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Bihar - Religion

Bihar is one of the farmer state of India, much talked about all over India. It is part of what the British pejoratively called the “cow belt” but which is more accurately described as the “Hindi belt” – Bihar, UP, Rajasthan, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh - across India's great northern plains. The colloquial Hindustani of Bollywood films is spoken by only 40% of the population, concentrated in the "cow belt" of northern India. Communal politics is the upper caste strategy to manage the caste upheaval from below. The upper caste [ruling class] formations project Muslims as the “other” to keep the Hindu flock together. Congress, which once used to win almost all the seats in the cow belt state, had been performing very poorly in the last two decades.

Bihar finds mention in the Vedas, Puranas, Epics etc and was the main scene of activities of the Buddha and the 24 Jain Tirthankaras. The hermitages of ancient monastic orders cluster in the plains and hill sides. The teachings of Buddha and Mahavira, deeply engraved in the enduring ruins and relics ring down the corridors of time. Religion is ever present in the daily life of the people. Besides prominent ones like Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, other religions like Islam, Christianity, Sikhism etc are alsoreligion in bihar found here.

The Hindus are the largest religious community in Bihar. Hindu piety involves rituals and ceremonies, celebrating festivals, making pilgrimages, building temples, reading the Ramayana and chanting the Gayatri Mantra. There are a huge number of temples in Bihar.

The Hinduism of the masses is chiefly characterized by polytheism which has given rise to many cults such as Shakta, Shaivism, Vaishnavism etc. Each cult and sect has its own special gods or goddesses, but all combine to revere other deities of the Hindu pantheon and join in their worship.

The working religion of the peasant's everyday life consists of the propitiation of his 'Ishta Devata' (favourite deity), ghosts (bhuts) and spirits (prets), in order that they may not afflict their worshippers or may grant them material blessings. The primitive propitiation of evil spirits and god lings and the worship of the Hindu gods go on side by side and quite often the same men make offerings to both. Besides Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and Durga, one of the most important local deity is the elephant headed god, Ganesha. Ritualistic greeting of the rising sun and the ceremonial morning and the evening ablutions are widely observed by all devout Brahmins.

Hindus believe in karma, image worship, rebirth and fatalism. Worship in the temples is done by Brahmin priests. He recites the mantras and makes the offerings for the worshipper. The priests have a considerable hold over the people especially in the rural areas. Their advice is sought when a difficulty arises, usually by the women. There are countless grotesque and degrading superstitions in which so many of the peasants and labourers still seek priesthood. The priests hope by these means to retain their hold on masses and even the more educated and liberal minded among them do little actively to combat such beliefs.

Hinduism in Bihar is a religion of caste rules and usages. Its sanctions are ultimately social, its laws immemorial group customs and its tribunal the committee of the fraternity, it presents itself to the ordinary man not as a statement of the eternal principles of morality, but as a formidable code of etiquette ruling the details of his personal life. He finds himself greatly concerned that he should not marry a woman not belonging to his caste or dine with a man not of his own community, he should not help the wrong man or entertain vague caste prejudices against the right one. Bihar is known for its factionalism, while others think of themselves as Bengalis or Punjabis, Parsis or Muslims, in Bihar their compatriots think of themselves only as Bhumihars, Rajputs, Kayasthas or Maithil Brahmins. Hinduism offers them the hope of salvation from the hard life they lead.

The majority of people are Hindu. So all traditional Hindu festivals are observed - Holi, Saraswati Puja, Durga Puja or Dusserah, Deepavali, Bhaiya Dooj etc. But there is one festival that is uniquely associated with Bihar, and that is the festival of Chhath.

Muslims comprise a vast minority. (At the time of partition of India, in 1947, a very large number of Bihari Muslims migrated to Pakistan - then comprising of East and West Pakistan. When East Pakistan was liberated from Pakistani rule and became the nation of Bangladesh, these Bihari Muslims had a second migration, this time to West Pakistan, now simply known as Pakistan. This Bihari minority in Pakistan is known as "mujahirs" and they are engaged in a fierce fight for their survival in Pakistan.)

Christians, although proportional to the whole population a small minority, are very large in absolute numbers. Many beautiful Catholic and Protestant church buildings dot the landscape of towns in Bihar. Special mention may be made of Patna and Ranchi. Some examples are: the St. Joseph's Convent, the St. Xavier's School with its chapel, Padri-Ki-Haveli, and the church at the Holy Family Hospital in Patna; and the Gossner Evangelical Lutheran Church at Ranchi.

Surprisingly, Bihari Sikhs, in the land that gave the tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh, are very few in number. A large number of Sikhs from the Punjab migrated to Bihar during the partition of India in 1947. This uprooted, but highly enterprising, group of people quickly established itself as very successful member of the business and industrial community in Bihar. They are now an integral part of the Bihari population. The Harmandir Takht, the gurudwara that commemorates Guru Gobind Singh, is a sacred place of pilgrimage for the Sikhs. To the Sikhs this holy place is reverentially known as Patna Sahib.

The amalgamation of Vedic and non-Aryan religion was not an easy affair. It is not surprising to find the Rig Vedic word for festival, Samana, which has been rendered both as ‘battle’ and ‘ ‘festival’. We hear of Bhima and Arjuna as destroying the great Chaitya on the hills of Rajgir in order to demonstrate their hostility towards Magadha. Likewise, the Asurs of Gaya were uprooted by Vishnu. The famous Sonepur Cattle fair (deeed to be the largest in the world) recreates the Gagendra moksha legend, associated with Hariharanatha temple in Sonepur, which was once strongly opposed to Vishnu. The Cattle fair, beginning with the full moon day of Kartik Purnima (November) commemorates the ancient concord accommplished at Sonepur, between the opposing sects of Vishnav and Shiva worshippers.

Though Bihar is in league with festivals like Holi, Dussehra, Deepavali but chaath puja (6 days after Deepavali) is Bihar’s prime festival honouring the sun god. Unlike the zestful Holi or the expensive Deepavali) Chaath is a festival of prayer and propitiation observed with solemnity. It is an expression of thanks giving and seeking the blessings from the forces of nature, prominent among them being the Sun and river. The belief is that a devotee’s desire is always fulfilled during Chaath. Simultaneously an element of fear is alive among the devotees who dread the punishment for any misdeed during Chaath. The city remains safe during this time when criminals too prefer to be a part of the good.

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Page last modified: 24-10-2021 15:29:42 ZULU