Indian-Americans celebrate Chhath Pooja on Potomac River

WASHINGTON (TIP): Indian-Americans celebrated the festival of Chhath on the banks of the historic Potomac River here as several women attired in colorful traditional saree worshiped the rising sun.

The Chhath celebrations spread over three days in Virginia saw participation of some 250 Indian-Americans, many of whom drove a few hundred kilometers to attend this popular festival of Bihar.

“We are just trying our best to keep our tradition alive, even though we are thousands of miles away from the place of our birth,” said Kripa Shankar Singh, who has been organizing the event for the past eight years now.

A software engineer, Singh comes from Patna.

“Now people call me from all over the country and ask details about the Chhath pooja,” he said.

This year, a few families even booked cottages on the banks of the Potomac River so that they can participate in the festivities on both the days.

“I am overwhelmed by the response,” said Kumar Singh, an eminent Indian-American community leader in Greater Washington Metropolitan Area.

“Unlike other festivals, which we celebrate on weekends, this is the only Indian festival we celebrate on the actual day. Still it attracts a large number of people, many of whom take leave from their work to come and attend Chhath pooja on the Potomac,” Singh said.

Recounting how it all began, Kripa Shankar Singh said about eight years ago his mother asked his wife Anita to take care of Chhath pooja to keep the family tradition of generations alive.

Singh said he inquired among his friends and other Indian-American community leaders if anyone here performed the Chhath pooja.He found that people did it inside their homes or at the most in a makeshift plastic tub full of water.

Singh and some of his friends once went for a picnic on the banks of the Potomac River in Loudon County, a suburb of Washington.

The concrete boat ramp there, Singh said, gave him the idea that this place was good for performing Chhath pooja in the real way with all the traditional and religious rituals.

Soon he approached the Loudon County Parks and Recreation Department with the details and sought permission to do the Chhath pooja on the river banks.

“Permission was granted,” he said, adding that the Loudon County is enthusiastic about supporting the Indian-Americans in organizing this rare festival outside India.

Chhath pooja entails worship of Sun God, embodied in cosmic energy, and is observed mainly by people from Bihar and eastern UP.

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