The word Chhath, which means sixth, is celebrated on the sixth day of the month of Kartika. It is an ancient Hindu festival and the only Vedic festival dedicated to the Hindu Sun God, Surya. The ancient vedic religion, like all religions of the ancient world, was a religion of the Sun. To the ancients, the Sun was the visible form of the divine.
The Chhath puja is performed in reverence to the Sun. The Sun, which is seen as a symbol of ‘One God’, is responsible for sustaining life on earth. Through the rituals of fasting, holy bathing and abstaining from drinking water, the devotees go to the river bank to make offerings to the Sun. They make a request for granting of certain wishes to promote well being, prosperity and progress. In Hinduism, the Sun is also believed to help cure a variety of diseases such as leprosy.
Astrologically, the Sun represents the King. It is believed that even lord Ram and Sita had kept this fast during their coronation after returning to Ayodhya from their exile of fourteen years. In the Mahabharata, Draupadi is also known to have observed the rituals of Chhath puja on the advice of noble sage Dhaumya. Since the Sun represents the government or political authority/ leader, the Chhath puja helped the Pandavas to regain their lost kingdom.
However, what sets this festival different from the other methods of Sun worship is that it is perhaps the only festival where one worships not just the rising Sun, but also the setting Sun. In the great spiral of creation, what is born must die and what has died must be reborn; what has risen will set and what has set will rise. This cycle of birth and death, is represented by the setting Sun and the promise of a new dawn.
The puja offering (Arghya) which is performed in a water body (river/pond/ lake /ocean/sea) is the most glorious form of Sun worship. As a source of energy, salutations to the Sun (Surya Namaskar)during Chhath puja enabled one to obtain energy directly from Sun’s rays. Interestingly, Usha, the term used to refer to dawn, the first light of the day, has a symbolic meaning. It represents the dawn of divine consciousness and spiritual development.
According to the solar religion of the Vedas, the Sun is the atma, the soul who dwells in the hearts of all beings. This Chhath, let us invoke the Chhati maiya (Usha) to help us illumine our inner Sun and obtain liberation(Moksha) from this cycle of birth and death. The Sun is our origin and the final place of rest. Let us seek to merge into this divine light that is the Sun.
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