A cold shower at five in the morning tops the list of my least favorite activities, but it has always been a must during puja season. The annual Chhat Puja, one of the oldest traditions of India, requires all family members to be present when worshipping the Sun. Because it is one the of most important Hindu festivals in the state of Bihar, both my parents, both natives of Bihar, celebrate it with unmatched zeal.
Chhat is one of the most amazing festivals that I have been a part of, and being from India, I have witnessed a lot of festivals. Celebration time brings together the entire family in the tiny village of Bihar. By entire family, I mean every person that I share even a percentage of my DNA with. Each year thousands gather at the riverside to sing and dance. Empty grounds are transformed into socio-economic hubs--from hundreds of hawkers selling colorful bangles to traders selling electronics. Everyone comes together to acknowledge their origin. It's Bihar's Christmastime!
But why do we worship the Sun? Apparently, for taking care of every living being. It turns out, Chhat isn't just an annual attempt of the people to please the Sun God, rather it is to thank him for making life possible on Earth. As an 11-year-old, who had been taught that the Sun was nothing but a sphere of gases, I found this celebration rather bizarre. How could a random gas ball be controlling my life like that? So the next time I have a midterm, maybe I should just blow up some balloons and hope that these "gas balls" get me an A.
A significant part of Chhat involves men and women standing in knee-deep waters, offering flowers and praying to the setting sun on the last day of the festival. As I stood there watching my parents embrace the transient nature of daylight and everything else in the world, I realized that these traditions that initially seemed strange weren't actually all that foreign. Over the years, I have found a connection between science and religion, convincing myself that I am thanking the Sun for supporting life on Earth, for the Sunlight, that helps Photosynthesis, for the warmth and for the energy. I guess it's not all that bizarre. It may sound weird, but I enjoy believing it.
As my interest in Bihar's traditions grew, so did my participation. I would listen closely to what the priest would say, take note of the "offerings" my grandmother was making and watch with amazement as the boys jumped into the cold, rushing river.
It amazes me to think that there is only a small group of people in the world who practice this interesting tradition and that I am a part of that group. Being someone who is still in the process of defining myself, participating in Chhat gives me a sense of belonging. These traditions have become a unique part of who I am.
When I think of home, I don't think of a concrete structure. I think of my family, our festivals and our beliefs, which is why I choose to hold on to these beliefs, no matter how outlandish they may seem.