Chhath Puja is Vedic festival of great cultural and spiritual significance celebrated in Bihar, UP, Jharkhand, Nepal and their diaspora across the globe. This festival is about worshipping Sun and Goddess Chhath for bestowing life on planet earth.
By Veerender Kumar, Research Associate, at Rashtram
India is a land of festivals. These festivals have cultural, spiritual and social implications. The immense biodiversity of India from Himalayas to Kanyakumari and from Gujarat to Arunachal Pradesh there are hundreds of different communities, tribes, cultures and traditions which have hundreds of festivals celebrating different occasions, deities and natural phenomena.
There are a range of harvest festivals across the nation. These festivals make humans realise their connection and oneness with the nature.
Chhath Puja is one such festival which is celebrated with great devotion in the southern region of Nepal, like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand etc. Diaspora of these communities across the globe celebrate Chhath to remain connected to their roots.
Surya (Solar Deity) is one of the most important natural force worshipped by humans throughout the world, throughout human history.
Annihilation of diverse forms of divinities by monotheism and other religious practices have caused the abolition of Surya worship. However, few pockets like eastern India are there where Surya worship has survived.
Surya is another major Vedic deity (apart from Saraswati and Vishnu) which is worshipped in India since prehistorical times. Chhath Puja of Bihar is vibrant worship of that Surya in the pristine Vedic Traditions.
Chhath Puja is also known as Sun Shashthi is celebrated on Shukla Shashthi of the month of Kartik of Hindu calendar. Shashthi means sixth or Chhath that is why it is called Chhath Puja and the goddess worshipped is called Chhath Maiya. This festival is dedicated to the solar deity Surya and Shashthi Devi also known as Chhathi Maiya).
Indic culture has been about worshipping different aspects of nature like Sun, Moon, Water, River and trees as well to keep humans connected to their roots. Chhath Puja is the epitome of this culture.
The festival is dedicated to worship the Chhathi Maiya (Shashthi Mata) and God Surya along with his consorts Usha (Goddess of Dawn) and Pratyusha (Goddess of Dusk) the Vedic respectively. In Hindu culture, the wife is believed to be the prime sources of her husband’s powers. And hence Sun’s powers are due to his wife Usha and Pratyusha. During Chhath in the morning, worship of the first ray of Sun (Usha) and the last ray (Pratyusha) in the evening are conducted to express gratitude and seek blessings for the family.
Contrary to popular belief Chhath Puja is a gender neutral festival and both man and woman can fast and perform rituals. This festival is said to be celebrated since vedic times.
There are numerous legends and sagas surrounding the festival. It is said that Vedic era rishis performed elaborated puja and exposed themselves to direct sunlight during dusk and dawn to harness the life force from the sun. There are verses present in Rigveda and Mahabharat adulating Surya Dev and describing similar customs as Chhath Puja.
One of the popular legends associated with Chhath Puja is of lord Ram. It is said that after killing Ravan when Ram and Sita came back to Ayodhya fasted and performed Chhath Puja rituals and elaborated Puja of their Kul Devta Surya Dev.
It is mentioned in Mahabharat that Panchali Draupadi and Pandavas- performed the rituals of Chhath Puja on the recommendation of sage Dhaumya. This finally led to Pandavas regaining their kingdom and resolving other issues as well.
Chhath Puja is regarded as one of the most environmental festivals. It is a 4-day festival combining nature, local economy, Kharif harvest and the spirit to thank nature about its contribution in sustenance and versatility of life.
Day-1: Nahaaya Khaaya: People take bath in a water body like pond, river, lake. They bring the water home and then cook prasad with it. The vratti (one who is performing the fast) take a meal on this day which is prepared without any contamination and when it is ready, first the Vratti eat and then other members of the family.
Day-2: Kharna: People cook kheer using newly harvested paddy and sugarcane. Vratti does not eat anything not even a drop of water before the sunset. The whole day is spent preparing for the festival. In the evening, vrattis prepare special Prasad called Rasiao-kheer (a type of sweet dish with the help of jaggery, rice and milk) and chapattis. Vrattis worship Chhathi Maiya and offer Prasad. After the puja, the vratti breaks their fast by eating the Prasad and later on it is distributed among family and friends. During the midnight of Kharna thekua- a special Prasad for Chhathi Maiya is prepared.
Day-3: Worship of Surya with Pratyusha – It is also known as Sandhya Arghya (evening offerings). During the day, a basket made of bamboo sticks called Daura is prepared and all the offerings including thekua and seasonal fruits and kept into it. In the evening, the vratti and family member gather at the bank of the river or any other water body for puja. Vratti worships the setting sun. Folk songs are sung, and in the evening when the sun is setting, Vratti offer the Sandhya Arghya, worship Sun God and then come back to home.
Day-4: Worship of Sun with Usha – It is also called Usha Arghya (morning offerings) or Bhorwa Ghat. Early morning the vratti and the family members again gather at the bank of the water body and sit until the sun rises. Morning arghya is offered after the sun has risen by going into the water with arghyas kept in sauri. After morning offerings, the vratti distribute Prasad among each other and take blessings from elders on the ghat. Then they return home.
Vratti breaks their 36-hour long fast by taking ginger and water. After that food is prepared and offered to the vratti to eat which is called Paran or Parna. This is how Chhath Puja is concluded.
Purity, ritual bathing, bringing families and communities together transcending any barrier, vrata, cleaning of rivers and neighbourhoods and supporting the rural economy by creating enormous consumption demand are core components of Chhath which make it the most important festival of Bihar and neighbouring regions.