A Photo-Ethnographic Study, Ancient Life and Research, Climate change, Delhi, Walking along the Rivers
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A Celebration for the Sun: A Brief History of Chhath in Paintings and Images

I had not decided to celebrate today. But nature pulled me in.

For last few months I had been parallel-y working on a project in New Delhi. Rather it is my expression on Climate Change living in a region which in itself is an extension of extremism in most ways. For one it is making our lives vulnerable to diseases here, viruses, climate catastrophes in terms of pollution and per square population density, in the National Capital Region. Working on a project such as this has taken my breath, my life in a way that I sometimes remunerate myself a quote that Andrei Tarkovsky used to say on ‘Cinema requiring sacrificing of yourself. That You should belong to it, it shouldn’t belong to you. Cinema uses your life, not vice versa. In all ways, i have proved him right, without making much progress.



On a whim last night I and team decided to visit the Yamuna river early morning as mist has started to settle over the flowing water. We walked till noon to film the water and its flood banks, to interview some people. But as the day rose; river, nearby tributary, canal, ghats started to receive so many people that we had to kind of flee. It turned out to be a major day of possibly the diety of the climate itself. The Sun. Here, It is known as Chhath.

Chhath, an ancient Hindu festival historically native to the Indian subcontinent, more specifically, the Indian states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Jharkhand and the Nepalese provinces of Madhesh and Lumbini.

Prayers during Chhath puja are dedicated to the solar deity, Surya, to show gratitude and thankfulness for bestowing the bounties of life on earth and to request that certain wishes be granted. The Goddess that is worshipped during the famous Chhath Puja is known as Mother Chhathi. She is also known as Usha in the Vedas. believed to be the consort of the Sun. Usha is used to refer to dawn – The first light of day. But in the Rig Veda she has more symbolic meanings. Symbolically she is the dawn of divine consciousness in the individual. In essence, it is the worship of the elements in nature which spreads the message of conservation. Cleaning of water bodies for the puja is a significant environment-friendly activity. It is also believed that the human body absorb positive solar energy during sunrise and sunset.

Science says the rays during sunrise and sunset have the least ultraviolet radiation. People worship Chhathi Maiya during the Chhath Puja to overcome the troubles in their life. She provides the knowledge that can dispel the darkness in the life of people.

It is celebrated six days after Deepavali or Diwali, on the sixth day of the lunar month of Kartika (October–November). The rituals are observed over four days. They include holy bathing, fasting and abstaining from drinking water (vrata), standing in water, and offering prasad (prayer offerings) and arghya to the setting and rising sun. Some devotees also perform a prostration march as they head for the river banks. To me there nothing greater to see and learn that we people are still carrying age old rituals that should be a norm for each human and trying to pass it on to the generations coming but there is a huge but.


Many do not know the science behind it. There is no feeling involved. Almost all do not care rather they care it to perform. Like performing anything today for camera. As I walked through this horde, revering, seeing this overflow of emotions felt like an automated doing of anything that humans do out of age old habits.

This canal which flows near to where I live, I pass each day to reach my school, also flows by a huge landfill. It could be the most toxic thing to immerse oneself into. To wash ones clothes, utensils, or to stand for hours praying to the sun feels almost hallucinatory. More so because on other 361 days no one will even stop for a second to smell the fumes that come from the landfill flying over the canal, but it was so unreal to see this congregation that it even amused even the passers by who know their own countrymen, and its absurd to many ancient practices. They stood more for the spectacle than for the sight.

It is believed that Chhath Prayer was also performed by Karna– the sixth Pandava, the son of Lord Surya and the king of Anga Desh, which is the modern-day Bhagalpur in Bihar. According to another legend, Pandavas and Draupadi also performed the Puja to overcome obstacles in their lives and reclaim their lost kingdom. For the people from Bihar and other close by areas, Chhath Puja is considered as Mahaparva- the festival of the festivals. And interestingly, Environmentalists claim that the festival of Chhath is one of the most eco-friendly festival in the World. 


As I was leaving for home later in the evening, I sincerely felt that even though we have the masses who really care about their heritage, identity, history but there is an enormous lack of local level leadership- the ones who are earnest in nature, the learners because here is a huge scope. Here is a beautiful foundation to start from to work for the people, and indirectly to work for the nature that is us as much is the mother nature.



Sharing some findings as I researched on anonymous paintings from eras gone by.

Patna Kalam paintings on Chhath

The first is one of the oldest known painting of the Patna kalam (the Patna school of Company Painting) and depicts Chatt Puja. While the name of the painter is unknown, it was commissioned by/made for Edward Ephraim Pote a merchant with the East India Company at Patna.
(The painting is now in the collection of the British Library).

The second painting which is housed at the Art Institute of Chicago is by the doyen of Patna kalam, Sevak Ram. Titled “A Hindu Festival” it is in all probability the depiction of Chhat.

The third painting, which came up for auction at Bonhams is attributed to Sevak Ram.




A Happy Chhath to each one of my Travellers


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Hi, I am Narayan Kaudinya. And i welcome you on this journey, the Road to Nara ! I am an Ethnographer and a practicing Indologist. I did my masters in History and further learnt Sanskrit, Yoga and Nerve-therapy. At 24, pushing most academic sounding, office sitting works away, i felt compelled to know and understand the world and my country, Bharat/India. I travelled, and as it happened i took up teaching in Kashmir and further up in the remote villages of Baltistan in the foothills of Karakoram Ranges. For around three years and many states later there came a time when i felt that it was only while teaching i learnt how to laugh, to see, feel, breathe, love and cry -with children, and mostly resource-less parents in the harshest-freezing border conditions. I write, and work as a documentary photographer and Filmmaker, with numerous published, exhibited and some awarded stories. In my travels and life i have let nature lead me, the divine mother, and as a Yogin, my resolve here is to share my experiences and thoughts as honestly, and through them to blossom in everyone the power and possibility in pursuing your breath, that you seek your true nature with courage and curiosity. Here, on this road i will share my spirit, my love for nature, the elements of life that are us. And in doing so, i'll be happy to see you along.

44 Comments

  1. Pingback: ReBlogging “A Celebration for the Sun: A Brief History of Chhath in Paintings and Images’ – Link Below | Relationship Insights by Yernasia Quorelios

  2. So much of human behavior is simply doing what their parents did without really asking why and where it is a religious rite, it would seem wrong to challenge the practice. It is a very complex problem and I agree, it is a failure of leadership. Mostly those who want to lead are not those we should follow because their motivations are self-centered. It is a conundrum indeed. Best wishes to you.

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  3. The latest Narayan post is not only greatly interesting but also very important as it combines many aspects of Indian ancient culture, religious observances, philosophical thoughts, the effects of climate change, details of the beautiful old paintings, and a wonderful presentation.
    Narayan starts by explaining how wholly overwhelming his last few months of filming in Delhi were, to the point of being sacrificial and totally absorbing.
    He came to realize how Delhi was affected by climate change through raising pollution and many diseases among the population.
    His impromptu visit to the Yamuna river coincided with the first day of celebrations of Chhath.

    The readers will learn about the Mahaparva – the festival of the festivals, devoted to celebrating Chhath, the God of the Sun, and Nature, the deity Surya, and prayers are offered to show gratitude for all the benefits received by the devotees.
    The explanation of the symbolic meaning of the divine consciousness in the individual is worth reading as it is a philosophical thought of interest.
    Equally interesting are the references to ancient Hindu mythology and Pandavas.

    Narayan’s thoughts about the importance of creating a foundation that will work for people and nature are worthy of note.
    Finally, he introduced three beautiful old paintings showing the celebration of Chhath, and at least two were created by the extraordinarilly talented painter, Sevak Ram.
    Congratulations to Narayan for creating another masterpiece, colorful and exotic in equal measure.

    Joanna

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  4. Thank you Narayan for introducing me to another celebration in India of which I knew nothing. I can well understand your concerns about pollution and illness derived from it. The paintings are interesting in that they show how long people have been observing this festival in huge numbers. Any way…Happy Chhat to you !

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  5. How fascinating and complex. You explain the dialectical tensions between these traditional practices and their contemporary effects in a clear and compelling manner. The photos are powerful and the paintings are beautiful. I followed a Japanese whaling boat for several days in Antarctica and it broke my heart. Some people in Japan defend whaling as a cultural tradition. Traditions must change when they cause great harm in the present. In the US, people claim the right to own guns is a constitutionally and historically protected right. In 1776, people were not shooting school children with automatic weapons. There were no automatic weapons in 1776. Guns of today have no relation to the guns of 1776. Times change. Traditions must bend to the needs of the present day. But, these aew sensitive and complex issuea which you relate beautifully.

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    • My dearest Cindy, first I must apologize for your affectionate and so considerate words. I have been away from the digital and trying to balance the real

      There is no doubt times have and are changing very fast and
      Where we are it feels safe to assume that the digital overpowering of memory will overpower any other in no time. Yet we must protect only those traditions that promote love and nature.

      US’s guns right is I don’t know what to say when even after so much proof they can’t sit and decide on what to do with it. Thanks for these words Cindy. Means a lot 🙂

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  6. As one who grew up a Ganga-kinare-wala, my memories of Diwali extend from Dhanteras to Chhat. A lovely time of the year. The Patna Kalam paintings would still look true today.

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    • Apologies for writing late IJ. I was in Kashmir for a week with my prepaid phone, hence away from net.

      Patna Kalam paintings uplifted the whole mood, as by chhatt the smog cover had curtailed the days and night. Also it feels like we are coming back in form in celebrating festivals with more show and pomp 🙂 Thank you for your valuable addition and comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. aparna12 says

    Very interesting and informative post. 👌👌👌👌♥️

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  8. Thank you, Narayan for this explanation of Chhath Puja. Indeed it is unfortunate that the waters of the the earth are so polluted nowadays with toxins and plastic, but with increasing awareness of the impact we have on nature and reminding ourselves of the reasons for festivals like Chhath Puja perhaps there is still a chance for humanity. 🙏

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    • You are so very considerate dear Ashley, it touched my heart. Thank you for being so open. This festival is brilliant in its own way but humans and unawareness is over taking it. But I feel for some generations to come that times will become better for the world and humans.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Unfortunately, the sun is just a ball of burning gases and not a god at all, unlike the “Son” who is the “fullness of God” in physical form. (Colossians 1:19) 😉
    ❤️&🙏my friend, c.a.

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    • Dear C.A- Its funny how you keep yourself and your beliefs over others. I pray and only hope that yours is not a ball of ego because that will be sad if it lets you keep it that way. You might know what old texts say about the ones who never change 😉

      All creatures are nature’s creation as part of one big family, and likewise trying to find peace and a healthier life every single day. ❤️& 🙏my friend c.a

      Liked by 1 person

      • No problem, Narayan. I enjoy dialog with you as you are always thoughtful and courteous.
        Believe me, it is not ego that causes me to believe in Jesus. One author noted that if someone was to “create” a god to worship, his god would NOT be like the Christian god; one who is infinite – yet personal, absolutely holy – yet merciful to the penitent, demanding of complete surrender of one’s will – yet fulfilling of individual personality.
        No one would make up stories about a god who was so “weak” as to sacrifice Himself for His creatures nor one who calls His servants to sacrifice themselves for others.
        Nature remains an impersonal feature of a Creator’s gifts to humankind.
        ❤️&🙏, c.a.

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        • Absolutely c.a I too enjoy our conversation. And I will hope it continues because how you feel about Jesus, we feel here about our each deity who walked on this land. And it is the most beautiful aspect of our culture that here we fight not the outside but the darkness that resides in us. And that is why even after receiving so much hate from almost every empire who tried to loot, invade and convert for over 1000 years, we are intact and growing.
          For us Jesus is a prophet, a yogi just like muhammad, just like Krishna. They are all same talking about the good in different times of periods. All Forms of the supreme one.

          And I really feel that you are that wise to know what I really want to say. These are not beliefs. It is how time is. It changes, like light. And we live through it in his guidance without questioning.

          ❤️

          Liked by 1 person

      • And btw, what is true is true if no one believes it, and no more true if everyone believed it. 😉
        I do not set myself above others; I know my sin and unworthiness better than any besides my Lord.
        But I do know the Truth. What kind of friend would I be if I did not offer it to others? 🙂

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  10. Narayan, I appreciate this informative and thoughtful post. The historic paintings and the contemporary photos enhance the narrative. It is sad that worldwide, people praise the wonders of nature while the degradation of the environment becomes ever more severe. Your words are very effective in bringing environmental issues into focus. Wishing you well in your efforts to restore the environment. ❤

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    • Thank you Cheryl. Every word written or spoken that is put out to the world travels as our extension, our energy. If done correctly and much- it is bound to echo.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Well yes, in a way it is bad, but again it is good to pay your respects to the supreme element which nourishes us, nature, the planet. That is how i take it till they, their children learn.

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  11. I once read a definition of tradition as being peer pressure from dead people. We do stuff because those before us did it and we thought it would keep us safe, and good. Clearly it doesn’t, but better do it anyway just in case.
    An interesting and insightful post Narayan. I know a lot of Indian ceremonies are problematic, both for the health of the individual and for the environment, and at the same time I admit as a visitor to your country I found all the festivals fascinating, compelling, a part of what makes your rich culture what it is. Where to draw the line?
    Much love
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    • My dearest Ali, I have been slow and away from digital writing but trying to balance real.things in life as much.

      Your definition of tradition is as true as the sun in the sky, but another truth that the dead gave us is that this festival starts with praying for and feeding five kinds of animals/inscets/birds kind of pleasing the ancestors, then Diwali comes and then this. So the dead knew rather well how to bind one wholly 🙂

      I loved your considerate words dear Ali and apologize that I couldn’t write in time.

      For the statement where to draw a line, I am certain with the ongoing onslaught of the digital virus will wipe all this memory off the new generation withing half a century time.

      So much love recieved.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Very interesting post, Narayan. I have never heard of the Chhath festival. The paintings are beautiful, thanks for sharing!

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