Traditional Practices and SDGs

Chhath Puja celebration at the bank of pond © Monalisa Maharjan

On 19 and 20 November, in the Terai region of Nepal and Indian States of Bihar, Jharkhand, and Uttar Pradesh, the people celebrated the Chhath Puja festival. This is one of the most important festivals for the people living in that region. It has now exceeded the traditional boundary of celebration and proliferated to wider geography due to widespread diaspora.

During the four-day festival, the Sun and goddess Chhati Maiya are worshipped in water sources—ponds, rivers, and lakes. By worshipping goddess Chhati Maiya, people believe wishes will be fulfilled and provide support and strength for the poor and needy. In this festival, the rich and poor come to the same place to worship with same kind of offerings.

Water sources—ponds, lakes, and riverbanks—are important for this event, so people start cleaning and decorating these places much ahead of festival. They decorate the water sources with flowers, banana plants and leaves, offerings, and lights. During the festival, colorfully dressed people create a special and spectacular ambience. So not only the people celebrating but also those from other religions and regions come to visit these celebratory spots. Other than the religious, cultural, and social importance of this festival, it tries to teach important lessons on conserving water sources.

This is just one example among many festivals and rituals whose main reason for existing is taking care of forests, water sources, mountains, and other natural resources. In South Asia, despite having traditional linkages related to nature, such as rivers being a sacred place. The irony is that rivers are the most polluted in these regions.

Rituals for the water sources, praying in the mountains, and many more continue to be practiced. The main motto of these festivals is to conserve nature and water sources, but some are lost in the process. We are taught to keep up the traditions, but we forgot to transfer the actual meaning behind these traditions.

This is why we need to include ICH in education where we can correlate traditional knowledge with modern science. We despise the ancient knowledge and want scientific answers for all our problems. But if we look closely at most of the traditions passed on to us, these rituals are solutions for many modern problems.

Most of the Sustainable Development Goals can be addressed through understanding practices and traditional knowledge. The relation of traditional values of safeguarding water sources can address the problem of access to clean water for the people. Similarly, peace, social cohesion, climate change, inclusiveness, and safe cities are a few of them, which could directly contribute with better understanding of intangible heritage.

We have the subjects like environmental science and social studies in school, but we rarely have relatable chapters on addressing local problems and solutions for them. We educate students on the plastic problem, but we should also discuss alternatives like traditional use of leaves plates and bowels, degradable clay cups, and other items.