Chhath: The solution of environmental loss rooted in Indian tradition | The Financial Express

Chhath: The solution of environmental loss rooted in Indian tradition

Chhath Puja: The uniqueness of chhath is that its practices are in harmony with nature, the sun which lights and helps sustain life on earth is worshipped.

Chhath: The solution of environmental loss rooted in Indian tradition
Chhath Puja 2022: The festival is for 4 days, starting where mothers are the sole authority to make decisions in their house during the festive period. (Image – Unsplash)

By Utsav Kumar Singh & Deepak Kumar Pathak

Year after year climate change and its effects are getting worse. The world is warming. The World Bank (2021) estimated that in low and middle-income countries, natural disasters will cost around US$18 billion. By 2050, 216 million people will migrate within their own country. 

Environment is the key life support and production factor. Developing and least developed countries depend on natural resources for their survival and livelihood.  In the late twentieth century, concerns for conserving the environment from the negative impact of rapid industrialization took momentum. The process of providing basic necessities from the gains of improved growth rate in the developing and least developed countries should not be at the cost of environmental degradation.  

No country, either developed or developing, is immune from the devastating impact of climate change.  India shoulders the burden of climate change. Robust economic development, urbanization, population growth creates demand for more water from agriculture, which is almost 60 percent rain-fed, increasing the dependency on ground water which is overexploited in India. In some parts of the country, a huge fall in crop production was recorded due to drought caused by climate change, which is expected to accelerate in north-western India, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.  The World Bank (2014) report estimated the annual cost of environmental loss in India is US$80 billion annually, nearly 5.7 percent of India’s GDP,  which limits sustainable economic growth. Reversing the environmental loss is near to impossible and expensive. Ian Mitchell and Lee Robinson (2021) figured that the carbon liability for India is US$1621, fourth from the top, translated into US$1186 per capita liability, accounting for 57.1 percent of GNI. Though, the per capita is 5 times lower than the developed countries because of the large population.

The solution of environmental loss rooted in Indian tradition. India represents a culture where earth is regarded as “mother”, embedded deep in ancient Indian texts that the earth should be kept pure for she is our mother! 

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Traditional practices in daily life resonated in cultural practices in various festivals. Although we lost most of them, still there is hope illuminating in the Chhath, the festival of ‘popular faith’ celebrated in eastern states of India especially Bihar, Jharkhand, and eastern Uttar Pradesh, and travelled throughout the world with the migration of labour. 

Each ritual of the festival is related to the Sustainable Development Goals. This is the only festival in which we use the traditional fruits, vegetables and cereals and foreign ingredients are strictly prohibited. 

In the race of industrialization, vedic practices are lost which translate into misery for hunger and famine. Ira Klen (1984) in her scholarship revealed that the self-sufficient-practice of villages in ancient India, resist-effectively the situation of hunger and famine caused by crop failure. Thus, the SDG1(No Poverty) and SDG2 (Zero Hunger). Prohibition of processed food like sugar and salt lead to healthy life, translated into the concept of SDG3 (Good Health and Well Beings) are attained by sharing. The use of sugarcane, emphasis on cash crop to increase the income of agrarian society.

The festival is for 4 days, starting where mothers are the sole authority to make decisions in their house during the festive period. After fasting for 4 days including 2 days without water, they pray for the long life of their children and husband. Thus, it reflects the women’s role in decision making which is advocated in SDG5, more women in decision making, more healthy and prosperous life. 

The festival is celebrated on the bank of river, before the festival the banks are cleaned by family members and by government in urban area, this practice shows the importance of SDG6 (clean water and sanitation), SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities), SDG13 (Climate action), SDG14 (life below sea).

Elephant shaped earthen pots are a symbol of our glorious Magadha empire, where elephants are a symbol of strength and prosperity, it cemented the human-animal relationship where humans are always benefited, a lesson to sustain life on land (SDG14). 

The uniqueness of chhath is that its practices are in harmony with nature, the sun which lights and helps sustain life on earth is worshipped. It is the only festival in which even the setting sun is worshiped in the hope of a new dawn which echoed in SDG7(affordable and clean energy).

As discussed, the festival is carrying the vedic values, people are directly offering prayers to natural powers, no middle man (pujari) is allowed, all the devotees are seated in common pattern at the banks of rivers/ponds, in this way it promotes equality in the society SDG10 (reduce inequality). 

The essence of the festival is the act of sharing amongst the participants which strengthens the belief of SDG 17(partnership for development). 

Chhath and its vedic linkage is a testimony to our healthy co-existence with mother nature.  However, the need of the hour is to bring this practice into our daily lives on a regular basis. This does not imply we should celebrate Chhath every day but we should inculcate certain practices in our daily lives which though at an individual level are very small steps, but have large cumulative gains at the society level.  There is a need for large scale behavioural change in the masses. Government can step in and take efforts and build facilities and institutions which create a conducive atmosphere for such a behavioural change. 

The most important step here would be for the government to imbibe environment friendly practices rooted in our Indian culture or practiced by various indigenous tribes by making them a part of school and college curriculum. It is important that environmental science should be taught in a manner which is interdisciplinary. A mix of cultural practices, along with their importance in sustaining nature will actually help young minds appreciate the essence of several age-old practices cutting across religion and ethnicity and make it a habit. The big posters with best wishes for festivals should also have messages from the government, which educate the population about the environmental significance of such festive practices and motivate them to make it a part of their lifestyle. Every good deed cannot be monetarily incentivised but some practices can be revived by reconnecting to our roots. In the past few years, the efforts of the government to glorify our traditions, culture etc has garnered attention everywhere in the country, continuing in that direction the government should now aim at reviving certain practices which help us in achieving COP26 commitments. The blend of environmentally sustainable age-old practices and modern, scientific techniques to achieve the climate goals will set a perfect example of an advanced life with our feet still attached to the ground. 

– Dr Utsav Kumar Singh, is an Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, Economics, Shaheed Bhagat Singh College, University of Delhi

Deepak Kumar Pathak, is a Data Scientist with an Indian Bank

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First published on: 28-10-2022 at 16:54 IST