Chhath Puja In Greater Magadh / Bihar
Colonel Krityanand Das
Chatth is the only festival of its type that till recently was celebrated in only one part of India that is Bihar and parts of Eastern Uttar Pradesh, by all castes alike and even by some Muslims. It is now celebrated in Fiji, Mauritius and in Caribbean by people of Bihari lineage.
Over a period now it is visibly celebrated in many parts of India, of course by Biharis living and working at the places. Such places include New Delhi, Mumbai and even places in Kerala.
This is the only cult of Sun Worship alive in the world. Once This was very popular in many parts of the ancient worlds like Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece and Central Asia and Pagan Europe.
How and when this festival took shape is quite intriguing. Surya was never a major Vedic god. He only has about ten hymns in his praise in Rig Veda. He is part of Indo-Iranian legacy.
The name Surya is the derivative of ‘svara ‘ light,and a cognate with the Avestic ‘hvare’ sun, which has swift horse and is the eye of Ahura Mazda. He is also called the eyes of Mithra -Varuna equivalent of Avestan deity Ahura Mazda. He is all seeing eye in the sky.
He was also called a spy god as nothing could be hidden from his all penetrating eyes. So goes the saying even today in rural Bihar “जनता दिनकर दिना नाथ” -all is known to the lord of the day!
He was not a very important god in Vedas, so he wasn’t given importance in India even after the Vedic period either. Though Sun god in Greece as Helios and Apollo and Mithira in Persia was quite important as Re and Horus in Egypt and Marduk in Babylon.
And subsequently in Central Asia he was very popular as sky god among the various tribes of Sakas, Hunnas, Turks and Mongols and so many other wild tribes that kept growing like mushrooms in the cold steppe and deserts of Central Asia.
Since he dwelt in the sky like the Tengri, the supreme god of all Altaic people in particular and all other dwelling nomads of steppe in general. And all these Central Asian tribes trickled in to India in same order as they are mentioned above. Sakas came as Kusan and brought in Northern or Mahayan or Sanskrit Buddhism that evolved in Central Asia from old Theravada.
In around first century AD, they entered India.They are the only people who ruled both in Cental Asia and in India- south of Hindukush and beyond Pataliputra. Due to their presence and influence Spice and Cotton /Silk Road had roaring trade.
They brought in Sanskrit as medium of Mahayana Buddhism and of governance, till then Palli was the medium of Theravada Buddhism and local languages were used for governance. It was in this period that Sun Worship also made its presence in India.
Sun god is seen in the Kusan coinage.In this period Sanskrit progressed well, from mere language of few religious Vedic scriptures of cow herders and wood cutters, it grew and gave utterance to secular expressions as well. It blossomed into classical Sanskrit by the time of the Guptas.
Then came the continuous invasion of the Hunnas from 450 to 600 AD in India. They had already devastated entire northern China, Iran and Southern Europe. They brought the end of classical Roman Empire in Europe.
Atilla the Hunn in Europe is still remembered for his cruelty as here in India they remembered Mihirkula and his father Toraman. Entire north India was devastated.
Buddhism and Buddhists were their main targets. Monks were killed and monasteries were destroyed. University of Takshashila was destroyed, so was Nalanda.
They brought the end of Gupta Empire in India as well like the Roman Empire in Europe. How ever due to revival of Buddhism under Harsh and later the Palas, Nalanda revived to be later destroyed again by the Khiljis, but Takshashila could never rise again.
Buddhism was physically finished and Saivism was introduced in India in this period. Such huge massacres had taken place that there weren’t enough monks or priests left in land to run the newly inducted Saivism.
As per Rajtarangini of Kalhan some six crores Indians were slain.
That may be little on higher side but massacre must have been really large. Maga Brahmins from Iran and Sakaldeepi Brahmins from Central Asia were brought to restart religion afresh.
They did not end the Sun Worship rather may have encouraged it, as it was popular in both Iran and Central Asia. It was then that present day’s Hinduism got foothold in India and the caste system was formalised and made as rigid as it is now.
The worship and rituals are alike for all castes with out any shadow of caste differences,discriminations and segregation, are the proofs that it was started in Buddhist period of Kushans, keeping the basic Buddhist tenants of equality intact and is continued unchanged.
A new way of worship, rituals and religion based on Puranas came in. A great mix of local and foreign gods was made to increase the field and scope of priestly earnings and kings authority with out accountability and responsibility, was rudely reinforced.
This still continues, in the subcontinent beyond the pale of caste and religion. No concept of loss of heavenly mandate as in Sinic world exist, was thought of, though the Hunns had lived along the Hans for centuries.
Life was made a rewards for the elites and punshisments for the weak and helpless masses and was constantly hyped through various Puranas and Samhitas to impose a status quo concept of political order to establish a civilizationally unhygienic social order and religious way.The new gods understood only Sanskrit and needed a go in between.
Like the new kings new gods were not in sync with the masses. The masses were disarmed, only few could wield arms and rest would have to live in constant fear for ever since then and even today, through all periods of rule whether of the Hunn or the Turks or the British.
Then, by end of 1200 AD Arab Turkish slaves plundered the northern plains and destroyed temples fashioned on the Buddhist monasteries. They pushed in a new alien religion of Koran, whose god had no form and was addressed in Arabic. They also reinforced binary social and religious order.
Now all god/s preferred a foreign tongue, except the Solar God who was seen and was part of this life and not of next which the new creeds were preaching. He was spoken to in common tongue and worshipped with common home grown gifts. He was no more a stranger.
This went well with the Buddhist teaching of this life and not the one after the death. By mid sixteenth AD another lot trickled in, a mix of Turk and Mongol called the Mughal, this lot was fairly civilised like the Kushans.
Their long reign was relatively tolerant. One of their great king Akbar the Great was a Sun Worshipper. The crescent of presents day Islam is non Arabic but of Turkish origin.
It was used by the Ottoman Turks in their flag and is copied by South Asian Converts. One of the Central Asian Republic has sun in its flag. And last Shah of Iran called himself the “Arya Mihir”, the sun among the Aryan lot.
Surya the solar deity arrived late as popular God in India and made foot hold in the region of present Bihar and Eastern UP. There are three famous temples dedicated to him.
One in Kashmir, that was destroyed by Muslim invaders and exists in ruins, at Mattan in South Kashmir, of old grand and glorious Martand,the Sun God.
One is at Deo near Gaya and is intact and enjoys the continued worship. There are many sun temples in South Bihar, often mixed with other Buddhist statues.
There is only one existing Sun Temple in North Bihar, dated 14th century in Saharsa. Even the Buddh temple at Bodh Gaya has sun motifs. There are few in Assam, Gujrat, Central India and even in Tamilnadu.
There may be many more in other parts as well. And the most famous one of all is at Konark in Orissa. His statue betrays his Central Asian origin that is his knee high boots and leather belts at places.
It is only in Bihar and in Eastern UP that he is greatly revered and worshiped with great awe and fear. How did he become a major god in area, out side the Aryavarta? For area east of Prayag or present day Allahabad was out side the pale of Brahmanic lore till the time of Patanjali, whom Baba Ramdev calls the Guru of Puspamitra Sung, who killed his king, most treacherously in a military parade at Pataliputra and brought an end to the famous Mauryas and gave foot hold to Brahmanism.
Satapath Brahamana called people of the east demonic -‘asuryah pracyah’.Till this period the Greater Magadh that is Kaushal, Videh, Magadh (which only finds reference in Atharva Ved,which is of much later age)and Anga, was not considered part of Brahmanic fold. It is this area where Chhath is celebrated as major way of worship and a great public festival free of bonds of caste fold and hold.
God is seen in the sky and is spoken in local tongue directly by the worshippers, with out reference to any scripture or with the aid of the priest. Rightly it is called the Lok-Parv, people’s festival! The present day Bihar was the last bastion of Buddhism. Its destruction was essential for both new regime and it’s religion.
Large number of Maga Brahmins were pushed into Southern Bihar from Iran. This region had presence of Iranians both in Mauryan time as Chandragupta had married the daughter of Seleucus Nicator who was Iran based. In time of Guptas as well, this group had an influential presence in this area.
Varah Mihir the great scholar was of Magi stock,the traditional Iranian priests. Even HuenTsang the Chinese pilgrim mentions of large presence of this group in this area in general and around Gaya in particular.
Gayawal Brahmins of Gaya should be their descendants as unlike rest of the Brahmins they follow sagotri marriage, both Parsees in India and people in Iran marry in close relations. It may be that the name Magah/Magadh may have come from the presence of this group in this area in such large number.
As mentioned earlier, Magadh is referred only in Atharva Veda, which is of much later origin and many do not consider it even as a Veda. As Magi were also known sun worshippers so the tradition of sun worship was not disturbed.
Similarly, North Bihar has presence of Sakaldeepi Brahmins, who were brought from Central Asia and Eastern Iran where sun worship was the norm and preferred and the god was called Mihir and the sect was known as Mithira, this group may have become Mithila and Maithils.
As R changes to L sound very easily in this area. And the continuity of solar worship wasn’t disturbed here either.The lower grade and largest in number of Maithil Brahmins are grouped as Jaywar which may have it’s origin in word Yayawar that is a word for nomads.
So we have Sakaldeepi Brahmins and Maithils with Hunnic connection and origin in this area. Thus the name of Mithila and Magadh has Hunnic connection. Mithila is relatively a recent term. The area was known as Vijji and Tirbhukti or Tirhut.
Why Sanskrit and other Brahmanic rituals did not enter at all in this worship? The worship was already in practice and it filled the gap created by the eclipse of Buddhism and was simple and not costly.
The Brahmins were busy churning fresh Purans and Samhitas giving local touch and legitimacy to new foreign set of priests, rulers and the sect, then known as Brahmanism and now know as Hinduism and Sanatan dharm more recently!
Yet this festival has rays of hope for divided people and place like Bihar and has immense potential to forge unity. It should keep itself away from its Sanskritization and from comic shadows of Hindutva and not surrender it’s Buddhist tenants. And remain a Lok-Parv.