Since time immemorial, the holy festival of Jivitputrika popularly known as Jitiya is observed by women in Bihar for the long life of their children. Mothers keep fast throughout the day without taking even a drop of water. Normally, the fast is observed for the well-being of sons.
One of the most prized possession women have been gifted with by the almighty God is to bring new life on earth. The glory of motherhood is celebrated during Jitiya festival by forsaking food and water and praying for children.
Jitiya is a Nirjala vrata as the devotee mothers abstain even from water which is the most essential thing for life. The ritual takes three days. The first day (the day before jitiya) is called ‘Nahai-Khai’ as the women take the first morsel only after having bath. The second day is for the fast and Paaran is done on the third day. Religious priests give information about the exact time for Paaran and women can break their fast only after that time.
The dishes which are cooked for Paaran are also fixed. Women break their fast with saag (edible herbs) like Noni saag, Poi saag etc. and cakes made from the flour of Mahua which is a local crop. This observance is based on legendary mythology and remains unaffected by modern culture.
Jitiya is performed in the Krishna Paksh of the Ashwin maas (month) on Ashtami tithi (eighth day) as per the Indian calendar guided by the moon. The day is also celebrated as Lakshmi Parv (worship of Goddess Lakshmi) in other parts of India as informed by Amarnath Tiwary, the priest of the Akhand Vindhyavashini Devi temple near Golghar in Patna.
“As the name Jivitputrika implies, it is performed to pray for the long life of children. I believe that every woman must do it,” he said. He further explained the whole process in detail.
“Following the rules given in our religious books, women should offer prayers to Lord Vishnu, Lord Ganesh and other deities during the evening. The next day the women again offer puja at the same altar and sing local folk songs.“The priests help the worshippers to perform the whole process according to Karmkand. But if a priest is not available, mothers can perform the puja on their own by following ‘Ashtadasho Upchaar’ (eight holy treatments), ‘Shodshon Upchaar’ (sixteen holy treatments) and other rituals. Women who come from affluent families or who are very religious follow Rajopchar and Panchopchar method as well and hear the jitiya story with full devotion,” he said. The story associated with Jitiya has its own significance as the ritual is incomplete without hearing the story.
According to religious books when ‘Kaliyug’ began, women were worried about their progeny and they went to Gautam Rishi, a well known sage. The sage told them that there is a ritual which could help save their children.He narrated a story which starts in the time of Mahabharata when Pandavas were traumatized with the death of all their sons in the war. Their queen Draupadi went to a Brahmin called Dhaumya and asked for a solution for the long life of children.
Dhaumya told her the following story: Jimutvahan was a king in Satyuga. Once on a visit to his in-laws home with his wife, he heard a bitter cry of an old woman at night. The woman was crying for her dead son. Jimutvahan went to her and came to know that she was crying because Garura (the king of birds and vehicle of Lord Vishnu) had eaten her son. Jimutvahan, generous by nature instantly went to the place where Garura could be found and presented himself as food.
Garura started to cut his body with his claws. But surprised by the behaviour of the king, he wanted to know the actual reason behind his sacrifice. Despite the pain, the king insisted Garura to kill and eat him. Out of awe, he inquired about the actual identity of the king. “You do not seem to be an ordinary man. I beseech you to tell the truth,” said Garura.
Then the king revealed his identity and happy with his generosity, Garura asked him to make a wish. Jimutvahan asked the king of birds to give life to all those people whom he had eaten. Garura complied with his wish and himself brought ‘Amrit’ (holy nectar) from the Naglok and sprinkled it on the dead remains of the bones of all the deceased. The dead were all alive. Happy with the king’s gesture, he also gave him a boon -- A woman who will offer worship on the eighth day of Asvin in Krishna Paksha with a statue of Kusha (a kind of grass used in religious observances) will never face any threat on the life of her children.