Patna: The four day Chhath festival, one of the most popular and biggest in Bihar, began early Sunday as hundreds of thousands of devotees, mainly married women, thronged the river banks to take bath before preparing traditional food.
Chhath, celebrated six days after Diwali, is dedicated to the sun god. During the festival, married women observe a fast for 36 hours and devotees offer wheat, milk, sugar cane, bananas and coconuts to the sun.
The banks of rivers like the Ganges, Punpun, Gandak and Kosi as well as big and small water bodies were crowded as devotees were busy preparing vegetarian food on handmade earthen `chulhas`.
"We use only dry wood from mango trees and bamboo baskets for cooking the traditional meal of boiled rice and pumpkin on first day of Chhath," said Kunti Devi, a devotee here.
In Patna alone, hundreds of roadside vendors, mostly poor men and women, sold these items.
"Bamboo baskets in different shapes, locally known as soop, tokri are being used by devotees," Kunti Devi said.
Another devotee Ranju Devi, dressed in a new cotton sari, said: "We first took bath to clean ourselves before preparing food to mark the beginning of the Chhath festival."
She said the age-old "ritual of Nahai-Khai -- preparing of traditional food -- is a symbol of purity and strict discipline during the next phase of the festival".
A devotee is a `varti` - the one who performs the Chhath prayers and follows other rituals.
On Monday, another ritual Kharna will be observed, followed by main offerings of argya to the Sun god on Tuesday.
It is a festival associated with faith, purity and devotion to the Sun god. Colourful idols of the Sun god riding his chariot with seven horses, a new attraction this year, were sold on riverbanks, which were cleaned up and decorated by the devotees.
The administration along with dozens of voluntary organisations worked round-the-clock to clean the roads leading up to the banks of rivers and water bodies.
District authorities have declared 23 `ghats` in Patna unsafe and dangerous. There are over 70 ghats along the Ganges in Patna.
"All district magistrates have been directed by (Chief Minister) Nitish Kumar to accord top priority to the safety of devotees," an official said.
Over the years Chhath is being closely identified with Bihar - on the lines of Bihu in Assam, Pongal in Tamil Nadu and the Ganesh festival in Maharashtra.