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“Chhath Puja” is a major Hindu festival celebrated in Indian subcontinent, most significantly in the Indian states of Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh. The festival is also popularly known as “Dala Chhath, where “dala” signifies a basket usually made of bamboo. The festival is also celebrated in other Indian states which have migratory population from the said states. It is also reverently celebrated in the central regions of Nepal called “Madhyadesh” in local dialects.
Chhath Puja holds the distinction of being one and only Hindu festival which doesn’t involve idol worship. The festival mainly involves reverence of Sun God and his sister Chhathi Maiya, who is an incarnation of Goddess Parvathi, wife of Lord Shiva.
The rituals of Chhath Puja are observed over a span of four days and are the most rigorous of any other Hindu festival. Every ritual and custom should be strictly followed without any excuses, in order to evoke the blessings of Sun God and Chhathi Maiya.
Chhath Puja 2019
The Chhath Puja in 2019 commences on Thursday, October 31st and continued till Sunday, November 3rd. The ritual of “Nahaye Khaye” will be observed on October 31st; “Kharna” on 1st November; “Sandhya Arghya” or “Pehla (first) Arghya” on 2nd November and “Doosra (second) Arghya” on 3rd November.
When is Chhath Puja Celebrated?
Chhath Puja is performed in the Kartik month, as per the historical Hindu calendar, Vikram Samvat. The festivities begin on the sixth day of Kartik month which is also called “Kartik Shukla Shashthi”, falling in the Gregorian calendar month of October-November. The festival also falls on the sixth day from Amavasya in Kartik, which is celebrated as Deepawali.
Chhath Puja – Nomenclature
In Nepali, Maithili and Bhojpuri languages the word “Chhath” means – sixth; denoting the sixth day of Kartik month of Vikram Samvat (Historical Hindu calendar). The word is also derived from Sanskrit word “Sashthi”, meaning the sixth.
Mythology of Chhath Puja
The mythological legends of Chhath Puja are related to the characters of ancient Hindu epic Mahabharata and Ramayana.
Legends have it, that the custom of Chhath Puja was first initiated by Surya putra “Karna”. He was the first to arduously worship God Surya, on the sixth day of Kartik month. According to the legends, Karna was son of Surya and the ruler of Anga desh; modern day Bhagalpur in Bihar province. It is because of his devotion in performing the rituals that Karna was blessed with almost supernatural powers by Sun God which made him a valiant warrior.
Another legend of Chhath puja involves Draupadi – daughter of king Drupada of Panchala and wife of Pandavas. The legend has it that Draupadi was an ardent devotee of Sun God. She devotedly observed the Chhath Puja on the sixth day of Kartik, due to which she was gifted with a super natural ability to cure any disease or injury, however severe it may be. Draupadi is believed to have used these powers to help Pandavas in gaining victory over Kauravas in the battle of Mahabharata.
Surprisingly, another legend too of Chhath Puja is associated with Draupadi. It is believed that Draupadi performed Chhath puja in a village called Nagdi, near Ranchi, which is the capital of north western Jharkhand state. During their exile, Pandavas are believed to have stayed in the village. Once, when they were thirsty and the water was scarce, Draupadi advised Arjuna to strike earth with his arrow, to get water. Arjuna did as advised and thus water came out of earth, where Draupadi is known to have performed Arghya as a ritual of Chhath puja. The well in which Draupadi performed the rituals is still present.
Some religious ascetics also believe that the rituals of Chhath Puja were performed by Lord Rama and Goddess Sita when they returned to Ayodhya after a 14 years long exile and the battle with Ravana. It is believed that as lord Rama was a descendent of Surya God i.e. he was a Suryavanshi, he along with Sita observed the fast, breaking it on dawn the next day; a custom which gradually evolved into Chhath puja.
History of Chhath Puja
The ritual of venerating the Sun God had been observed by many yogis and religious ascetics since time immemorial. Hymns for worshiping Sun God are written in Rig-Veda, indicating that the ritual of Chhath puja is being followed since Vedic period. Rig-Veda was roughly composed between 1700-1100 BCE.
Another significant Hindu epic which has references to the festival is Mahabharata, composed during 800 to 900 BCE. In Mahabharata, Draupadi observes the same rituals of Chhath Puja, giving authenticity to the claim of it being an ancient Hindu festival.
It is believed that the rituals of Sun’s worship were first followed mainly by sadhus or religious ascetics. They fasted and observed the Sun, absorbing its rays for medicinal gains. Later sometime, this secluded ritual performed by only ascetics got popular and reached almost every household of mainly Bihar and Jharkhand states.
The festival of Chhath puja today is observed throughout India, mainly by the migratory population from north India. People who migrated to other states have continued the custom of Chhath puja, which has now become a major festival in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chandigarh, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra. Initially the fast was observed by only women but now days men are also fasting and following the rituals as women.
The festival of Chhath puja is observed in many foreign lands, by the native Indian population. The countries include – Mauritius, South Africa, United States, Caribbean, United Kingdom, Australia, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Reverence of Chhathi Maiyaa
Chhathi Maiya is the Goddess worshipped on Chhath Puja. She is mentioned in ancient Vedas as Devsena and Shasthi Devi. She is an incarnation of Goddess Parvathi, the wife of Shiva and daughter of Lord Brahma. It is believed that during the rituals of Chhath puja, chhathi Maiya come down from Mount Kailash to accept her veneration by devotees.
Uniqueness of Chhath Puja
In two ways, the rituals performed during Chhath puja are unique than any other Hindu festival. Firstly, it doesn’t involve any idol worship and secondly that it is the only festival which involves the worship of the setting Sun.
Another, unique custom about Chhath puja is that the devotee observing it must continue the tradition for years after years without breaking it, broken only in case of a demise or a child birth in the family. The custom of Chhath puja must be passed on to next generation and cannot be continued after a break; that is – it cannot stop once started and cannot start once stopped.
Strict discipline of neatness and purity must be followed for preparation of Prasad offerings or food for devotees and companions. It is believed that even breaking a small rule could have adverse effect more than the benefits. Even helping someone perform the Chhath puja is considered a good omen.
Rituals Performed during Chhath Puja
The rituals of Chhath Puja are performed for four days and are considered to be the most arduous of any other Hindu festival. They involve long duration of fasting hours by the devotees, abstaining from daily routine and standing in water for long hours. Chhath puja is mainly observed by women but there has been a constant increase in the number of men devotees in recent years. The rituals commence on the fourth day after Deepawali and last for four days. Each day of Chhath has its own significance and is called by a specific name as described below-
Day 1 – Nahaye Khaye
The first day of Chhath Puja is called Nahaye Khaye. On this day the devotees observing the fast, take bath in some holy river, before consuming a vegetarian meal made of pure desi ghee (clarified butter) and consisting of rice and pulses with pumpkin as vegetable. Use of onion and garlic in meal preparation is strictly forbidden. Devotees take meal after bathing and observe continuous fast till the dawn of the next day.
Day 2 – Kharana
The second day (5th day from Deepawali) a special meal of kheer puri or kheer roti is prepared by the devotees. Kheer is an Indian delicacy which is prepared boiling rice in milk with sugar. Devotees consume the kheer puri in evening of second day after offering it to moon God and mother Ganges. This is the last meal that devotees consume, till the conclusion of the festival on sixth day.
Day 3 – Pehla (first) Arghya
This is the sixth day from Deepawali and the most significant one. Devotees observe nirajal Vrat (fasting even without water) till the conclusion of rituals on the morning of next day. Male members of the family carry the offerings of fruits and sweets over their head in winnow (sup) or baskets made of cane or wood splints, to a nearby river. It must be ensured that the basket doesn’t touch the ground. The Arghya (offering) is made to the setting Sun with devotees standing into the water till knee deep, holding the offerings and performing the rituals devotedly.
After offering the Arghya, the devotees perform puja at the vedi (temporary altar) for about half an hour after which the belongings are taken back to the house. In any case the worshipper shouldn’t leave the river bank before sunset.
Day 4 – Doosra (second) Arghya
The day starts with devotee and other family members proceeding to the river side before dawn. The baskets are carried in the same manner as the previous day. Before sunrise, the devotees enter the water and stand holding the Arghya, facing east. The offerings are made to the rising Sun. Items which are mandatory in the ritual of Doosra Arghya are – five ladoos and unboiled cow’s milk. Milk is poured over the offerings by the family members of devotees or a priest. After offering the Arghya, devotee comes out of the water and changes clothes before settling down to listen to the katha (story) of Chhathi Maiya, subsequently breaking their fast after that.
Significance of Chhath Puja
In Chhath puja the devotee worship for her family’s well being and her siblings long life and prosperity. Hindus have been venerating Sun since Vedic ages. They believe that sun is an ultimate source of energy and sustains all forms of life on earth. In Atharvaveda – an ancient Hindu text, Sun is mentioned to have healing powers; the rays of which have the magical power to heal. Thus, Hindus thank Sun God by observing Chhath puja.
The rituals performed during the Chhath puja have also scientific significance. They are designed to have energizing effect on body by removing toxic substances. The custom of observing fast, prepares the devotee’s body for cosmic rays infusion. Standing waist submerged in water facing the Sun has a detoxification effect on one’s body.
The ritual of standing in setting and rising Sun is also a good source of Vitamin D, especially for the women. Vitamin D also aids in the digestion of calcium and the food prepared during Chhath puja is rich in calcium. The custom of standing in Sun is also meant to harness its energy by human body.