The Maithils – V

Now, I will come to other festivals and celebrations. These would include several festivals related to marriages as well. There is saying in Mathili, “Babhanak byah se vidh bhaari” (For Brahmins, there is not so much to be done in the marriage, as in the rituals after that!). Now, if work of four days in marriage is not so much, try to imagine what the following rituals would be like.

Unfortunately, now I am touching the area of which I have very limited knowledge. I have realized lately that there are several festivals I hardly remember now! But let’s see anyway how I fare.

Before getting on to marriage related ones, let me digress a bit and talk of some others. There has been too much of marriage talk for quite sometime here and it might get boring. At least I am getting bored of writing about marriages.

There are four festivals for brothers and sisters, that I have seen in Maithil Families. These are “Raksha Bandhan”, “Bhai-Duj/Bhratri-Dwitiya/Bhardutiya”, “Sama-Chakeva” and “Karma-Dharma”. Raksha Bandhan was not originally recognized as a festival in Maithil Community. It was an adoption from other communities, but has not become universally prevalent. Bhratri-Dwitiya or Bhai-Duj or Bhardutiya is celebrated two days after Diwali. This is a very important festival for brothers and sisters and this is the one that originally held the kind importance Raksha Bandhan holds in other communities. There are some simple rituals, which are called “nyotna”. Now, “nyotna” in general means, to invite (for food). Brothers are indeed treated after the ritual, but whether “nyotna” is used in that sense only, I am not sure. Basically, sister puts “pithar” (paste made of unbroken rice grains), ghee, bettle leaf, a coin and a supari (nut) on the palms of her brother, and then washes it while the water flows in a brass pot kept below. This is done thrice. Simultaneously she reads a verse that goes as follows:

“Jamuna nyontlen Jam Ke
Hum Nyotlon Apan (name of the brother) Bhay Ke
Jate Din Ganga Jamuna mein payan
Tate Din Hamar Bhay Ke Orda”

This is the Maithili translation of an original Sanskrit verse, which I do not remember. It can be translated into English as follows:

“Jamuna has invited Jam. I have invited my (name of the brother) brother. May my brother live as long as there is water in Ganges and Jamuna.”

I do not know who this brother “Jam” of River Jamuna is. Whether it is a distorted form of “Yama” (and why should “Yama” be Jamuna’s brother?) or something else I do not know.

Most people say “Ganga nyotlen Jamuna Ke” (Ganges has invited Jamuna) as the first line of the verse. Probably it happened because people failed to identify “Jam” and hence forgot the real verse. As my maternal grandfather had pointed out, it just does not make sense for Ganges to invite Jamuna on Bhratri-Dwitiya, since Jamuna can not be a brother!

By the way, possibly the idea behind “invitation” was that married sisters would invite their brothers to their homes on “Bhratri Dwitiya”.

“Sama Chakeva” is a festival that starts after Dussehra and continues till Chhath (”Chhath” is a festival celebrated on the 6th day of Diwali; I will come to it later). Throughout this period sisters make various dolls of clay, which have got some use at the end. This festival has several folk-songs associated with it. In those good old days of large, joint families when people had enough leisure, all the girls of the family and neighbourhood would sit together to make these dolls and sing the songs. Now, unfortunately this festival is considered unlucky in my paternal family; so I have never seen it and can not give any other information. What do they do with all those dolls I am not aware of, but the festival is celebrated for the brothers.

The one left is ‘Karma-Dharma’. It seems it is not really a Maithil festival, but it is celebrated in my paternal village. I do not know about other places. This is the one I have least information about and I have never seen this one either.

Its a pity that the festivals like Bhai-Duj and Sama-Chakeva are disappearing fast. For Bhai-Duj rituals are such that if the brother and sister are not there at the same place, anything could hardly be done. So, when we are living in an age, where, even before their respective marriages, siblings find it difficult to be at home together, Raksha Bandhan is the only one, that lends itself to possibility of keeping the ties tied. You can always send a Rakhi by post! Sama-Chakeva is celebrated over a long period of time. There was a time when the schools used to remain closed from Dussehra till Chhath in Bihar. Who has these luxuries now? Where is the time to sit through the whole day and make dolls, at least in urban areas?

Fortunately, as of now, they have not completely disappeared.If people happen to be together, they do celebrate these. In rural areas, people still celebrate these with enthusiasm. In joint families, even if siblings are not there, some cousin brother or sister would be there.

Last time when I went home, I realized that I had landed on the day of “Anant Pooja”. Believe me, I had almost forgotten than a festival like this existed. This is what 11 years of hostel life and career building does to you! “Anant Pooja” is celebrated as a tribute to “Samudra Manthan”. For the uninitiated, Indian mythology talks of “Samudra Manthan”, churning of the sea, that was carried out jointly by Gods and Devils (since it was beyond the capability of any one of those groups). This had produced 14 “Ratnas” (literally meaning a “precious stone”, figuratively meaning valuable things or people). It included Nectar (Amrit), Poison (Vish), Ox Nandi (the vehicle of Lord Shiva), Lakshami (yeah, the goddess), Menaka (the Apsara), Sudarshana Chakra (Lord Vishnu’s weapon) etc. (Can someone list all 14?) The worhsip rituals of Anant Pooja symbolize Samudra Manthan, where a large plate filled with milk is supposed to represent the sea. The 14 Ratnas are represented by 14 knots in the threads called “anant”. After the worship is over, everyone ties one “anant” on his/her arms. Impatient ones like me take it off the same day, many people keep it on for 14 days and some devoted one wear it round the year.

“Chhath” is a festival associated no only with Maithils, but with whole of Bihar, eastern U. P. ,some parts of West Bengal and even the border areas of Nepal. It is celebrated on the 5th and 6th day after Diwali. Some rituals dedicated to God Sun are carried out on the bank of a river or a nearby pond in the evening of the fifth day and again in the following morning. The river/ponds are normally cleaned before the festival. So, in a sense they get their yearly cleaning on this occasion. To summarize my opinion on the festival, I will put here a small improptu speech I had given at IITK during a Chhath celebration:

“It is important to change with time and get rid of bad customs of past. What the present day youth is generally accused of (and youths of all ages have been accused of) is that they have started throwing away good customs of the past as well. The problem, however, is not with past or the youth. Problem is that youth seeks reasons behind the things and Indian culture and tradition has for long not tried to reason things out. We are always told that something is good, but never as to why it is good. This creates the problem of youth not appreciating the good parts. Not that the youth is faultless. If the earlier generation has not tried to explain it, we have never tried to see for ourselves either if a reason is there behind things. And hence, we mindlessly throw things away, just because they are the legacy of the past, without making the discrimination between good and bad.

“Let me try to see of there is a rationale behind this festival Chhath. We know that the whole world appreciates what is successful, what is rising. Everyone worships the rising sun. But only in India, do we have an example, in the form of this festival called Chhath, where we worship the setting sun as well, because we have the foresight to see that the same sun will rise tomorrow and we will worship it then.

“This was a rather philosophical reason behind the festival. There is another one too – a more tangible one. We clean our houses during Diwali. And in the earlier days, and at most of the places even now, where would all the dirt of the houses ultimately go? In the nearest water source. What was to be done about that? Chhath of course. On the sixth day of Diwali, we celebrate Chhath and clean the river/pond and other water sources for that. Who said Indians have not cared for cleanliness? Probably the leaders of our society had understood the human psychology pretty well so as to organize things around festivals. We forgot about cleanliness, when we forgot about rationale behind the tradition and started blindly sticking to the rituals.”

(There are more of these in line!)

2 thoughts on “The Maithils – V

  1. Since I am removing the Haloscan Comments, I am copy-pasting the comments I got on this post here.

    just sending a Bangla version of bhai phota ( Bhatri-Dwitiya ) celebrated here.The well wishing verse of the sister is like this way:
    Ami dilam bhai ke phota,Jam duare porlo kata.
    Yamuna dilo yam ke phota,Ami dilam bhai ke phota.
    Yam yemon holo akhay amar,Amar bhaio houk akhay amar.

    ( I have applied tika to my brother,So a nail stuck at the door of Yama. Yamuna applied tika to Yama . As Yama is became amar, I wish my brother will be also remain amar)

    How nice the underlying feeling is:
    Yamuna have applied tika to the Yama so he became amar and our sister is wishing same amaratwa, Yam got.At the same time she wishes that Yam will not come near to her brother.

    Long live sisters of India. So I apply a small tika to my sisters before they do so at bhai phota.
    Prem Piyush | Email | Homepage | 12.11.04 – 5:40 pm | #

    Ah! Thanks for that. So, that “Jam” is indeed “Yama”!
    Jaya Jha | Homepage | 12.11.04 – 5:53 pm | #

    yep. In our family, we don’t have verses but stories for all the fasts and festivals. And as far as I remember, bhai dooj story was about yama and his sister. I will try to find it out and may be post it
    Also we have something called “Norte”. On the first day of navratri, “joe” are sown and in nine days, u get small pedigree that the sisters put behind the ears of their brothers. I guess it is remnant of a more eloborate process of nyotna. One of the biggest confusion used to be if we have to put it on the right ear or the left ear and I am not sure even now.
    abhaya | 12.11.04 – 9:17 pm | #

  2. Beautiful article, well written and a very detailed information of nearly all the maithil festivals. Hats of to you ffor taking time and writing this blog. Thank you!

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