Bihar’s Sama Chakeva Festival: Celebrating Sibling Love & Migratory Birds
by Kalpana Jha on Aug 30, 2023
Every year, in the first week of the Kartik month, Sama Chakeva is celebrated with great enthusiasm in Bihar, Jharkhand, Bengal, Orissa, and Nepal - a festival that unites siblings and encourages the preservation of nature.
We celebrate the beautiful bond between brothers and sisters on festivals like Raksha Bandhan and Bhai Dooj.
But apart from these two festivals, there's another beautiful Maithili festival known as Sama Chakeva.
It stands out as a prominent local celebration within Mithila in India and Nepal. It is celebrated right after the conclusion of Chhath Parv.
The Tale of Sama - Lord Krishna’s daughter
The legend of Sama Chakeva and Lord Krishna finds a place in Skand Purana.
In the Dwapar Yuga, Lord Krishna got married to Jambavati. From this marriage, Sama and Samb (Satbhaiya) were born.
After some time, Sama got married to Charuvakra (Chakeva). Then, both of them started living in an ashram in Vrindavan.
One day, Sama's brother Samb and Charuvakra went on a journey. In the meantime, Sama went to spend time with the sages in the ashram and returned the next morning.
During this time, early in the morning, Chugula saw Sama coming from the ashram. He alleged Sama had an extra-marital relationship and mentioned this to Lord Krishna. Angry and upset, Lord Krishna cursed Sama to turn into a bird.
When Charuvakra returned from the journey, he found out the truth. Knowing this, he was deeply hurt and prayed to become a bird as well.
Meanwhile, when Samb learned about this, he felt sad for his sister Sama. He vowed to bring his sister Sama and brother-in-law Charuvakra back to their human forms.
Samb prayed to Lord Vishnu to make this happen, who guided him in a ritual to bring them back as humans.
The story is remembered slightly differently among the Maithili community in India and the Tharu community in Nepal.
Samb indulged the women in Mithilanchal in the ritual. The women appreciated the love that the brother had for his sister and volunteered to help.
Together, they made idols of Sama, Chakeva, Vrindavan, sages as well as Chugula. They carried it in a Changeri, which is a basket made locally from Bamboo.
Samb and the women then burn a fire and sing songs that retell the story of Sama and Chakeva. Later, they burn the moustache on the idol of Chugula. This is considered as a symbol to discourage gossip in the culture.
This ritual welcomes back Sama Chakeva into human form. Ultimately, everyone immerses the idols in water in a gesture to bid goodbye to Sama-Chakeva as they go on to live happily ever after.
Since then, women of Mithilanchal have kept the tradition alive. Remembering this story every November.
Celebrating the Arrival of Migratory Birds: Sama-Chakeva
It is no coincidence that the festival is celebrated the same time as migratory birds reach the lower plains in Nepal and Bihar.
People in Mithilanchal consider them to be the modern day avatars of Sama-Chakeva.
During the winter season, many rare birds migrate from the Himalayas to the plains, including the Mithila region of Bihar.
Some of these are:
- Eastern Orphean warbler
- Baikal teal, Greater Flamingo
- Greater Adjutant Stork
- falcated duck
- Common Sandpiper
- Yellow-throated sparrow
- brown hawk owl
- Little Ringed Plover
This festival serves as a way to show love and care for migratory birds. While fostering a strong bond between the local people of Mithila and these birds from distant places.
People express their wishes for the safe return of these birds to their homeland, and eagerly expect their visit the following year.
Hidden within the eight days of celebration is also an environmental message - to protect, love and respect these migratory birds.
How is the Sama Chakeva festival celebrated: A Symbol of Sibling Bond
During the Sama Chakeva, women worship the clay figures of Sama, Chakeva, Chugala, Vrindavan, Rishis and other deities for eight days.
Potters in the village are involved in crafting these figurines for the high demand.
In the evening, young women come out of their homes with their female friends, singing Maithili folk songs.
They carry bamboo baskets in their hands, called 'Changeri,' which are a type of temporary structure. These baskets contain clay-made Sama Chakeva statues, birds, and "chugala" figures.
From that night onwards, women place the “Changeri” on their heads and go to the fields every night, accompanied by their companions.
They sing folk songs, narrate the tales associated with Sama Chakeva. After that, they engage in various entertaining activities as they offer their prayers to Sama.
A small fire is lit in the beak of the clay figurine of Chugula. The character featured in the tale of Sama Chakeva spread false tales and gossip.
Due to Chugala's deceit, Sama had to endure a severe curse. So, Chugala's mouth is blackened during the festival, banishing his deceptive nature.
As the evening sets, the tunes of:
"Gām Ke Adhikārī Tohe Bāṛkā Bhaiyā Ho,"
"Chhāūr, Chhāūr, Chhāūr, Chugala Koṭhī Chhāūr Bhaiyā Koṭhī Chāūr,"
(छाऊर, छाऊर, छाऊर, चुगला कोठी छाऊर भैया)
"Sāma Chake Sāma Chake Abih He,
Jotala Kheta Me Baisih He," and
(जोतला खेत मे बैसिह हे)
"Bhaiya Jiya Ho Yug Yug Jiya Ho''
(और भैया जीअ हो)
resonates in the rural areas of Mithilanchal.
These folk songs, chanted while sisters burn Chugala, revive the captivating heritage of Mithila.
On the final day, Kartik Purnima, the symbolic departure of Sama takes place, similar to a daughter leaving her parental home during marriage or sisters feed their brothers a mixture of rice and yogurt.
The clay figures are then immersed in an empty field, akin to sending a newlywed daughter with necessary items to her new home.
In conclusion, Sama Chakeva is another festival from Indian culture that celebrates the strong love between brothers and sisters.
It starts on Kartik Shukla Panchami and ends on Purnima. People typically enjoy Chooda Dahi and local sweets on the occasion.
If you’re visiting Mithilanchal in November, take some time out to watch the traditions that people have kept alive over centuries.