Chhath is an important festival of the Hindu religion. Celebrated mostly in Bihar and Nepal’s Mithila, Chhath Puja is dedicated to the worship of the Sun god and his wife. Devotees perform the puja to thank the Sun god for supporting life on earth and seek protection his and blessings. This year, Chhath Puja (third day) will be celebrated on November 6.
In the Hindu religion, the Sun is believed to be the healer of many severe health conditions and ensures longevity, prosperity, progress and well-being. The people celebrate the festival by following a rigorous routine that lasts four days. The rituals include: fasting, including abstinence from drinking water; holy bathing, offering prayers to the rising and setting sun, and meditating by standing in water for long periods of time.
Now, in addition to Bihar, many Indian states like Jharkhand, Bihar, eastern UP, regions of Nepal, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Bangalore, Chandigarh, Chhattisgarh also celebrate the festival with great fervour.
Chhath Puja is called so as it is celebrated on the sixth day of the month of Karthika in the Vikram Samvat. It is also celebrated in the summers, some days after Holi.
However, Karthika month’s Chhath is more ardently followed by people. The four-day festival is celebrated four days after Diwali. This is how the devotees observe the festival.
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Nahay Khay- The first day of Chhath Puja, devotees take a dip, preferably in the Kosi river, Karnali and Ganga, and carry home the holy water to prepare the offerings.
Lohanda- The second day, the devotees observe a fast for the whole day, which ends in the evening a little after sunset. After worshipping the Sun and the Moon, they prepare offerings of kheer, bananas and rice for their family. After consuming the offering, they fast for 36 hours without water.
Sandhya Arghya (evening offerings)- After preparing the prasad, the devotees take a dip in the holy water body in the evening and worship the Sun god and Chhathi maiyya. They offer the evening offerings amid folk songs.
Usha Arghya- The fourth day, devotees go to the holy waters and offer morning offerings or ‘Usha arghya’ to the sun, following which they break their fast.
Devotees during this period observe purity and live frugally. They sleep on the floor on a single blanket.
The main festival is commemorated on the third day of Chhath, when the Sun god is offered surya namaskar and fruits.
Like every other Indian festival, Chhath Puja rides high on rich mythology as well. The rituals of Chhath Puja are known to find a reference in the epic Mahabharata, where Draupadi , the Pandavas’ wife, is seen as keeping similar religious observances. According to popular mythology, the Pandavas and Draupadi performed the Chhath ritual as per the advice of noble sage Dhaumya to gain back their lost kingdom of Indraprastha (now Delhi).
The festival also has another interesting history to it — the sages used to refrain from any intake of food and channelise the energy of the Sun towards them to survive. Another mythological story is that Rama and Sita offered prayers to the Sun god after returning to Ayodhya post the exile of 14 years.
The rigorous fasting and abstinence from water in reverence to the Sun god is known as Surya Sashthi fast. This fast helps in gaining focus, prosperity, happiness and well-being of body and mind.
Chhathi Maiya is also worshipped during this festival. The younger wife of the Sun god, she is known as Usha in the Vedas.