I have realized that my curiosity for new things, places and experiences has doubled since I rediscovered my love for traveling. I have heard a lot about Chhat Puja, a lesser known but ever popular festival of the people from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Nepal. My source of information? My mother, like always. You see, my Mom is actually from Dhanbad, which used to be a part of Bihar, but is currently a district in Jharkhand after the division of states. So she has this surprising treasure trove of information that keeps on providing a fodder for my wanderlust and my blog.
To learn about something new and witness it for the first time, I decided to drive down to Juhu Beach, Mumbai which is known to host a grand celebration for all the North Indians residing in the city. There are three words that can perfectly describe Juhu for a first timer – dirty, loud and crowded.
But Chhath Puja added a whole new dimension to the definition of loud and crowd, as you can see from the image below. Looks insane right? Try navigating through it.
I know you must be wondering what this Chhath Puja is.
Chhath Puja is a very antique Hindu festival dedicated to God of Energy, Sun or Surya Dev to express gratitude for blessing the earth with life, and pray for the well-being of success, prosperity and health of the family members. According to the Hindu calendar, it is celebrated at 6th day of the month of Kartika, that is 6th day after Diwali (month of October or November).
Being the festival of state of Bihar, the celebration spans over a period of 4 days. It is believed that worshipers of the Chhath after taking the holy bath, follow a period of abstinence and stay separately for 4 days from the main family. It is believed that once a family begins Chhatt Puja, they have to perform it yearly as well as generationally, and it can only be skipped when there is a death of any person in the family that year.
Devotees offer prasad (offering) to the Sun which mainly comprise of Thekua which is a hard, crude, delicious wheat-based cake cooked on traditional earthen ovens called ‘chulhas’, and fruits included in a small bamboo tokari. The prasad should be cooked without salt, onions or garlic while maintaining purity. The divine offerings are placed on circular trays woven out of bamboo strips called ‘dala’ or ‘soop.’ Women adorn new clothes, light lamps and sing devotional folk songs in honor of ‘Chhat Maiya’ or the holy river Ganga
I decided to ask this lovely lady all about the rituals involved in Chhath Puja. Well, her big mile definitely was a big incentive to attract my attention. According to her, on the eve of Chhath Puja, devotees throng along riverbanks for their ritual worship or arghya of the sun, both at dawn and at dusk. The morning ‘arghya’ is a prayer for a good harvest and prosperity, whereas the evening ‘arghya’ is to express thanks to the benevolence of the Sun God.
Rituals of 4 days
- The first day is called as ‘Nahai Khai’ which literally means bath and eat. The devotees take bathe early in the morning in a holy water body (usually Ganga) and bring the water to their home to prepare the offerings. The home and its surroundings should be cleaned on this day. They take only one meal a day known as kaddu-bhat cooked only by using the bronze or soil utensils and mango woods over the soil stove.
- On the second day, called as Kharna (the day before Chhath), the devotees keeps fast for 8-12 hours and break it after sunset after completing the worship of the Sun. They offer Rasiao-kheer (made of rice and milk), puris (fried bread made of wheat flour), fruits in the puja. After taking meal in the evening, they go on a fast without water for the next 36 hours.
- On the third day (day of Chhath), they offer the Sandhiya Arghya or evening offering on bamboo trays, consisting of Thekua, coconut and banana. After Arghya, they wear the single saree of turmeric color. At night, a vibrant event of Kosi is celebrated by lighting the lamps of clay diyas under the covering of five sugarcane sticks. The five sugarcane sticks indicate the Panchatattva or the five elements (earth, water, fire, air and space) that the human body is made of.
- The fourth day is considered as most auspicious of all since the final morning ritual or Bihaniya Arghya is performed at the riverbank where offerings are made to the rising sun. After that the devotees break their fast by taking a bite of ginger with sugar.
Legends of Chhath Puja
One of the most popular legend surrounding this festival is the one from Mahabharata where it is said that Draupadi, the wife of Pandavas performed Chhath Puja during their long exile. According to the grand text, hermits used to visit their humble abode during their period of exile, but since they were not in a position to offer food to such a large number of hungry hermits, Draupadi approached Saint Dhaumya who advised her to worship Lord Surya and follow the rituals of Chhath for prosperity and abundance.
Another legend states that Surya putra Karna was the first person to start the rituals of Chhath Puja to invoke the blessings of his father Lord Surya.
The legend of Ramayana states that Lord Rama and his wife Sita started the ritual of Chhath Puja after returning to the Ayodhya after 14 years of exile.
After reading the arduous technicalities of the ceremony, you must be wondering if there truly is any benefit to the whole festival. Well the biggest benefit would be the fast itself which acts as a grand detoxification. Another significance to the Chhath Puja would be the rituals which is specifically performed at the Sunrise and Sunset. Dawn and Dusk is considered as the optimal time of the day when the human body can safely harness solar energy, without the harmful effects of the ultraviolet radiation.
It has been almost 20 years since I have visited my mom’s hometown in Bihar/ Jharkhand. This was truly an experience that not only connected me to my past and heritage, but also provided a new knowledge about the customs that are followed in my country. Looks like a crowded beach did pay off something didn’t it?
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