajgir in order to demonstrate
their hostility towards Magadha. Likewise, the Asurs of Gaya were uprooted by Vishnu.
The famous Sonepur Cattle fair (deeed to be the largest in the world) recreates
the Gagendra moksha legend, associated with Hariharanatha temple in Sonepur, which
was once strongly opposed to Vishnu. The Cattle fair, beginning with the full moon
day of Kartik Purnima (November) commemorates the ancient concord accommplished
at Sonepur, between the opposing sects of Vishnav and Shiva worshippers.
The Legend associated with Kaun Hara Ghat
The central venue is the kaun hara (who lost ?) ghat (river bank) which originates
from a mythical encounter between the honest gaja elephant) and the shrewd graha
(crocodile). The story dates back to the undatable past when the elephant. Jai and
the crocodile, Vijai in their previous birth were fraternally related devotees of
Lord Vishnu. Once they quarreled amongst themselves over the distribution of proceeds
received from a fire sacrifice. Jai, the elder, cursed the younger Vijai for reneging
on the promise of equal shares, while Vijaia insisted that each of them were given
what they deserved and so there was no question of sharing it. For Vijai, the curse
spelled rebirth as a vile crocodile. In retaliation the younger cursed the elder
to be reborn as an elephant. When the anger subsided, the two brothers realised
thir mistakes but the curses were irrevocable. Later, one Kartik Purnima day when
the saintly elephant went to the Gandak river for a bath, the crafty crocodile caught
his foot. A fierce battle ensued and finally Lord Vishnu had to hurl his disc to
kill the crocodile. The Hariharanatha Temple at Sonepur, housing the images of Vishnu
and Shiva, commemorates the temporary thaw in what was otherwise a more or less
permanent war between themselves and their supporters.
Sonepur Cattle Fair
Legend apart, the famous Sonepur fair in more of a cattle trading centre where incredible
number of birds and cattle are brought from different parts of the country. Besides,
the bewildering array of wares are on sale and add to this the numerous folk shows
about which the BBC once remarked, "there’s nothing like the Sonepur
Cabaret." The time to start is very early in the morning when the fog is suddenly
pierced by the sun and the huge gathering has just emerged from the holy dip in
the cold absolving waters. The mela that lasts upto a fortnight, provides enough
time to talk to the parrots, watch the elephants being bathed leisurely, followed
by ear splitting trumpets and then the artists working up with colourful designs
to decorate the elephants as if the pachyderm has been tatooed all over, see the
horses being tested for their speed and stamina, big bulky buffaloes being milked
and likewise all other animals demonstrating their skill, strength and productivity.
By midday, it is the cacophony of strong decibels pouring in from all corners as
the huge gathering becomes denser with more and more people adding to the sound
and sight of the landscae. Ash smeared, saffron clothed holy men blow their conches
and bang their gongs. Loudsspeakers, from various folk shows and jugglers rent the
air together with the unison from the animals. Much before the sun sets in, flames
and fumes of dung fire burning at different places appear to screen the sky in a
very amusing way, as if some mediveval army has just camped for the night. and it
is time to share a gossip with one of the villagers who may better summarise the
stock and sale of the cattles for the day. Zesty snacks together with tea comes
in from the open air restaurant.
The rainy month of Sravana when there is danger of death from snake bite, people
appease the snake god by offering milk during Nag Panchmi. The prime centre of naga
worship is Rajgir and Mahabharata describes this place as the abode of serpents
and excavations have revealed numerous objects used in serpent cult. In fact naga
worship is wide spread through out India.
Makar Sankranti Mela
Famous Makar Sankranti mela is another festival unique to Rajgir in the month of
Paus, corresponding to mid January. Devotees make flower offerings to the deities
of the temples at Hot springs and bathe in the holy water. Another historic place
associated with fifteen day long Makar Sankranti mela is the Mandar hills in Banka
district. Puranic legends accounts for a great deluge which witnessed the creation
of a Asura that threatened the gods. Vishnu cut off the Asura’s head and piled
up the body under the weight of the Mandar hill. The famous panchjanya - the sankh
(counch shell) used in the Mahabharat war is believed to have been found here on
the hills. Traces, akin to serpent coil can be seen around the hill and it is believed
that the snake god offered himself to be used as a rope for churning the ocean to
obtain the amrit (nectar).
Gaya-Buddhist Pilgrimage Center
Gaya is another holy dot in Bihar, famous for the International Buddhist Gathering
and the rallying point is the Mahabodhi tree and the adjacent temple. The occasions
are Buddha Jayanti (Buddha was born on this day, he attained enlightenment on this
day and also attained Nirvana on this day ) and in the month of Vaisakh (April/May)
and the annual session of Dalai Lama in December. Mahavir Jayanti is celebated in
April with much fanfare on the Parsvanath hill and also at Vaishali while Deo Deepawali,
marking the attainment of Nirvana by Mahavira is celebrated best at Pawapuri, ten
days after Deepavali.
Gaya - Pitrapaksha Mela
Arond september the sleepy town of Gaya is agog with people who come here for the
famous Pitrapaksha mela or the ancestor worship typified in Sraddha ritual. It is
time for the Gayalis (the descendants of Magga Brahmans who were once devotees of
Shiva but later converted to Vaishnavism) to be prepared for the vedic Sraddha ceremonies
or the pindan - a mandatory Hind rite that is supposed to bring salvation to the
departed soul. In the early Dharmasastras, Vishnu provides a list of over 50 tirthas
but it proclaims that dead ancestors pray to God for a son who would offer pinda
(lymph of rice) to them at Gaya.
The tradition traces its history to the time of Buddha, who is believed to have
performed the first pindan here. Turning the pages of earlier history, one comes
across the Puranic legend that ascribes Gaya as one of the holiest spots of the
world. The Asura, named Gaya become so powerful that the gods felt threatened and
thus thought of eliminating him. As a precondition to his death, the Asura demanded
that be should be buried in the holiest spot of the world. This place is Gaya.
The central point of the Hindu pilgrimage in Gaya is the Vishnupada temple built
by Rani Ahilyabai of Indore in 1787. The spot on which it stands is associated with
the famous mythological event of Vishnu killing Gaya and leaving his footprints
on the rock which is the main point of worship in the temple. The Shraddha is customarily
performed under a fig tree while the women pilgrim perform it indoors as gayawal
women live under strange customs, for instance, they never stir out of the house,
married girl continues to get her daily ration from her parents. They can adopt
a child or even an adult, who may assist her in their work. The Gayawals are believed
to maintain centuries old records of the pindans performed under the supervision
of their ancestors and accordingly people prefer the specific family of Gayawals
who might have served their ancestors as well.
Other Famous Festivities
Though Bihar is in league with festivals like Holi, Dussehra, Deepavali but chaath
puja (6 days after Deepavali) is Bihar’s prime festival honouring the sun
god. Unlike the zestful Holi or the expensive Deepavali) Chaath is a festival of
prayer and propitiation observed with solemnity. It is an expression of thanks giving
and seeking the blessings from the forces of nature, prominent among them being
the Sun and river. The belief is that a devotee’s desire is always fulfilled
during Chaath. Simultaneously an element of fear is alive among the devotees who
dread the punishment for any misdeed during Chaath. The city remains safe during
this time when criminals too prefer to be a part of the good.
Chaath in Bihar can best be seen at Deo in Aurangabad or Baragaon near Nalanda,
noted for their sun temples. Unlike other sun temples in India that faces East,
the temple at Deo faces west and during the festival time it is the most crowded
place. It is strange to see a Brahmin standing in the river water next to a Harijan
! The festival is more of a sacrifice which entails purificatory preparation. It
can be performed by men or women, irrespective to caste or creed. Chaath commences
with the end of Deepavali when the house is thoroughly cleaned, family members go
in for a holy dip, strict saltless vegetarian menu is observed (even onions and
garlic are considered unwanted during the entire festival period), all earthen vessels
are reserved for the period only and all possible purity of food is adhered to;
clothes have to be unstitched and people sleep on the floor.
The person observing the Chaath (known as Parvati) observes dawn to dusk fast which
concludes with sweets. This is followed by another fast for 36 hours till the dawn
of the final day when puja commences at the river bank much before sunrise. The
disciplined parvatis remain in water from late midnight until the ray of dawn streaks
the horizons. The river is now flooded with offerings to the sun which is followed
by breakfast and distribution among the gatherings.
Mithila- Marriage Market
What once used to be the debating ground scholars debating ground in Mithila has
now become saurath Sabha or the Mithila marriage market near Madhubani. In the summer
of June, Mithila Brahmins prefer to gather in the vast mango grove (thanks to the
Raja, Raghav Singh, the Mithila ruler of Darbhanga for gifting the land for the
ever gathering crowd of Mithila matchmakers) in the village of Surath to explore
the possibilites, discuss horoscope and finally to negotiate marriages within the
community but atleast five generations beyond the family.
The girl’s father is on the move trying to locate a prospective bridegroom
and so in the Ghatak (middleman), all the more serious to earn commissions on marriage
fixtures. Once the prospective families pass through the ordeal of question session
and feel satisfied by the initial scrutiny of the horoscopes, they move on to the
Panjikar (registrars) who verifies the records and credentials to ensure that matrimontial
alliance was not being performed within the prohibited degrees (within the seventh
generation on paternal side and the fifth on the maternal side). His satisfaction
earns a talpatra (palm leaf certificate) marked in red symbolising ‘no objection
certificate’ which permits the families to establish matrimonial alliance.
The Panjikar too receives a token and he blesses the girl’s father, "
May your daughter bathe in milk and bear many sons." The successful families
finally call off the day with a visit to the nearby Shiva temple.
The people of Mithila are believed to have followed the Panji Prabhadha (system
of recorded genealogy) since the fourteenth century. These records were maintained
by the Panjikars, who were later to examine the validity and purity of marriage
settlements. In fact one was supposed to be are of his ancestors names and a daily
rite of Tarpan ensured that people offered oblations of water in the name of each
ancestor upto six or seven generations. If one recalls the name of one’s acestors
daily, one can not forget their names