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Thursday, December 05, 2019

Chhath Puja on Potomac: Washington DC witnesses rich cultural heritage

Chhath Puja is not only celebrated in parts of India but also outside the country with equal fervour. Llike several years in the past, it was celebrated on the banks of Potomac River in Washington, DC this year as well.

New Delhi | Updated: November 4, 2019 9:10:26 am
Every year, Potomac river witnesses hundreds of Indian-Americans coming together to celebrate Chhath Puja. (Photo: Badrish Prakash)

Dropping temperatures and a foreign feeling, these situations do not stop Indian-Americans from celebrating Chhath Puja.

Every year, hundreds of people across the east coast gather for the Chhath Puja near the Potomac River in Washington DC. This year wasn’t any different as at least 1,000 people came together to offer prayers to the rising sun. The festival is known by different names like Pratihar, Dala Chhath, Chhathi, and Surya Shashthi.
Badrish Prakash of Washington DC tells indianexpress.com, “It has approximately been ten years ever since this ritual has started. This was the 10th year and it was no different. It was celebrated with much fervour.”
He says that it all began with 3-4 families being granted permission by the local authorities and it continues to grow like a movement. There is no stark contrast as to how people celebrate this four-day festival back in the USA with the first day of the puja involving taking a dip and acknowledging the power of the Sun. They come home with the holy water to prepare the offerings. On Kharna, devotees observe a day-long fast, which ends in the evening — a little after sunset. After worshipping the Sun and the Moon, they prepare offerings of kheer, bananas, and rotis for their family. After consuming the offering, they fast for 36 hours without water.
Despite freezing temperatures, devotees still take a dip and religiously pray to the Sun God. (Photo: Badrish Prakash)

On the third day — Sandhya Arghya (evening offerings) take place on the Potomac River after preparing the prasad and worshipping the Sun god and Chhathi maiyya. They offer the evening offerings amid folk songs. Then comes the fourth and the last day of the festival — Usha Arghya — here the devotees go to the holy waters a little before sunrise and offer prayers and morning offerings to the sun, following which they break their fast.

During this period, devotees live frugally; they sleep on the floor on a single blanket. The main festival is commemorated on the third day of Chhath.

Prakash says that “despite the temperature being below two degrees, the devotees still continue to take a dip in such low temperatures. People pray with utmost dedication and nothing changes here. We continue to hold our traditions to date.”

People worshipping the Sun God on the Potomac River in Washington, DC. (Photo: Badrish Prakash)

Earlier, people in the States used to make the most out of pujas in a makeshift plastic tub full of water. But, times have changed and the year 2016 bears testimony to the same when on the very same Potomac river, 6000 people celebrated Chhath as reported by PTI.

However, what is notable is how the Indian diaspora spreads the rich cultural heritage and traditions of the country with equal grandeur. Owing to the large Indian diaspora in the USA, it has been seen that not just Chhath but other festivals are too celebrated with love. Indian communities organise craft stalls, singing and dancing competitions, Bollywood dances, and more activities.

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