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In PIX: Chhath celebrated with traditional fervour in Mumbai

Last updated on: November 3, 2011 08:36 IST

In PIX: Chhath celebrated with traditional fervour in Mumbai

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Abhishek Mande in Mumbai

Abhishek Mande visits Juhu beach in the wee hours of Wednesday morning with thousands of devotees, as the Chhath puja draws to a close in Mumbai.

They stand there in knee-deep waters holding a thali piled with fruits, flowers and flickering earthen lamps. Their bright saris flutter in the wind even as their eyes look resolutely towards the east.

There's a slight nip in the air and the sea waves are strong. It will be at least a couple of hours before the sun rises but the women show no signs of budging.

The brightly dressed women are of all ages yet they seem to share the same resolve. Along with thousands of other women and men, this small group too is waiting in the Arabian Sea for the sun to rise.

While some of the men folk have joined the women in waiting for the sun holding up a fruit-laden thali, others are making the most of the day and frolicking in the waters.

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Photographs: Uttam Ghosh
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In PIX: Chhath celebrated with traditional fervour in Mumbai

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There's a strange air of revelry and piety as the Chhath puja draws to a close in Mumbai.

Stories about the origins of the puja are many. Some credit Karna, son of the Sun god from The Mahabharata to have started this practice of worshipping the sun others believe that the Pandavas and Draupadi did it first on sage Dhaumya's advice.

In Mumbai though, over the years the Chhath Puja has become a day when the city's otherwise invisible immigrant population makes its presence felt.

Political parties have always latched on to this opportunity and used it to provoke the Thackerays -- the self-appointed voices of city's Marathi manoos (or the Maharashtrian populace).

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Photographs: Uttam Ghosh
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In PIX: Chhath celebrated with traditional fervour in Mumbai

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On Wednesday morning, Mumbai's Juhu beach has come to resemble a huge mela, albeit in a sugarcane field. Thousands of women and men have gathered here as part of their annual Chhath ritual.

The practice, among other things, demands devotees to spend hours in water and welcome the sun. Till that time though, these women and men will hold up oil lamps and wait patiently as large waves threaten to topple them into the waters.

In India, Chhath is largely celebrated in Bihar and Jharkhand and parts of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh among other states.

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Photographs: Uttam Ghosh
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In PIX: Chhath celebrated with traditional fervour in Mumbai

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Seema Singh hails from Uttar Pradesh. She's been waiting in the waters for over four hours before she finally caught a glimpse of the sun though when the thick cloud cover opened up.

She tells me that more and more houses in her home state of UP have taken to celebrating the festival though she isn't exactly able to quantify the exact reason for it.

Singh is here with her sister-in-law -- a girl no older than 25-26 years -- who isn't bearing a child.

"Thoda problem hai (She has a problem conceiving)," she says conspiratorially, "Chaar saal se kar rahe hain. Iss saal Chhathi Maiiya ke ashirwad se ho jaana chahiye. (They've been trying for the last four years. I hope the goddess blesses her this year.)"

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Photographs: Uttam Ghosh
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In PIX: Chhath celebrated with traditional fervour in Mumbai

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Even though Mumbai has quite a few major lakes and a long coastline, the largest gathering of the kind happens only at Juhu.

Most of it is thanks to Sanjay Nirupam, a Congress member of Parliament who is largely considered to be the man responsible for making an event out of this relatively unheard of festival in Mumbai.

Each year, Bhojpuri and Hindi film stars come along to perform and promote either their careers or their films on this platform.

This year posters of a Bollywood movie Loot starring Hindi actors Suniel Shetty and Jaaved Jaffrey and Bhojpuri star Ravi Kissen have been plastered all over the place, besides, of course, Nirupam's own -- his hands folded and wearing a somewhat plastic smile.

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Photographs: Uttam Ghosh
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In PIX: Chhath celebrated with traditional fervour in Mumbai

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Appearances of their favourite actors acts as a huge draw for many of these young star struck women and men who travel great distances just to catch a glimpse of them.

A group of young boys having returned from a swim tell me excitedly how they saw Suneil Shetty in flesh and blood and how different he looked on the screen.

Another fellow who travelled all the way from Diva, a distant suburb on the central railway line wouldn't stop talking about how he missed the programme by just a few minutes.

While it's rather evident that most attending the Chhath Puja at Juhu aren't the most upwardly-mobile folks, Prem Bharati stands out.

Bharati is an engineer working for a prominent IT company. He tries to explain to me the goings on in his broken English without much success except that I finally figure out why there was so much sugarcane. Said to symbolise prosperity, sugarcane sticks are among the many things that are carried to the Puja.

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Photographs: Uttam Ghosh
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It has been over two hours since I've been at the beach. I've seen the sky go from black to pale gray to a dull white and finally bright blue.

The sun is predicted to rise at 6.39 but even over half-hour later there's little sign of it. A thick cloud cover stands between it and the women who'd been in the sea.

Some who've been there even before I'd arrived are waiting patiently.

Then it happens. From behind the clouds the sun finally shines upon his devotees. They lower all they've been carrying into the water, just enough to let the seawater touch their offerings and pull them out.

Later, they trudge back to the beach where the rest of their families have been waiting. Everyone falls at their feet and gets a fruit in return. Then they pack their bags and belongings and start off for yet another long day at work.


Photographs: Uttam Ghosh
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