Chhath is an ancient Vedic festival primarily observed in Nepal’s Madhesh region, the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, and Uttar Pradesh in India. In Nepal, Chhath Puja is one of the biggest festivals like Dashain, Tihar, and Raksha Bandhan/Janai Purnima.
The Chhath Puja is dedicated to Surya, the solar deity (the sun), and his sister Shashti Devi (Chhathi Maiya), to attain their blessings and show appreciation for bestowing all of life’s blessings. Lord Surya, who is worshipped as the origin of all power, is honored solely during this festival. Chhath, which means six in both Nepali and Hindi, means that this festival is observed on the sixth day of the Kartik month. Devotees offer prayers and worship the God of light, the sun, on this festival celebrating the power of the sun to bind the universe and be the source of energy to all the living beings of the universe. Four days are dedicated to rituals and prayers. Devotees visit banks of rivers, ponds, or lakes to worship the rising and setting sun during Chhath. Some devotees also take fasting which includes one meal a day and such devotees are called “Vrati”. This festival, which is celebrated with great joy and jubilation, is a symbol of harmony and brotherhood. Chhath starts right after marvelous celebrations of the two biggest festivals of Nepalese, Dashain, and Tihar, and this year, the festival of Chhath Puja will be observed on October 30.
In Hinduism, the sun is thought to be a source of longevity, advancement, positivity, prosperity, and overall well-being. So, this festival is observed to thank the creator for allowing life to exist. Furthermore to that, the actual first day of Chhath Puja is not the main day of Chhath, instead, it is the third. People participate in this festival by abiding by a strict routine that lasts for four days. Rituals and traditions include fasting; praying to the rising and setting sun; taking holy baths; and meditating while standing in water. Chhath is celebrated as one of the biggest festivals of the Terai region. It is equally celebrated with enthusiasm in Bihar and many other Indian regions, including Jharkhand, the eastern part of UP, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bangalore, Chandigarh, Gujarat, and Chhattisgarh.
History of Chhath Puja
The festival of Chhath is all about holiness, devotion, and praying to the Sun God; its concise origin is unclear, but there are some speculations that link it to the Hindu epics. The two epics connected to Chhath Puja are the Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Chhath Puja and the Ramayana
The origins of Chhath Puja is thought to have been brought about by Lord Rama. It is believed that Lord Rama and his wife, Sita, after returning to Ayodhya, observed a fast and broke it only when the sun was setting to honor the sun. It is believed to be one of the instances when worshipping the sun after a fast was started.
Chhath Puja and the Mahabharata
According to folklore, Karna was a prominent figure from the Mahabharata who, according to legend, was the son of the Sun God and Kunti. Karna apparently used to pray for the majority of his time while immersed in water in the ocean. As per belief, this allowed Karna to amass enormous wealth and power.
The Pandavas and Draupadi, however, also carried out a similar puja to address their problems and reclaim their kingdom, according to a different story.
As per religious beliefs, Chhath Puja has been continued to practice since the Early Vedic Period, and sages from this period used to perform the prayers by locating themselves in the sun’s direct rays to draw energy and life force from the sun’s rays after sustaining a fast. Many people still perform this ritual as a part of their prayers. Apart from the Hindu culture, both ancient Egyptian and Babylonian cultures also had a tradition of making prayers to the Sun god.
Chhath and the Sun
Similar to all of the Vedic Sanatan Dharma’s festivals and holy days, which are based on the earth and its natural world, Chhath is the festival of celebrating the Sun God. The rising sun in the morning, the light that filters through the corners of windows, the sunlight that nourishes plants, the sunshine that produces clouds, the sunshine that provides warmth, and the interdependence of humans and the sun all contribute to the sun’s enormous significance in the world. Like all of the Sun- worshiping religions, Hindus consider sunrise and sunset to be of religious significance. This festival celebrates the gentleness of the Sun to mankind and civilization and wishes for the same in many years to come.
Chhath: Worshipping Nature, Not Idols
Chhath is one of the few Hindu festivals that does not involve worshipping idols. The Sun God Surya, along with his wives Usha and Pratyusha, the Vedic Goddesses of Dawn and Dusk, are the only deities to whom it is solely dedicated. Surya’s wives, Usha and Pratyusha, are considered the god’s real source.
Chhath is regarded as the most environmentally friendly festival because it is the worship of natural elements and is commonly used to spread the message of environmental preservation. Also, it is one of the very few Hindu festivals that invades the rigid restrictions of the post-Vedic caste system. It addressed the concepts of equality, fraternity, unity, and integrity. Each devotee, regardless of class or caste, prepares the same offering for the Sun God and travels to the banks of rivers and ponds to pray. The ghats near the river banks are decorated with colorful lights and banana stems for the Chhath ritual. This festival is solely celebrated on basis of beliefs on how the sun helps the entire world to maintain the ecosystem and how the absence of the sun will not only disrupt the entire ecosystem but also make living impossible. These four days of Chhath commemorate how every gift of nature helps our livelihood and how we, human beings, and nature are interdependent.
Chhath also helps us be aware of keeping our environment clean. During the celebration, communities come together to clean river banks, ponds, and water resources signifying we should keep nurturing nature to expect nurture from nature. Unlike Dashain and other major Nepalese festivals where animal sacrifices are offered to the deities, animal sacrifice or animal slaughter are not customs associated with the religious festival of Chaath.
Chhath: a four-day celebration
Chhath is celebrated for four days and each day has a significance of its own. The first day of this four-day festival is referred to as Arba or Nahai Khay, the second as “Kharna,” the third as “Sanjhiya Arghya” and the fourth as “Vihaniya Arghya” Paran.
First day of Chhath Puja
During the first few days of Chhath Puja, devotees would bathe, preferably in the Koshi, Ganga, or Karnali rivers, and then bring the holy water back to their homes to prepare the offerings. The first day’s ritual is one of the most significant. The young people of the village traditionally celebrate Chaath on the day of Araba by raking the grass from ponds and river banks and cleaning them, cleaning streets, and purifying the water.
Second day of Chhath Puja
Lohanda or Kharna: On the second day of Chhath Puja, devotees fast throughout the day, with the fast coming to an end a little later after dusk. After worshiping the Sun and the Moon, devotees prepare offerings for the family, such as kheer, bananas, and rice, on the second significant t day of the Chhath Puja ritual. One must fast without drinking anything for 36 hours after eating the prasad.
Third day of Chhath Puja
Sanjhiya Arghya: The third day of Chhath Puja is observed by fasting without water, and the entire day is spent making offerings for the deity. In Sandhya Arghya (evening offerings), a bamboo tray is prepared to hold the offerings (Prasad) which consist of other seasonal fruits like coconut, and bananas, along with traditional delicacies like thekua. At the banks of a river, pond, or other body of clean water, the third day’s evening rituals take place. To honor the setting sun, all devotees offer “araghya.” Devotees offer milk to the sun in the evening while being partially submerged in the water.
Fourth day of Chhath Puja
Bihaniya Arghya: On the morning and evening of the fourth day, before the sun rises, it is customary to travel to Chaath Ghat to break the fast by pressing the enting argha to the rising sun. On this day, devotees once more gather by a river or other body of water, where they pray and give food to the rising sun. The devotees break their fast by consuming ginger, sugar, or any other locally available food after the offerings are completed. This incredible festival ends after all these Chhath Puja rituals.
Bringing gifts from the neighborhood, such as bananas, coconuts, sugarcane, and other fruits, to the home of the Chaath fasting person (Vratalu), is customary. On the final day of Chaath, after observing the rising sun, it is customary to take offerings home in the morning. Prasad-giving on Chhath has persisted as devotees’ vows to accomplish their various Chaath aspirations.
During Chhath, communities gather, pray, sing bhajans, and enjoy. Bhajans are usually sung in the Maithali language where the sun, Chhath goddess, the moon, rivers, and entire nature are the subjects. Devotees who fast during Chhath, take a bath daily and have one meal a day using bananas leaf as a plate. Such devotees live in a separate mud home purified by cow dung and gangajal (water from the Ganga river). The room destined for Chhath puja is cleaned and purified and devotees lock the room and worship the goddess inside.
The Scientific Significance of Chhath Puja
The best way to detoxify the body is with Chhath Puja because it increases the flow of solar bioelectricity and allows exposure of the body to the sun. This enhances the functionality of the body. Additionally, it is asserted that Chhath Puja aids in the destruction of harmful bacteria and primes the body for the impending winter.
Rising Chhath celebration in Kathmandu
Thousands of people congregate in Kathmandu near water sources every year to celebrate the Chhath festival. The festival, which was formerly only observed in the Mithila regions of Nepal and India, has been observed in the nation’s capital, Kathmandu, for many years now. These days, not only do the Mithila people residing in Kathmandu celebrate this festival, but many valley locals and other immigrants do as well. They all engage in Chhath puja and worship the sun.
In the past, during Chhath, Mithila residents of Kathmandu used to travel back and forth between their village and the Kathmandu valley to celebrate the festival. However, with the rising number of immigrants in Kathmandu of Mithila origin, they started celebrating the festival by assembling on the banks of the Bagmati River. Slowly, people started celebrating Chhath in Ranipokhari and many other river banks, which attracted the locals of the Kathmandu valley to the celebration. Today, this festival has become one of the major festivities in the valley, celebrating which has helped in strengthening the bonds between different cultures and communities, paving the way for social harmony and religious tolerance.
Interesting facts about Chhath
- Chhath Puja is the only Hindu festival where each ritual has a scientific basis and, when taken as a whole, represents a rigorous scientific detoxification process. The sun is worshipped during this celebration for its immense importance in human day-to-day life and this belief in the role of the sun in maintaining the eco-system is scientifically proven as well.
- Rituals related to Chhath puja consist of worshipping the rising and setting sun. Exposure to the rising sun helps the optimum absorption of calcium and vitamin D, which is incredibly beneficial for women. Also, after the completion of this festival, the winter days come over, and exposing the body to the sun helps in making our body warmed up for the low-temperature season.
- Increasing the body’s immunity is yet another benefit of Chhath Puja.
- Not everyone may know but Chhath is celebrated twice a year. It is also observed after Holi in the summer, but the Chhath celebrated in the month of Kartik has wider relevance and is more eagerly observed by the public.