1. Chhath Puja: Salutation to the sun
Chhath Puja is an ancient Hindu festival and the only Vedic Festival devoted to the Hindu Sun God, Surya, and Chhathi Maiya. Chhath Puja is performed to thank Surya for being the primordial force sustaining life on earth. .
2. Offering prayers to the sun
Surya, considered the god of energy and the life-force, is worshipped during the Chhath festival to endorse well-being, prosperity and progress. In Hinduism, Sun worship is supposed to cure a variety of diseases, including leprosy, besides ensuring the longevity and prosperity of family members, friends and elders.
3. The Rituals
The rituals of Chhath festival are meticulous and observed over a period of four days. They include holy bathing, fasting and abstaining from drinking water (vratta), standing in water for long periods of time, and offering prashad (prayer offerings) and arghya (commodity offering) to the rising and setting sun.
4. Celebrations across India
Although the festival is observed elaborately in Bihar, Jharkhand, Eastern UP and the Terai regions of Nepal, it is also celebrated in . Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Chandigarh, Gujarat, Delhi and Mumbai.
5. Celebrations outside India
Chhath festival is celebrated in a big way in ,countires as far apart as Mauritius, Fiji, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Suriname, and Jamaica.
6. Dateline of the Chhath
7. Two types of Chhath Puja
It is also celebrated in the summer (March–April), on Chaitra Shashthi, some days after Holi. This event is called Chaiti Chhath. The former is more popular because winter is the usual festive season in Nepal and in North India.
8. Cool Climate and Chhath Puja
Chhath, being an arduous observance, requiring the worshipers to fast without water for around 36 hours continuously, is easier to undertake in the Indian winters. .
9. Sixth day of the month
The word chhath is derived from number six in Nepali, Maithili, Bhojpuri, Hindi and local dialects and the festival is celebrated on the sixth day of the Kārtika month of the Hindu lunar calendar. The word is a Prakrit derivation from the Sanskrit word ṣaṣṭhi, meaning sixth.
10. Mahabharata and Chhath Puja
It is believed that the ritual of Chhath puja may even predate the ancient Vedas texts, as the Rigveda contains hymns worshipping the Sun god and describes similar rituals. The rituals also find reference in the Sanskrit epic poem Mahabharata in which Draupadi is depicted as observing similar rites.
11. Pandavas and Chhath Puja
In a poem, Draupadi and the Pandavas, rulers of Indraprastha, are described as performing the Chhath ritual on the advice of noble sage Dhaumya. Through her worship of the Sun God, Draupadi was not only able to solve her immediate problems, but also helped the Pandavas to later regain their lost kingdom.
12. Chhath and Karna
It is also believed that Chhath was started by Karna, the son of Surya (Surya Putra Karna). Surya Putra Karna ruled over Anga Desh (present-day Bhagalpur district of Bihar) during the Mahabharat Age. He was a great warrior and fought against the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra War.
13. The science behind the ritual
Its scientific history dates back to the Vedic times. The rishis of yore used this method to remain without any external intake of food as they were able to obtain energy directly from the sun’s rays.
14. Who is Chhathi Maiyya?
The Goddess who is worshipped during the famous Chhath Puja is known as Chhathi Maiyya. Chhathi Maiyya is known as Usha in the Vedas. She is believed to be the consort of Surya, the sun god. Some scholars are of the view that she is only the beloved of Surya while others suggest that she is actually Surya’s wife.
15. Rig Veda and Chhath
Usha is the term used to refer to dawn – the first light of day. But in the Rig Veda, she has more symbolic meaning. Symbolically, Usha is the dawn of divine consciousness in the individual aspirant. It is said that Usha and Pratyusha, wives of the Sun god, are the main source of the Sun.
16. Usha and Pratyusha
Both Usha and Pratyusha are worshipped along with Sun in Chhath Parva. Usha (literally-the first morning sun-ray) is worshipped on the last day and Pratyusha (the last sun-ray of day) is worshipped in the evening by offering water or milk to the rising and setting sun, respectively.
17. Moksha and Chhath
During Chhath Puja, Chhathi Maiyya is invoked to bless us with this divine realization which will help us to overcome all the troubles in the world – such a blessing will help us to achieve moksha or liberation. Chhath is a festival of bathing and worshipping, that follows a period of abstinence and segregation of the worshipper from the main household for four days.
18. Puja to the rising sun
During this period, the worshipper observes purity, and sleeps on the floor on a single blanket. This is the only holy festival which has no involvement of any pandit (priest).The devotees offer prayers to the setting sunand the rising sun in celebrating its glory, as the cycle of birth starts with death. It is seen as the most glorious form of sun worship.
19. Nahay Khay
On the first day of Chhath Puja, the devotees take a dip, preferably in the river Kosi river, Karnali and Ganga, and carry home the holy water of these historical rivers to prepare the offerings. The house and surroundings are scrupulously cleaned. The ladies observing the vrata are known as vratin, who allow themselves only one meal on this day.
20. Lohanda and Kharna
On the second day of Chhath Puja, the day before Chhath, the Vratins observe a fast for the whole day, which ends in the evening a little after sunset. Just after the worship of the sun and moon, the offerings of kheer (rice delicacy), puris (deep-fried puffs of wheat flour) and bananas, are distributed among family and friends. The Vratins go on a fast without water for 36 hours after the 2nd day evening prashad (kheer).
21. Sandhya Arghya
This day is spent preparing the prasad (offerings) at home. On the eve of this day, the entire household accompanies the vratins to a riverbank, pond or a common large water body to make the offerings (arghya) to the setting sun.
22. Prayer of Surya
It is during this phase of Chhath Puja that the devotees offer prayers to the just setting sun. The occasion is almost like a carnival. Besides the Vratins, there are friends and family, and numerous participants and onlookers, all willing to help and receive the blessings of the worshipper. Folk songs are sung on the evening of Chhath.
23. Usha Arghya
On the final day of Chhath Puja, the devotees, along with family and friends, go to the riverbank before sunrise, in order to make the offerings (Arghya) to the rising sun. The festival ends with the breaking of the fast by the Vratins. Friends and relatives visit the houses of the devotees to receive the prashad.
24. Do men also observe this festival?
The main worshipers, called Parvaitin (from the Sanskrit word parv, meaning ‘occasion’ or ‘festival’), are usually women. However, a large number of men also observe this festival. The parvaitin pray for the well-being of their family, and for the prosperity of their offsprings.
25. The Prasad
Once a family starts performing Chhath Puja, it is their duty to perform it every year and to pass it on to the following generations. The festival is skipped only if there happens to be a death in the family that year. The prasad offerings include sweets, kheer, thekua and fruit, offered in small bamboo bowls. . The food is strictly vegetarian and it is cooked without salt, onions or garlic. Emphasis is put on maintaining the purity of the food