Shahina Bano, Nurjahan Khatoon, Rukhsana and Tarannum Khatoon have one thing in common: they have been busy making the special 'mitti ka chulha' or earthen stoves used to cook the offering for Chhath puja, a festival of Hindus in Bihar. It matters little that the women are Muslim.
The women say that the earthen stoves they make and sell offer some money. More importantly, they find themselves showered with praise, affection and respect from Hindu women who buy the stoves.
Shahina, Nurjahan, Rukhsana and Tarannum all live in Patna slums like Kamla Nehru Nagar, behind Adalat Ganj.
"We are proud to do this work, the earthen stoves are in high demand during Chhath as offerings are traditionally cooked on it. We not only get money but also respect from devotees, as they count it an important contribution for the Chhath," Shahina, in her mid-30s, told IANS.
Shahina sells the earthen stoves for Rs100 each near New Patna Club on Bir Chand Patel Marg, a posh locality in the state capital.
Nurjahan, Rukhsana and Tarannum also expressed similar views about their experiences selling the stoves at this time of the year.
"Devotees praise our efforts in making the stoves for the Chhath. We are happy to see so much love and affection come our way. It does not matter to the devotees that we are Muslims. It is really nice that during Chhath, a festival of faith and purity, devotees use stoves made by us," Nurjahan said.
Nurjahan is in her early 40s. Her three children too sit with her at the Daroga Prasad Rai Path, selling the stoves.
Tarannum said that the stoves were made with special care, as they were used during the Chhath. "I gave up eating garlic and onion while making them, and I would only begin work after taking a bath," she said.
Rukhsana expressed happiness that devotees seldom bargain while buying the stoves.
"Soon after Durga puja, we began making the chulhas for Chhath. We buy clay from farmers in nearby rural areas at around Rs1,200 per tractor and the clay is distributed among those making the chulhas," Rukhsana said, adding that devotees do not usually attempt to beat down prices while buying the stoves, as it is all part of the festival preparations, for which no expenses are spared.
Renu Singh, a devotee, said that earthen stoves are considered especially pure. Traditionally, the offerings for the puja are cooked on the earthen stoves.
"We are especially thankful to the Muslim families that make and sell the stoves," she said.
Saket Singh, a businessman, mentioned how hard it would be, in the normal course, to get the hand-made stoves in an urban centre like Patna. "They are available to Hindus during Chhath thanks to the Muslim families," he said.
Chhath, celebrated six days after Diwali, is a time of worship of the Sun god.
Married women observe a fast for 36 hours and devotees offer wheat, milk, sugarcane, bananas and coconuts to the Sun as part of the four-day festival that, this year, began Sunday.