Tuning in to Chhath festivities

02e9deeb-442c-42b4-9264-c260e35fffb8Gone are the days of stereos and radios that used to play Chhath songs. Today these songs are just a click away on YouTube channels and can be played on smartphones too. Here’s an amplified look at the rise of the digital wave in the festive milieu. 
Till a few years ago, legendary folk singer and Padma Shri Sharda Sinha’s mellifluous voice wafting out of the stereos and speakers filled the air with festivities across the nook and corner of the twin states of Bihar and Jharkhand, parts of Uttar Pradesh, especially during Chhath. Her name was and is still synonymous with by far the grandest, most significant festival celebrated by the natives of these states all over the country and even world. Bihar Kokila as she is fondly called had released her first album on Chhath way back in 1977, and that was quite a feat. “Convincing a music company to release an album in Bhojpuri featuring Chhath songs was an ardous task then, but I am glad to have spearheaded that movement to give respect to our musical culture, language, tradition, and festival,” she says beaming with pride. In a first of its kind, she went on to release two of her songs Supawo Na Mile Maayi and Pahile Pahil Chhati Maiyya on YouTube in collaboration with Neo Bihar and Champaran Talkies last year, and both the releases had taken the social media platforms by storm. “People can tune into the Chhath songs at the click of a button on their smartphones. Technology has made access easier, audience base wider, and reach deeper,” Sinha adds.
Her contribution to the world of music can be gauged from the fact all the singers who have grown up listening to her have followed in her footsteps, trying to make a mark in the space of Chhath songs with their offering, year after year, but knowing well that nothing can beat her popularity. You may choose to love some, hate others, but one thing is for sure, you can’t ignore them and the opportunities that have come their way, thanks to the digital platform like #YouTube. They need not go to a music company to release their album; the power to do so rests with them, and it is just a click away. Their channels on YouTube boasts of lakhs of fans (subscribers), and the number of views is a measure of their popularity that further translates into monetization, and sets the cash register ringing. These young brigade is scripting the new era of Bhojpuri music, resurrecting it in their unique way, jostling to grab eyeballs and vying for attention from one and sundry, loving to hate each other in the process. Even then the bottom line remains that each one of them has a loyal fan base, and the other one can’t make a dent in that.
Another interesting trend is the popularity of an FB page, Chhath Parv, managed by Ankit Verma and his team that has emerged as the one-stop destination for the Chhath doers, and watchers alike all over the world. “It has more than 10 lakh followers, and our posts get an average of 10K shares,” says Verma. It provides a virtual connect to many who visit the page to watch the hues of festivities from across the country and also different parts of the world.
One step at a time is what binds them together in this feature on Chhath. The popularity of these songs, music, lyrics, theme, etc., depends on the likes and spikes, because ultimately, the good, bad and ugly rests with the public who knows it all. But as Delhi-based Namitha Chaudhary says, “Many singers have Chhath songs to their credit, but on this auspicious occasion, it is Shardajee’s voice that sums up the religious fervor. It touches the chord of our hearts.”
Here’s our rundown of the major Chhath releases that created ripples on the digital platform this year.
Nitin Neera Chandra | Tradition keeper 
Buoyed by the overwhelming response to his last year’s video Pahile Pahil Chhati Maiyya sung by Sharda Sinha, featuring Kranti Prakash Jha and Kristine Zedek, National Award-winning filmmaker Nitin Neera Chandra’s Chhath offering this year is Kabahun Naa Chhooti Chhath. The story is a sequel to last year’s video but has a more profound message for the masses. “Our first story was about a Punjabi girl married to a guy from Bihar who commits to doing Chhath so that there is no break in the family tradition. Our story this year is how her husband takes up the responsibility to fill in for her pregnant wife by fasting on Chhath. Our idea was to tell the world that it’s not only the girls, who have to carry our family tradition, but boys can pitch in to do the same when needed.” Chandra roped in Hindi film playback singer Alka Yagnik and Bhojpuri Samrat Bharat Sharma Vyas to croon the song penned by Ashok Sheopuri that subtly highlights the fact that it is only in Bihar that people worship the setting as well as rising Sun. He also went on to release an instrumental version of the song by flautist Sudhir Karandikar and a Karaoke session on Neo Bihar’s YouTube channel.
Kalpana Patowary | Unity in diversity
The Assamese singer Kalpana Patowary, who is the uncrowned queen of the Bhojpuri music industry, hit the right notes with her Chhath video on the theme of communal harmony. Patowary sings in 30 languages and sang her first Chhath song in 2002. “I don’t belong to Bihar so didn’t know the much about it, except the fact that the Sun is a source of live energy and Chhath is an occasion to thank it for its benevolent presence in our lives,” she says. The video touches upon how Muslim families have been worshipping the Sun God, following the rituals to the T. Her rendition of Ug Ho Suraj Dev was originally sung by Vindhyawasini Devi with music by Bhupen Hazarika. The soul of this version is its mesmerizing storyline, and captivating vocals that show Patowary invoking the Sun God dressed the traditional Assamese way with orange vermillion smeared from forehead to nose. “I have a personal connection with the festival as I am married into a Muslim family. There’s an old lady in Jamalpur, who fasted and prayed for me during Chhath when I was expecting. I went to pay my obeisance after my twin boys were born to thank the deity for blessing me with motherhood,” says Patowary, adding, “Such songs are needed to combat the wave of religious intolerance and negativity floating around us.”
Khushboo Uttam & Dr Ranju Sinha | Noteworthy songs  
As a young girl, Khushboo Uttam idolized Sharda Sinha and entered the world of Bhojpuri playback singing with high hopes to make it big. But Uttam’s dreams came crashing with every attempt. The lyrics of her songs were to be blamed for it. “She was undoubtedly the choice of masses, but crass for the classes. But that never dampened her spirits and every time, she tried to bounce back, stronger and better,” says Dr Ranju Sinha, lyricist, and filmmaker, who has been collaborating with the singer since the last few years. Blessed with a trained voice, she had her basics in place. Uttam’s tie-up with Dr Sinha gave her songs the much-needed sanctity that took her popularity notches higher. “I have tried to capture the many moods of Chhath with my songs. Rahe Daura Ke Raur Fharmaish talks of raging issue of GST, Aai Gaile Katik Ke Mahinawa helps one soak in the festive spirit while Dhukur Dhukur Chale Garnetor portrays the banter between a couple,” says Uttam, adding, “the music is peppy and catchy.” Both Sinha and Uttam are grateful to the digital medium for reducing the dependence on music labels and distributors, paving the way for young and budding talents to win their share of audience attention.
Megha Sriram Dalton and Amit Jha | Melody on Track 
Filmmaker Amit Jha grew up wondering why don’t the elderly in the family pass on the tradition of doing Chhath to the daughter. “Why is the daughter-in-law favored over the daughter? Why is it the boy who is the keeper of tradition and never a daughter?  It is gender biased,” he says. The nagging thought led him to make a short film, Dhiya Poota that means daughter and son in Bhojpuri that was released on YouTube last Sunday. The other idea that he has touched in his offering is how families yearn for a male heir. “A girl child is a blessing in the truest sense, but that doesn’t deter parents to wish for a boy,” he rues. Another nuance is the use of an inflatable pool to offer arghya (prayer to the Sun). Once he had the idea in place, everything else came around including lead actor Seema Biswas. He wanted a singer who had a touch of folk in her voice for his film. A popular singer on the Bollywood circuit, Megha Sriram Dalton was the perfect fit. “I approached Megha, and the only things she asked me is, when can she come for the recording,” he quips. For Megha, it was a God-send opportunity, who had been relegated to the chorus when it came to Chhath songs, in her decade-long musical career. “I was longing for an opportunity to lend my voice to a Chhath song. I am glad that this opportunity came my way with Chhathi Maiya Dihin Na Asis,” she says.

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