Chhath Puja is an ancient Hindu festival dedicated to the Hindu Sun God, Lord Surya
. This festival is celebrated since time immemorial. Although it`s unique in Bihar it is also celebrated in some parts of West Bengal
, Mauritius among the Bhojpuri and Maithili peaking people. Chhath is also important for Nepalese worshippers of the Sun god as well as in eastern Uttar Pradesh
The Chhath Puja is performed to thank Sun God for providing the bounties of life on earth and for the fulfillment of wishes of believers. The Chhath fesival promotes well-being, prosperity and progress. The Sun God is also believed to cure the variety of diseases, including leprosy, and helps ensure the longevity and prosperity of family members, friends, and elders.
The rituals of the festival are rigorous and are 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 aragh to the setting and rising sun.
Meaning of Chhath Puja
The word chhath denotes the number 6 in Hindi. The festival is celebrated on the sixth day of the Hindu lunar month of Kartika
. The word Chhath is made up of two words, Chah meaning "six stages", and "Hath" meaning the science of Hath Yog (austerity). The word Chhath thus refers to the procedure of consciously obtaining the solar energy through six stages involving the methods of Hath Yog
. Chhath puja is performed on kartika Shukala Shashti, which is the sixth day of the month of kartika in the Hindu calendar. It is also celebrated in the summer (March-April), on Chaitra Shashti, some days after Holi
. This event is called Chaiti Chhath. The puja requires the worshipers to fast without water for around 36 hours continuously.
History of Chhath Puja
According to history the Maga Purohits were invited by local kings for their expertise in Sun worshiping. They started the tradition of Chhat Puja. Today Chhat Puja is celebrated specially in those places where Shakya Dwipi Brahmins are found.
It is believed that the ritual of Chhath Puja may even predate the ancient Vedas
texts, as the Rig Veda
contains hymns worshiping the Sun god and describes similar rituals. The ritual is also found in the Sanskrit epic poem Mahabharata
in which Draupadi
is depicted as observing similar rites. It is said the by serving this festival helped the Pandavas
later regain their lost kingdom.
It is also believed that Chhath was started by Karna
, the son of Surya Putra Karna who ruled over the Anga Desh.
Rituals and traditions of Chhath Puja
Chhath is a bathing festival that follows a period of abstinence and ritual segregation of the worshiper from the household chores for four days. During this period, the worshiper observes ritual purity, and sleeps on the floor on a single blanket. In this festival the devotees offer worship to the setting sun, and then the rising sun. it signifies the cycle of birth starts with death.
The main worshipers, called Parvaitin are usually women. However, a large number of men also observe this festival. The prasad offerings include sweets like Thekua and fruit offered in small bamboo winnows. The food is cooked without salt, onions or garlic.
Four days of Chhath Puja
The Chhath Puja is celebrated for a period of four days.
Day 1: Naha kha
(literally, bathe and eat)
On the first day of Chhath Puja, devotees bathe in the holy river of Ganges. They also carry home the holy water of the river Ganges to prepare the offerings. The house and its surroundings are thoroughly cleaned. The parvaitin takes meal only once on this day. Generally Parvaitin eat kaddu , channa dal and arwa chawal ( type of rice).
Day 2: Kharna
(the day before Chhath)
On Panchami, the day before Chhath, the parvaitins observe fast for the whole day. The fast is broken late in the evening after sunset. Just after the worship of earth, the offerings of Rasiao-kheer, puris and bananas are distributed among family and friends. From this day onwards, for the next 36 hours, the parvaitin goes on a fast without water.
Day 3: Chhath
The day is spent preparing the prasad at home. On the eve of this day, all the members of the family along with the parvaitins go to the to a riverbank to make the offerings (Aragh) to the setting sun. It is during this phase of Chhath Puja that the devotees offer prayers to the setting sun.
Ritual rendition of regional folk songs, carried on through oral transmission from mothers and mothers-in-law to daughters and daughters-in-law, are sung on this occasion.
Kosi: On the night of day three, a colorful event of Kosi is held. Here, lighted earthen lamps are kept under a canopy of five sugarcane sticks. The five sticks signify the human body made of Panchatattva (the five great elements - earth, water, fire, air and ether). This is a symbolic ritual in Chhath Puja, performed especially in those families where marriage or childbirth has taken place recently. The lighted lamps signify the solar energy sustaining the human being. People perform this ritual at home, during late evening on day three after making the offering to the setting sun.
Day 4: Parna
(day after Chhath)
On the final day of Chhath Puja, the devotees, along with family and friends, go to the riverbank before sunrise. There they offer their worship to the rising sun. The festival ends with the breaking of the fast by the parvaitin and friends. They also visit the houses of the devotees to receive the prashad.