Cheti Chand is basically a Sindhi festival, celebrated mostly by Sindhis. Sindhis are a socio-ethnic group of people originating from Sindh, a province of Pakistan. After the Partition of India in 1947, many Sindhi Hindus migrated to India in large numbers. Here they established their customs and traditions, one of which was the celebration of Cheti Chand Festival.
Cheti Chand is celebrated as a commemoration of birthday of Sindhi Patron Saint Jhulelal and as New Year’s Day for Sindhis.
Jhulelal is also known as Ishtadeva Udero Lal (hindu water god – Varun Dev’s incarnation). He is also known as Uday Chand, Amar Laal and Laal Sain. The name ‘Jhulelal’ became famous because as a child (lal), the cradle (jhule) of Uderolal would swing on its own. Jhulelal was a man of miracles, through his miracles he opened the eyes of the oppressor and provided justice to sindhis. To honour their deity, the sindhis celebrate this day. Cheti Chand is celebrated on a day during the waxing phase of moon (chand) of Chet month. It is observed on the first or second day of the Sindhi Chet month (March – April) or Chaitra month in Hindu calendar; therefore it is called as ‘Chet-I-Chand’. Cheti Chand is similar to other Hindu festivals like Ugadi (Telugu New Year and Kannada New Year) celebrated in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka and Gudi Padwa (Marathi New Year) celebrated in Maharashtra.
During the second half of the 10th century, kingdom of Thatta (in pakistan) was under the rule of a dictator named, Makrab Khan. He acquired the kingdom by killing Shah Sadakat Khan and crowned himself as “Mirik Shah”. His Maulvis (courtiers) advised him to spread Islam in order to acquire Janat (Heaven). Upon their advice, he called the Mukhi of Hindus (leaders) and gave them two options of becoming followers of Islam and or face untimely death. The Panchs were terrified and panicky, they pleaded for grace time to think over the options. While trying to find a solution to the problem, Mukhi (head of panchs – sarpanch) all of a sudden thought of the promise of Lord Krishna in Bhagvad Gita:” Whenever the sins increase beyond the limit and the religion seems to be endangered I come in the form of an Avtar (incarnate) and mitigate the distress of my worshippers.” Who else could the Hindus think of at that time but their Varun god – Water god? Thousands gathered on the bank of river Sindhu and prayed Jal Devata Dariyashah (water God) for safe guarding them from the cruel and undesirable actions of Mirik Shah.
During this prayer time, they wore the same cloths, without shaving, footwear and took their bath without oil & soap. Due to large number of people, only simple food was served. At the end of the fortieth day, they heard a a divine voice “Aakashwani” from heaven. The heavenly voice told them that ‘Eight months from now I shall take birth at Nasarpur in the house of Ratan Chand Lohano from the womb of Maa Devki and will rescue you all’. Hindus rejoiced and celebrated the occasion. Immediately after, Hindus went to Mirikh shah and prayed for an extension. They narrated him the promise they had received from God. The courtiers thought that this was a trap and tried to dissuade Mirikh Shah. But Mirikh Shah was curious and couldn’t reconcile the idea of God coming down to earth. So he wanted to see what would happen. Moreover, he thought that Hindus were at his mercy; he could put an end to them whenever he liked. So he granted them some more time.
The Hindus awaited the arrival of their saviour with fervour and fondness. After three months, the second tithi of Asu month, Hindus got the confirmation of the news of the conception by Devki. Mirikh shah also got news of birth of the mysterious child who was called ‘Udero’. He called the Panchs and asked them how long he was supposed to wait for their reply to his demand: “Either accept Islam or die.” Hindus, now being quite convinced and confident of their saviour having really taken birth, implored, ‘A few months more our Lord! Saviour of Hindus has already taken birth. He is the Water god’. Mirikh Shah dismissed the prediction and was emphatic that in the end their saviour will convert to islam and others will follow suit. So he let them go, even though the Maulvis persuaded Mirikh Shah hard to settle the issue without any further delay. The shah still couldn’t digest the very idea of a child becoming more than a match for him. Curious about the mysterious child, he deputed one of his ministers, Ahirio to Nasarpur.
Ahirio decided to poison the child. He took a rose dipped in deadly poison and asked Ratan Chand to take him to the new born baby. Ahirio had never seen such a dazzling and charming baby. He hesitated for a while, but decided to extend the flower to the baby’s lips. The child gave a meaningful smile and blew the flower in one breath. The flower flew out of Ahirios hand and fell far away on the ground. Then Ahirio saw that the child was no more in the cradle. Instead, an old man with a long white beard was staring at him! All of a sudden the old man turned into a lad of sixteen years. Again the scene changed; he saw a man on a horse back with a blazing naked sword in his hand and there were rows of warriors behind him. It was a scene of battle field. Ahiro was out of his wits. He bowed his head in reverence and sought forgiveness.
Ahirio then came back to the shah and narrated the miraculous incident. The shah wasn’t impressed, instead he considered Ahirio under the spell of magic. It didn’t make sense to him. In spite of dismissing the incident, the shah was scared in his heart and that very night he dreamt a similar scenario as witnessed by his minister. Feeling threatened he called Ahirio, the very next morning and told him to think of any counter action in the matter. Ahirio advised him to lie low for the time being and to wait and watch. But the maulvis pressurized and provoked the shah by proclaiming him to be an associate of ‘kaffirs’ the infidels. The shah was enraged at this proclamation and asked Ahirio to arrange for a private meeting with Udero. When Uderolal came face to face with Mirikh shah, he said, “Whatever you see around yourself is the creation of one and only God, whom you call ‘Allah’ and Hindus ‘Ishwar’. Hindus, Muslims and other human beings are all his creation’.
Once again, the Maulvis urged the shah, not to listen to infidel’s talk. They urged him to arrest Udero while he was alone and put him behind bars until he embraced Islam. The moment, the shah ordered the officials to arrest Uderolal, water started flowing in the court. All those present found themselves inundated in water. Simultaneously, fire also broke out and the Palace became a towering inferno. There was no way to escape the wrath of the deity. Udero spoke again: “Mirikh shah! Think it over again. Your God and mine are not two different ones. Had Almighty so desired He could have ordained Hindus to be born as Muslims. But no; God wanted unity in diversity. All world is His manifestation.” Mirikh shah beseeched tearfully, “My Lord! I realize the truth now. Save me and my courtiers from his ravage.” Immediately the fire was blown out on its own and water receded. Having been pacified, Uderolal pronounced “Fire is the first principle of Universe and Water is the first principle of life. Worship of God is to be done in its blended form of Jyoti (light) and Jal (water); and let every human being worship the Almighty with whatever the name he desires. Let there be a bond of brotherhood among all Sindhis- Hindus as well as Muslims.” Mirikh shah bowed respectfully and agreed to treat Muslims and Hindus alike. Thereafter the persecution of Hindus was stopped forthwith and they were allowed to retain their identity.
Activities, Events and Practices
- Chaliho Saheb – The ritual of worshipping the ‘Water God’ for forty days is the most traditional and prevalent custom. It is still observed in the same manner and is known as Chaliho (forty) Saheb. After forty days of Chaliho, the followers of Jhulelal celebrate, the occasion with festivity as “Thanks Giving Day.”
- Baharana Sahib – Another major tradition observed on this day is the procession taken out in public, called Baharana Sahib. Baharana Sahib Consists of Jyot, Sugar Candy, Phota, Fruits, Akha. Behind is a Bronze Pot (kalsh) and a Coconut in it, covered with Cloth, Flowers, Leaves and Murti (Idol) of God Jhulelal. During the procession of Bahrana Sahib traditional sindhi folk dance “Chhej” is performed by all age group Sindhis. On this day, Baharana Sahib is taken to nearby River or Lake. Upon reaching the river bank, ‘Sesa’ is distributed among the devotees after offering “Akho” (prepartion of good quality rice & sugar) to Jal Devata (water god). This practice has originated from an instance in Jhuelal’s life. Udays step mother wanted him to earn some money for the family. She gave him a container full of boiled beans to sell in the market. Instead of going to the market, he went to the bank of Sindhu. He distributed half of the contents amongst the beggars, poor and the pious ones who lived on the river bank. The other half, he made an offering of it to Sindhu. During the afternoon he talked to the children and elderly persons about the spiritual wealth on the river bank. In the evening the same container emerged from the waters, and came swimming to him. The container was full with fine quality of rice.
- In some cities of India various cultural and other programs are arranged on the day to exhibit rich cultural heritage of Sindhis. Cities Like Ulhasnagar, Ajmer, Indore, Kolhapur, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Surat etc are famous for unique style of Cheti Chand celebration and huge gathering of sindhi people.
- All the organizations or institutions dedicated to Sindhis celebrate this festival with gaiety and pomp. One of the pompous celebrations is observed by the small Sindhi community in Mount Abu. The well off community here, celebrates the festival at Jhooley Laal Temple at Shivaji Marg. The day is observed with gaiety every year with a full day activity followed by a colourful procession with song and music, carrying an effigy of the Saint that is submerged in the Nakki Lake as a tribute to River God.
- Businessmen take the day to start new account books. Sindhis keep their shops and activities closed on this day and gathered at community building (Panchayati Hall) or at Jhulelal Temple, where after a session of singing devotional songs, worship of Jhulelal is made.
- Cheti Chand Wishes – Sindhis wish a Sindhi a Happy New Year, by saying ‘Cheti Chand jyon Lakh Lakh Wadayun Athav, which means lakhs of wishes for Happy Cheti Chand. And if someone wants to reply he says ‘Tohan khe bhi Cheti Chand jyon Lakh Lakh Wadayun Athav, which means I wish you the same.
Alternate Names –
Cheti Chand, Chetari Chandu, Sindhi New Year, Festival of Cheti Chand, Chaitra Sukhladi, Birthday of Lal Sain Amarlal.