With four-day 'Chhath' festival underway, it is celebration time in thousands of villages of Bihar. Over a million migrant workers are returning home with broad smiles and pockets full for the festive time with their near and dear ones.
Come Chhath, the most popular festival of Bihar, and villages and small towns across the state get a new breath of life -- migrants bring along their hard-earned money to splurge on various necessities and the rare luxuries their loved ones demand.
A sudden change is noticed in rural Bihar as its natives return in droves.
"Some migrants return after six months or a year, and their old parents, wives, children and friends in villages are all joyous and happy," said Sonu Kumar, a small time contractor who is also a social activist, from Rampur village in Arwal district.
Kamlesh Singh Yadav, in his late 30s who reached Patna Railway Station on Friday morning and immediately hurried for his village in neighbouring Vaishali district, said he is eager to meet his family and friends after 11 months.
"I left my village last December, and now I am back...it is a big time for me and people like me," Yadav, who works in a machine factory in Tamil Nadu, said.
Thousands of others, who work in distant lands and far away corners of the country, have returned to their hamlets in rural Bihar in the past two-three days while many hundreds are still on their way.
According to a conservative estimate, over one million Bihari migrants who keep factories and farms going in other parts of the country and the world have returned home to breathe a "new life" into the rural areas.
Even Biharis who are rich and famous as well as professionals from different fields have made a beeline for the home state for the festival.
"Most migrants have returned in the last 48 hours and some of them in the last five days, while thousands are still on the way. Many failed to make it, as there was no place in long-route trains," a Labour Department official said.
Congress legislator Shakil Ahmad Khan, who spent most of his time in his rural assembly constituency Kadwa in Katihar district, said the return of thousands of natives to the Bihar countryside has certainly brought smiles back on the faces of their old parents and kith and kin.
"Not just this, it also has provided an impetus to the socio-economic activities. Savings brought along by the migrants have meant that their families are spending more on both essentials and fancy goods in this festive season. That gives a boost to the state's economy," Shakil Ahmad said.
So, it is not just the families but also traders and shopkeepers in the countryside who are sporting beaming smiles on the arrival of the sons of soil and toil for the Chhath.
Mahender Yadav, who works with flood victims in the Koshi river basin, said return of the migrant workers for Chhath gives a boost to the local economy and socio activities. The Koshi river basin area spread over five districts, including Madhepura, Saharsa, Supaul, has witnessed large-scale migration of workers in search of livelihood.
"Each migrant worker brings some (money) that increases the purchasing power of family and boosts economy during and after Chhath," Mahender Yadav said.
He told IANS that after their arrival, the workers spend on pending work, including construction of houses, repairs and roofing, and purchase of items for marriages and other things.
According to experts, it is difficult to put an exact figure on the migrants returning to Bihar for the annual Chhath festival, but the flux is great.
Most of the Bihari labour concentration is said to be in Punjab, Haryana, Assam, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, Kolkata and Pune also have sizeable chunks of both labourers and white-collar workers from Bihar.
The state government, however, has no record.
Most migrants from Bihar work in farms, factories, and at construction and infrastructure sites. Many are also professionals and are counted among the best in the field.
According to railway officials at the East Central Railway (ECR) headquarters at Hajipur near Patna, 1.5 to 2 lakh passengers have been arriving every day from across the country by more than 250 trains to celebrate Chhath.
"All the trains from Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Pune and Chandigarh are packed to capacity, thanks to the huge rush for Chhath," a railway official said.
The four-day Chhath festival began on Friday and ends on Monday morning.
Celebrated six days after Diwali, Chhath is dedicated to the Sun God. During the festival, married women observe fast for 36 hours, and the faithful offer wheat, milk, sugarcane, bananas and coconuts to the Sun.
The main ritual is known as 'Arghya' -- when devotees stand waist-deep in water to offer prayers to the setting and rising Sun on the banks of rivers and other water bodies.
Over the years, Chhath has emerged as a symbol of Bihari identity across the country, much like Bihu in Assam, Durga Puja in Bengal or Ganesh festival in Maharashtra.