Chhath Puja – Origin, Traditions, and Rituals
The Sun God is one of the prime deities worshipped in the Hindu religion. Sun, the giver of light and heat, sustains life on earth. Sun, personified as Surya, is the first god described in the ancient Hindu scriptures – the Vedas and the Puranas. It is not surprising then, that one of the most important festivals of the Hindus, the Chhath Puja is dedicated to the Sun God. The festival is a thanksgiving to the sun for the energy, the bounty, and the blessings bestowed by him. Many Hindus also worship the Chhati Mata on this day. The Chhati Mata or Maiya is the feminine energy empowering the Sun, they believe. She is also called Usha (Dawn) by Vedic scriptures. Some also call her the wife or consort of the Sun God. Coming towards the end of the harvest season, the Chhath Puja started off as a thanksgiving ritual, the farmer’s gratitude for a bumper crop, but it is now a popular Hindu festival.
When is Chhath Puja?
In 2015, the main Chhath Puja will be held on Tuesday, 17 November, 2015. According to the Hindu calendar, this festival is held on the 6th day of the Kartik month. In various sections of Hindu society, Chhath Puja is also called Surya Shashti Puja, Chhathi, or Dala Chhath. On the main day of the festival (Shashti), devotees fast from sunrise to sunset.
2015 Chhath Puja Timings –
Shashthi Tithi – From 02.22 hours on 17 November, 2015 to 01.43 hours on 18 November, 2015.
Sunrise at 05.50 hours and sunset at 16.52 hours (17-Nov-15) Kolkata timings
Origins of the Chhath Puja
There are a number of stories regarding the origins of the Chhath Puja. Some say that the puja was first undertaken by Sita, the wife of Rama, in captivity. Sita was abducted by Ravana and was rescued by her husband after a war. To show her gratitude, Sita undertook this fast prior to Rama’s coronation as the king of Ayodhya. Others believe that the first Chhath puja was done in the times of the Mahabharatha by Karna, the son of the Sun God. Yet others say that during their years of exile, the Pandavas and their wife Draupadi lived in extreme penury. They were then visited by 108 sages. With no food to feed the sages, Draupadi was heartbroken. She was advised by the Brahmin Dhaumya to pray to the Sun God and fast on the Shasthi of the Shukla Paksha (waxing moon) of Kartik month. When she successfully completed the fast, the 108 sages felt fulfilled with their meagre offerings and blessed them.
On the day of Chhath Puja, songs are sung glorifying the Sun God, and his consort Usha. Some of these songs speak of a King called Priyavrat and his queen Malini who were unhappy as they were childless. Even as they decided to end their lives, Goddess Chhathi Maiya appeared in her pristine form and asked them to undertake this fast and ritual promising that any devotee who approaches her with faith shall be rewarded. Not only shall they be granted wealth, prosperity, health, and longevity, but all their desires shall also be fulfilled.
Rituals of Worship
Though the main Chhath Puja is on the Shashti of the Shukla Paksha of Kartik month, those who undertake the fast go through a rigorous ritual cleansing and praying for four days in all.
Two days prior to the Chhath Puja, on the Chartuthi a ritual called Nahai Khai (bathe and eat) is observed. The devotees bathe in the Ganges and bring home holy water to cook food in. They eat only one meal cooked in earthenware, on this day.
On the day before Chhath Puja, the Panchami day of Kharna, devotees fast the entire day and eat their only meal after sundown. This meal is first offered to the Sun God at sunset. This Prasad usually comprises sweetened rice, puris, fruits, and sweets. This meal is crucial since the devotee will then fast for the next 36 hours, abstaining from food and water.
On the day of the main Chhath puja, the devotee stands for a long time in the Ganges and offers the Sandhya Argha or Sanjhiya Argha (evening offering) to the Sun God. Bamboo floats are filled with Prasad items such as Thekua (a traditional sweet), coconuts, and fruits are set afloat in the river water. The entire day is spent without food or water.
The next morning, devotees return to the Ganges early at sunrise and offer the Suryodaya Argh (dawn offering). Once the devotees finish the prayers and worship at the river, they break their fast with some ginger and sweets.
Significance of the Chhath Worship
Worship of the Sun God is believed to impart good health, prosperity, intelligence, and well-being. So much so, that the Surya Namaskar (sun salutation) is said to cure one of many different forms of mental and physical illness. The Chhath Puja rituals are also said to have been designed by the seers of ancient India. Standing in the waters of the Ganges at dawn on the Sasthi of the Kartik month is believed to be scientifically designed to cure, or at least prevent, many different diseases.
Where is Chhath Celebrated?
These days Chhath is celebrated all over the country. Traditionally, though it was a festival celebrated through the Gangetic plains. It is celebrated in Nepal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, some parts of West Bengal. The many songs, dances, story-telling sessions, musical renditions and quaint traditions followed by devotees observing the Chhath Puja are wonderful to behold. Devotees observing the Chhath usually fast every year and pass on the worship tradition to future generations.