Patna, Nov 16 (IANS) Clad in her usual colourful cotton sari with a red bindi on her forehead and surrounded by her daughters, Rabri Devi is busy since early Monday morning preparing traditional sweet dishes for Chhath, the most popular annual festival of Bihar.
Special folk songs of Chhath are in the air.
Nothing special, on the face of it. That’s the kind of environment you might expect to experience in millions of households in Bihar over four days of the festival that began on Sunday.
And yet this year’s Chhath has probably been nothing that Lalu Prasad’s family – housed since 2005 at 10 Circular Road, the government bungalow located hardly 50 metres from the official residence of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar – has experienced before.
It’s special significance lies juxtaposed in not only some politically troubled times that the household has seen in recent years, but also in the stupendous success that the powerful family has recorded in the recently concluded assembly election.
Both of Lalu Prasad’s and Rabri Devi’s two sons – Tej Pratap and Tejaswi – have, for instance, made their debut as members of the legislative assembly in an election that reinstated their party, the Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD), to the pole position in the Bihar legislature.
Good days are back with a bang for the couple and their seven daughters and two sons.
“Bahut dino ke baad achche din wapas aye hain (Good days have returned to our family after a long time).”
These words from Rabri Devi, who has had three stints as chief minister of Bihar, sum up the jubilant mood of her family.
“This time Chhath is being celebrated on a grand scale by Saheb (Lalu) and Memsaheb (Rabri) as they are very happy with the success of RJD in the polls that exceeded expectations,” says a member of the staff at the bungalow that is officially allotted to Rabri Devi.
According to RJD leaders here, Chhath has anyway been a big family get together for the Lalu-Rabri family.
Rabri Devi is observing Chhath with all devotion, RJD office secretary Chandeshwar Prasad Singh told IANS.
“She will observe fast for 36 hours and will be preparing ‘kheer’ for Kharna to be served to family members, relatives, party leaders, workers and supporters on Monday night”.
Despite the special political significance of this year’s festival, Singh said, it was more of a cultural occasion at the household. There will be no politics for the next two days, only festivities with family members. “Everything has been decorated for Chhath.”
The chhath celebrations at the Lalu Prasad household hit national news in the early 1990s when the strongman was in power and had started performing puja and offering rituals under the media glare, a senior RJD leader recalled.
Initially the couple used to perform Chhath rituals on the Ganga river ghats here. “TV news channels used to telecast Rabri Devi standing in the Ganga water and Lalu helping her with offering materials and fruits in a bamboo basket.”
Later, the couple began to perform the puja in the specially dug pond at 1 Anne Marg, the chief ministerial residence then.
In 2013, when Lalu Prasad was in jail in connection with the multi-crore rupee fodder scam, Rabri Devi admitted that she missed his presence at Chhath. There was festivity all around, but Laluji was not around to help perform rituals and offer prayers.
Rabri would also recall that Laluji used to help her in preparing a traditional meal during the festival.
Interestingly, Chhath celebrations at Nitish Kumar’s residence are on a much lower key. His sister and sister-in-law (the wife of his elder brother) are performing Chhath puja.
The four-day Chhath puja, a festival for paying obeisance to the Sun, began on Sunday with ‘nahai-khai’. Devotees, mostly married women, throng to the river banks early in the morning for a ritualistic bath before preparing the traditional meal of boiled rice and pumpkin.
This is followed by ‘kharna’, when ‘kheer’ is cooked and distributed among neighbours, friends and relatives.
During the festival, married women observe a fast for 36 hours and devotees offer wheat, milk, sugarcane, bananas and coconuts to the sun.