Patna: Millions of devotees offered early morning prayers at river banks across the state Wednesday as the four-day Chhath festival began amidst tight security.
Chhath, celebrated five days after Diwali, is dedicated to the sun god, and is one of the most popular festivals of Bihar.
Millions of devotees, mainly married women, thronged the river banks since early morning for the ritualistic bath, before preparing the traditional meal of boiled rice and pumpkin.
"We had a bath to clean ourselves before preparing food, known as `Nahai-Khai` that marks the beginning of Chhath," Meena Devi, a housewife, told IANS.
She is a `varti` - one who performs the Chhath prayers and follows other age-old rituals.
Asha Singh, another `varti`, said: "Nahai-Khai is a symbol of purity and strict discipline. It will be followed by Kharna tomorrow, when kheer will be cooked and distributed among neighbours, friends and relatives."
Singh said that `vartis` like her will perform the prayers for the next three days. Then Friday evening, the main offering, called Argya, will be given to the sun god on the river banks.
During the festival, married women observe a fast for 36 hours and devotees traditionally offer wheat, milk, sugar cane, bananas and coconuts to the sun.
Colourful idols of the sun god riding his chariot with seven horses, a new attraction this year, were sold on the river banks.
The administration, along with dozens of voluntary organisations, is working round-the-clock to manage the crowds and keep the area around the river banks clean.
"All district magistrates have been directed by (Chief Minister) Nitish Kumar to accord top priority to the safety of devotees," an official said.
In the state capital, seventeen boats of the National Disaster Response Force have been deployed to patrol the river banks, said Jitendra Kumar Sinha, Patna`s district magistrate.