Chhath Puja: The only festival in Sanatan Dharma (Hinduism) which has been going on since the Vedic period or rather, the oldest festival of Hindu tradition is Chhath Puja. Chhath Puja or Dala Chhath is celebrated on the sixth day of Kartik month of Shukla Paksha (six days after Deepawali). The second fast of Chhath Puja, which comes twice every year, is celebrated in the month of Chaitra. The Chhath festival celebrated on Chaitra Shukla Paksha Shashti is called Chaiti Chhath and the festival celebrated on Kartik Shukla Paksha Shashthi is called Kartiki Chhath. According to folk tradition, the relationship of Sun God and Chhathi Maiya (mother chhathi) is that of brother and sister.
Chhath Puja – A great festival of folk faith
In today’s India, this unique folk festival of sun worship is mainly celebrated in the Terai regions of Bihar, Jharkhand, Eastern Uttar Pradesh and Nepal. The basis of this festival is the worship of Sun and Usha; as described in Rigveda. In this festival, Sun, Usha, Pratyusha, Prakriti (nature) and their sixth part called Shashthi Devi, Jal (water), and Vayu (air) are worshipped. People give thanks and good wishes to them for restoring life on earth. There is no idol worship involved in Chhath Puja.
Importance of worshipping the sun and mother Chhathi in the Chhath Festival
Lord Surya is worshipped during the Chhath festival. The primary source of the powers of Lord Surya is his two wives Usha and Pratyusha. In Chhath, along with the Sun, there is joint worship of both powers. Both are saluted by offering arghya (a way of worship) to the first ray of the sun (Usha) in the morning and the last ray of the sun (Pratyusha) in the evening.
It is believed that by observing this fast, the family remains prosperous, desired results are obtained, one gets freedom from skin diseases, and children get happiness.
Who is Mother Chhathi (mother Shashthi or Chhathi Maiya)?
It is believed that to create the universe, God divided Himself into two parts – right and left. Purusha appeared from the right part, and Prakriti (nature) came out of the left.
In the Prakritikhand of Brahmavaivarta Purana, it has been told that a major part of the goddess Prakriti, the presiding deity of the universe, is called Devasena. Being the sixth part of nature, one of the popular names of these goddesses is Shashthi. According to religious texts, this goddess protects all children and gives them longevity.
Shashthi means the sixth part, and Shashti Devi is called Chhath Maiya in the local dialect. Goddess Shashthi is also said to be the Manasputri (human child) of Brahma, who gives progeny to childless people and protects all children. Even today, in large parts of the country, Shashthi Puja, Chhathihar or Chhathi Puja is practised on the sixth day of the birth of children.
Importance of worshipping the sun on the sixth day
Saptami Tithi is associated with the worship of the Sun in our scriptures like Surya Saptami and Ratha Saptami. But the worship of the Sun on the sixth day of Chhath is a unique thing.
In Suryashashthi fast, both Brahma (Sun) and Shakti (Prakriti and her part Shashti Devi), are worshipped together. Therefore, those who observe the fast get the result of worshipping both. This is what makes this worship the most special.
The Purabiya Samaj (Bhojpuria culture) has kept this mythological tradition alive in the folk songs of Chhath. Look at the two lines:
“Anna-Dhan Sonva Lagi Pooja Devalgharwa,
Putra Laagi Kari Ham Chhath Ke Baratiya He”
The purpose of worshipping both of them together is also clear in the folk songs. In this, the devotees are saying that they are worshipping the Sun God for food, wealth, property etc. At the same time, devotees worshipped the mother Shashthi for the betterment of children/s.
If we think from a scientific point of view, then it is believed that in the course of their research, the sages studied the astronomical events on Kartik Shukla’s Shashti & Saptami and found a special effect of the rays of the sun, which is helpful in removing skin diseases. To bring this benefit to the general public, the Chhath festival may have originated.
Method of Chhath Puja
Chhath Puja is a four-day festival. And this is a very difficult festival.
Day 1 – bathe and eat (nahay – khay)
Nahay Khay is formally the first day of the Mahaparv Chhath Puja. On this day, only after bathing in the house, sattvic food (A vegetarian diet based on Ayurvedic principles known as the sattvic diet) is prepared. Everyone in the house eats food only after taking a bath. Mango wood and earthen stove are used for cooking. Priority is given to the cleanliness of the house and the surrounding areas. Generally, on this day rice dal, and gourd or pumpkin vegetable is prepared. From this day till the end of the festival, the use of garlic, onion and various vengeful things in the house is stopped. Some people start following a pure and vegetarian diet from the first month of Kartik month (which starts from Sharad Purnima and ends on Kartik Purnima). It is the belief of Ayurveda that whatever we eat, part of it stays in our body for 21 days, so fasting people give up vengeful food from the day of Diwali, and on the twenty-first day when Chhath Puja is performed. They have become completely pure.
Day 2 – Kharna
Kharna means Khar + Na (not even a grass), which means to prepare Prasad without putting a single grass (Kha – which is called Tinka in Hindi) in the mouth. Its real meaning is to prepare Prasad after fasting for the whole day. On this day, after fasting for the whole day, milk, rice and jaggery kheer, and chapati are made as prasad in the evening. The use of both salt and sugar is prohibited in the food. After the prasad is prepared, the devotees themselves eat food in solitude by offering naivedya (food) to the god Sun. This is the last time during this festival when the fasting eats something. After this, fasting for 36 hours is to be observed. Along with seasonal fruits, the same food is also taken by the members of the household as prasad. On this day, the people of the neighbourhood (who are not fasting here) are also fed food by the fasting people.
Day 3 – Sandhya Arghya / Sanjhi Ghat
Sandhya Arghya is offered to the Sun on the third day of the Chhath festival. On this day, the fasting and the people of the house start making prasad together from the morning itself or from the night itself. Thekua prepared with a mixture of jaggery and flour is the main prasad. Along with this, rice laddus called kachwaniya are also made as a main prasad. Apart from these two offerings made at home, people buy seasonal fruits or take out the root of the tuber from their fields, such as sugarcane, molasses, turmeric, coconut, lemon, sugarcane, ripe banana etc. All these fruits are kept whole and they are not cut before the end of the fast. In the evening, one to two hours before sunset, the members of the household reach the banks of rivers/ponds (known as Chhath Ghat) with fasting, decorated with homemade prasad, fruits, etc., in a bamboo basket called Doura. . It is worth noting here that Chhath festival is celebrated with great solemnity, hence it is customary to carry Chhath basket (Daura) on the head to protect it from being impure. During this, the women of the house go on singing the folk songs of Chhath. Pleasant folk songs are played on the ghats too. It is pertinent to mention here that the cleaning of the Chhath Ghats starts a week in advance, and the decoration work is finished by the morning of the evening Arghya.
Once they reach the ghat, the devotees stand knee-deep in water and worship the setting sun and do circumambulation. The god Sun is worshipped with the prasad and fruits which are taken t0 the ghat. Surya Shashthi is the only such fast where the setting sun is also worshipped. After sunset, some people stop at the ghat and sing Mangal songs for the whole night, while some families come back home and put all the things again in the house of worship.
Day 4 – Usha Arghya / Bhor Ghat
On the fourth day, on the seventh day of Shukla Paksha of Kartik month, in the Brahma Muhurta/Usha period, 1-2 hours before the rising of the sun, again carrying all the items of worship, full of prasad, they walk towards Chhath Ghat. Those who fill the Kosi, immerse the Kosi by going to the ghat at midnight or before the Brahma Muhurta. The rest of the worshipers reach the ghat 1-2 hours before sunrise. Before sunrise, the devotees worship the sun by standing in knee-filled water facing east. The people of the house and the neighbourhood are present at the ghat at this time. Mangal songs are sung in the worship of the Sun. Arghya starts as soon as the sun’s redness is seen, the family members also help by offering Arghya to the devotees with milk. Once the worship is over at the ghat, the devotees duly worship their Kuldevata, village deity etc. And then break their fast with milk, tea, prasad which is called Parana. It is worth noting here that after about three days, the fasting eats salty food after Parana.
Rules of Chhath Fasting
The rules of Chhath Puja are very difficult. Women observing fast are called Parvaitin. In this fast, after the pure vegetarian diet of the first day, salt is not to be eaten for the next 60 hours, and in that one has to fast without water for 36 hours. Not only this, those who are fasting, renouncing pleasant bed, sleep only with blankets and sheets on the ground. The worshipers observe this fast by wearing unstitched clothes like an unstitched saree or dhoti. The people who perform this festival, perform the puja until they pass it on to the next generation. People can’t reperform the puja if they leave the Chhath puja in any of the coming years after starting it. However, this festival is not celebrated in the house when someone dies in the house; that mournful family can do Chhath Puja again the following year duly.
Chhath festival is celebrated with utmost holiness, and there is no room for impurity in it. The purity of wheat flour which is used is so much that even the leftovers of birds are not used. The sanctity of this fast can be gauged from the folk song below.
kerva je farela ghavad se, oh par suga mederai | Uje khabri janaibo adik (sun) se, suga dele juthiyaye.||
Uje marbo re sugava dhanush se, suga girihe murchhaye |
Uje sugni je roye le viyog se, adit hoi na sahai, dev hoi na sahai ||
Kanch hi bans ke bahangiya, bhangi lakati jaye | bahangi lachkati jaye, bat je puchhele batohiya, bahanig kekra ke jaye?
Tu ta anhar houve re batohiya, bahangi chhathi mai ke jaye | bahangi chhati maiya ke jaye.
“Through this song, a Parvaitin (worshipper) is threatening a parrot, which is hovering near the bunch of bananas, that if you peck this banana bunch, which I have left to worship Lord Surya Or I will complain about you to Lord Surya. Nevertheless, the parrot ignores this and rips the banana, on which he has to make the wrath of Lord Surya and Parvaitin kills him with a bow. Since this was the fruit for the worship of God Sun and had been warned earlier, even if his Sugi (parrot’s wife) would be crying in the separation of her parrot, then Lord Surya would not help him, because he has committed a felony.”
Now you must have understood from this that with how much holiness this festival is celebrated.
History of Chhath Puja – Why Chhath Puja is Celebrated
According to a belief, Lord Rama and Mother Sita fasted and worshipped the Sun god on the Shukla Shashti of Kartik month (the sixth day of the Shukla Paksha of Kartik month) on the day of the establishment of Rama Rajya after the Lanka conquest. On Saptami, the rituals were performed again at sunrise and received blessings from the Sun God.
According to another belief, the Chhath festival started in the Mahabharata period. First of all, Suryaputra Karna began to worship the Sun God. Karna was an ardent devotee of Lord Surya. He used to stand in water till his waist for hours every day and offer Arghya to the Sun God. He became a great warrior by the grace of Suryadev. Even today this method of offering Arghya is prevalent in Chhath.
From the Puranas
According to a legend, King Priyavad had no children, then Maharishi Kashyap performed Putreshti Yagya and gave Kheer made for sacrifice to his wife Malini. Due to this effect, he had a son but he was born dead. Priyavad went to the crematorium with his son and the son started sacrificing his life in separation. At the same time, Devasena, the psychic daughter of Brahmaji, appeared and said that I am called Shashti because of being born from the sixth part of the original nature of the universe. Hey! Rajan, you should worship me and inspire people to worship. The king fasted on Goddess Shashthi with the desire of a son and he got the son Ratna. This puja was done on Kartik Shukla Shashthi.
Social and Cultural Significance of Chhath Puja
Chhath Puja is a symbology. Which teaches you how to get closer to nature. The worship of nature which has been going on since our Vedic times, and towards which the whole world is trying to go today, Chhath Puja has put the tradition of Indian Sanatan culture on the world stage.
- The method of worship of Chhath Puja is a method made by public opinion.
- There is no rule of scriptures in this worship. Its most important aspect is its purity and simplicity.
- It is pure worship of nature and there is not much pretence in it.
- People of different castes and people of different sects sit and worship at the same mouth of the river, on the same ghat, which is a glimpse of the great culture of India.
- The centre of this fast is farmer, farming, harvest and nature.
- Since this worship is not done according to the scriptures and is based on the Lok Paksha, then there is no need for priests in it.
- It gives us a glimpse of the culture of the Vedic period in a way.
- During this festival, people themselves take responsibility for the cleanliness and do not sit on the government machinery, which shows the form of a strong society.
- Chhath Puja is the only worship where even after menstruating, the worshippers does not leave Vrat (Puja), that is, here menstruating women are not considered impure, which is a very big thing in itself.
Frequently Asked Questions on Chhath Puja
Q. When is Chhath Puja or Dala Chhath 2023?
Ans: The four-day Chhath Puja in 2022 is from November 17 to November 20. Nahay Khay will take place on 17 November and Kharna on 18 November. Sandhya Arghya / Sanjhi Ghat is on 19 November.
Q. What is eaten during Chhath Puja?
Ans: Formally, the first day of Chhath Puja, a great festival of folk faith, begins with a bath ritual. On this day, sattvic food is prepared in the house of the devotees only after taking a bath. Generally, on this day rice dal, and gourd/pumpkin curry are prepared with gram pulse. From this day till the end of the festival, the use of garlic, onion and various vengeful things in the house is stopped. By the way, in many families where fasting is observed, there they start following pure and vegetarian food from the first month of Kartik month (which starts from Sharad Purnima and ends on Kartik Purnima).
Q. When is Nahay Khay in 2023?
Ans: Chhath puja Nahay Khay is on 17th November 2023. Nahay Khay is the first day of the four-day festival Chhath Puja.