Chhat Puja’s Environmental Connection

Chhat Puja, the festival honouring worshipping the Sun, and Chhati Maiya, is one of the biggest festivals of Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Nepal and Chhattisgarh. Chhat Puja involves offering flowers, whole fruits, incense, and ghee to Lord Surya. The offerings are usually, and traditionally left untouched in water bodies until they rot and decompose. Many environmentalists have claimed that such rituals do more good for maintaining the ecosystem in rivers, lakes and ponds than harm. However, some environmentalists do contradict this view as well.

Other than the states where Chhat puja is widely celebrated, Chhat puja is discouraged by local authorities, citing environmental issues. Kolkata, which has sizable Bihari and UP communities, see conflicts related to rituals involving water bodies. Some alleged that the rituals hamper water quality in the short term for bathing, washing, drinking and other purposes. But the biggest obstruction is made by several environmentalist groups, which sprang up with or without authorization, who are not opposed to idol immersion but raise serious concern over Chhat rituals.

Chhat Puja at Hooghly River in Kolkata

Let us for the time being focus on Kolkata, where Chhat is widely celebrated by a sizeable minority. For a long time, only the river Hooghly was used for Chhat rituals, while local ponds, lakes and other places were avoided. But as the Bihari and UP communities grew with time, there was the need of using ponds and lakes for Chhat puja in places far away from the river. That only caused minor local conflicts, most of which got resolved as soon as they started. However, as the State Government intervened, and provided the worshippers with additional ghats along the river, as well as designated ponds and lakes, the celebrations not only became peaceful but also spread among the locals, creating a sense of unity. This is when some environmentalists crept in and cited environmental issues to stop the festival and hence the unity in diversity.

Let us now look into why many environmentalists claim Chhat Puja is eco-friendly. Chhat puja is performed mostly on the banks of rivers and other water bodies, involving peace, tranquillity, and nature. Chhat puja rituals do not require temple or enclosed space, overcrowding, harmful colours, paints and water-soluble materials. Flowers, fruits, ghee decompose in water, providing nutrition for aquatic life. All the products used in this puja are biodegradable, thus making this puja so eco-friendly.

Rabindra Sarovar, Kolkata, where Chhat Puja is banned since 2018

However, several small factors concern environmentalists. Firstly, though the festival is supposed to be peaceful and quiet, many non-ritual elements have been added to it in recent times. Beating drums and bursting loud crackers are increasingly becoming popular among worshippers. Some protected areas surrounding water bodies, like Rabindra Sarovar Lake and Subhash Lake in Kolkata are home to a large number of migratory birds that arrive from Siberia during the onset of winter. Loud noise hampers their movement and even local birds have started avoiding their habitat in Rabindra Sarovar and Subhash Sarovar. Also, since the Bihari community has grown considerably in recent years, too many flowers, fruits, and ghee will block the sunlight and destroy the rich aquatic plants in these two places. The stagnant nature of such large lakes means that the products thrown into the lakes are likely to persist for a very long time. All these forced the National Green Tribunal to ban the Chhat puja celebration in these two lakes in Kolkata. To compensate for the above two places, worshippers have been allocated more ghats for performing the puja. Still, some miscreants try to create shortcuts and enter the lakes for rituals even though there are many other nearby places.

All these caused a section of the Bengali society to turn against Chhat puja. There are some genuine issues, which most worshippers can bring a change to celebrate the festival together. Voices must be raised against those who are not following law and order in environmental protection. Also, we need to raise our awareness against false allegations and petitions given by some environmentalists, without any justification for their cause. Social media is their best platform for spreading hatred. The number of hate posts, claiming rampant environmental pollution should be cross-checked and verified with reason before any action is taken. Otherwise, the peace and bond that this festival brings will remain a distant reality.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Organic Colours for Holi

Spring is the season of flowers when the rusty, dry leaves of winter make way for new fresh leaves and flowers. Flowers are of multicolours, while leaves are green. Colours from flowers, leaves, fruits, and roots are natural and beneficial for healthy skin. Therefore, in the spring season, we celebrate Holi by smearing ourselves with colours extracted from nature.

Sadly, nowadays, in Holi, artificial colours have mostly replaced the use of traditional natural colours, also called gulal. Artificial colours are cheap, bright, lasting, and widely available in stores. However, they are not as good for the skin as their natural counterparts. Artificial colours are severely harmful to individuals who have skin diseases, skin allergy, rashes, insect bites, itchy skin. Thus, many people refrain from participating in playing Holi. Health-conscious people have now switched over to natural colours, which are expensive and rarely available.

In today’s world, flowers are widely available, so are leaves, roots and fruits that we eat. So, we can make colours at home. Also, the availability of suitable powder bases in our kitchens makes our task more manageable. Let us see what colours we can make at home from inexpensive and readily available natural ingredients.

1)Red:

Hibiscus, palash, and shimul are red-coloured flowers, and these can be used for red colours. For powdered colours, the petals of these flowers can be sun-dried and powdered finely to a paste. It can be added to a powdered base like rice flour, corn-starch, or even talcum powder for a cheaper alternative. The brightness of the powder depends on the number of dried flowers added to the powder base. The powdered may be sun-dried again if they are a bit sticky. For wet colour, boiling pomegranate peels in water will produce bright red coloured water.

2)Yellow:

One of the best and cheapest sources of yellow colour is turmeric. Dried turmeric powered is readily available in our kitchen and mixing besan with it will produce an excellent amber-coloured powder. If using white powder, a better method is to boil turmeric in water and mix it with the powder. It gives a bright yellow colour to rice flour, corn-starch or talcum powder. If available, cornflour or makai can be a good option as a powder base as it is yellow. Boiling turmeric in water will produce a wet yellow colour.

3)Green:

Green leafy vegetables are readily available in our homes. Green leafy vegetables like coriander or spinach are widely available during spring. Both can be ground into a paste, which itself is a delicious chutney. When mixed with any white powder base like rice flour, corn-starch or talcum powder, the paste will give a soothing green colour. For wet colours, henna mixed with water gives bright olive-green colour. Henna is not harmful to the skin, but it leaves a reddish-orange stain in the skin that takes some days to wash off.

4)Blue:

Blue rarely occurs in nature. But in India, blue-coloured butterfly pea or aparajita flower is widely available. The butterfly pea flower’s petals can be dried, made into a paste, and mixed with powder to form a blue-coloured powder. Butterfly pea plant boiled in water gives a brilliant blue colour. It can also be drunk as it has impressive health benefits.

5)Pink/Magenta:

Beetroot is a good source of natural colour used widely to colour cakes, cookies, and many food items. When grated beetroot is added to water and rinsed well, it gives a very bright magenta colour. For powdered colour, beetroot water may be mixed with white powder. It makes a lovely pink powder. The brightness of the colour depends on the amount of beetroot in the powder.

These are the most common and widely used natural colours that we can easily make at home with little effort and is affordable. Though they are not as cheap as artificial colours, they take care of our skin and body, thus being cosmetic. Many social and cultural organizations have started manufacturing natural colours and distribute them during Holi. Therefore, in years to come, we are looking forward to seeing a drop in prices and wide acceptance of natural gulal for playing Holi.

Written By – Himadri Paul

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Commemorating Dandi March

During the peak of British rule, Mahatma Gandhi decided to disobey the salt rules of the British that provided them a monopoly in the salt trade. Early morning on 12th March 1930, Mahatma Gandhi and his 78 followers started their protest march from Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmadabad to Dandi in Navsari district of Gujarat. The protestors set out on foot for the long 240-mile (386 km) journey, wearing Indian-made white khadi. It was not restricted to Ahmedabad or Gujarat but resonated across India among every Indian. 12th March 1930 officially started the civil disobedience movement that had an ever-lasting impact on Indian society.

The march went past several small villages and rural landscapes of Gujarat. At every night stops, Gandhiji gave speeches related to salt tax and other wrong-doings of the British administration, attracting thousands of protestors to the march. The march ended on 5th April 1930 at Dandi by the seashore. On the early morning of the next day, 6th April, Mahatma Gandhi picked up a handful of salt, thus ending the monopoly of its manufacturing by the British. Gandhiji was an inspiration to all freedom fighters in India and outside, such as Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

91 years after the Dandi March, on 12th March 2021, the Indian Government organized a similar ‘padyatra’ or journey-on-foot from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi. The padyatra commemorates India’s freedom struggle under Gandhiji and pays tribute to all the freedom fighters. 75 weeks to the 75th anniversary of India’s independence, the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, launched the grand celebration of “Azadi Ka Amrut Mahotsav”. The celebrations revolve around five themes – Freedom Struggle, Ideas at 75, Achievements at 75, Actions at 75, and Resolves at 75. At the flagging off ceremony, Modi has iterated that at the time of Dandi March, India could manufacture salt, an essential daily item. However, due to salt law, India was entirely dependent on salt imports from Great Britain. Similarly, in modern times, India has to self-rely on essential items and become ‘atmanirbhar’.

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Written by Himadri Paul

5 Unique Places to celebrate Diwali in Kolkata

Written by Himadri Paul

Diwali, the festival of lights.

Who does not know about Diwali? It is not only celebrated all across India, but also in many countries around the world, and is very famous with the Indian Diaspora. In India, Diwali has wide variety of forms due to local cultures and philosophical leaders. In the eastern part of India, where Durga puja is the dominant festival among the Bengalis, Diwali takes the form of Kali pujo. And with it, comes many unique features that only Kolkata has. Let us look at those important places in and near Kolkata, where unique celebrations of Diwali are seen with unique stories.

1)Kalighat Temple:

Though there are many theories regarding the origin of the city Kolkata, the most widely supported one is that it was previously called Kalikshetra meaning the Abode of Kali. The pronunciation gradually changed to Kalikata as in Ain-i-Akhbari and Calcutta during the British. The Kali temple of Kalighat area in Kolkata has been a one of the 51 Sakti Peeths around the world and is a very old place of worship. The Diwali is a special festival here, even today it has unique celebration where lamb is sacrificed to serve the Goddess. The temple draws a large crowd of Sakti followers from around the world during Diwali for centuries, and even today it is a pride of all Kolkatans.

Kalighat Temple

2)Dakshineshwar Temple:

Rani Rashmoni, wife of a wealthy zamindar and an important personality in the history of reformation in India, sailed a fleet from Kolkata port to reach Varanasi, the most sacred city in Hinduism. That night in a dream, she heard Goddess Kali telling her to drop the anchor at dawn and set up a temple there. So Rani set up a temple at Dakshineshwar, which is the northern suburbs of the city. Even today, it is the most popular place of worship in Kolkata, being situated beside the scenic Hugli river. Ma Kali here is worshipped here as Ma Bhabatarini, and one look at the temple will suggest how beautiful it is.

Dakshineshwar Temple

3)Belur Math and its famous Diwali celebration:

Swami Vivekananda, after becoming a prime devotee of Shri Ramkrishna, who was also the first head-priest at Dakshineshwar temple, founded the Ramkrishna Mission for carrying out philanthropic activities, and training young men for the charity works. Although located in the neighbouring district of Howrah, it is very near to Kolkata, on the opposite bank of Dakshineshwar temple. Diwali is the time when the temple is nicely decorated with special arati performed in the evening. Belur Math preserves the ideals of unity among all religions, as evident in the unique architecture of the monastery. It is also an important place of pilgrimage for devotees all around the world specially at the time of Diwali.

Belur Math

4)Kamarpukur-Jairambati:

Not far from Kolkata in the Hooghly district are the villages Kamarpukur and Joyrambati situated side by side. Kamarpukur is the birthplace of Shri Ramkrishna, the first head-priest of Dakshineshwar Kali temple and an important religious reformer during the 19th century socio-cultural reforms in Bengal. Joyrambati is the birthplace of Ma Sarada, Shri Ramkrishna’s mother, who is looked upon by the devotees of Shri Ramkrishna as the Holy Mother. The twin pilgrimage hotspots near Kolkata can be covered in a single day.

Kamarpukur-Jairambati

5)Barasat and Diwali celebration:

Want to have Durga puja like pandal-hopping experience during Diwali? Head to Barasat! The north-eastern corner of the city is set alive during the Kali puja with some amazingly crafted puja pandals. Barasat is well connected by rail and road and is also a very old locality of the city. Localities of Madhyamgram and Dum Dum too boasts of some really good puja parikrama experiences.

Apart from firecrackers, lighting diyas and candles, drawing rangolis, or we Bengalis call it aplonas, and worshipping the advent of Ma Lakshmi or Ma Kali, these were some unique features about Diwali in Kolkata. This year, say no to fireworks, maintain social distancing, and have a happy and safe Diwali.

Barasat station

To read more on the subject: https://www.whatshot.in/kolkata/here-are-5-ways-you-can-enjoy-diwali-in-the-city-of-joy-c-18232#:~:text=Ganga%20Aarti%20At%20Howrah&text=As%20the%20distant%20Howrah%20Bridge,your%20near%20and%20dear%20ones.

To read more interesting articles: https://youngindianrevolution.com/blog-by-youth/