Exploring Chhath Puja – The Festival of Faith, Devotion and Spirituality
Travelling to Bihar (Patna) for exploring Chhath Festival:
It was the first week of November, six days after Deepawali, time for people of Bihar to return home, a mass migration. People of Bihar, also called Bihari, are hard workers and the economic horsepower of India. They work in different parts of India as a bureaucrat, engineers, doctors, scientists, and workers. They have a promise to keep; and for that, they take on the journey to their home every year to celebrate a festival: Chhath with their family members. This is the festival of emotion and bonding among the family members. I am also a resident of Patna, working as a marketing manager in Delhi. I also endure this journey to my home every year. But this year, somehow it seems that it is not possible to endure this journey. My train tickets were not confirmed, and I was supposed to reach Patna by tomorrow evening. I was very upset and was feeling sorry for my mother who was waiting for me. She called me, but I had no answer to her question, “When I will be reaching Patna?” This is the question bothering me.
But in this disdain, my best friend from Patna called me and asked about my plan for the Chhath festival. I explained my situation. He told me that there is an alternative option, if I don’t have motion sickness, I could book a berth in the bus. There are a few private bus services from Delhi to Patna. I searched for this option on the internet, and surprisingly there are more than 10 bus services from Delhi to Patna every day. I and my wife decided it is better to check if we could get tickets on the bus rather than missing the festival this year. Surprisingly, I got the three tickets and that in the sleeper berth. The ticket was for next day afternoon from Anand Vihar bus stand.
|Travelling to Patna on Chhath Puja’ Vacation |
Next day, my wife prepared snacks and meal for our journey. We reached the bus stand on time. The bus left for Patna on time. Our sleeping seats were very clean and comfortable. The travel time from Delhi to Patna is going to take 18 hours which is a few hours longer than a train journey. But because it is winter time and the train will be always late, this 18 hours on a bus is better for the train journey. Most people on the bus were travelling to Patna to celebrate Chhath festival, so it was kind of a festive mood on the bus. People were humming Chhath songs. We also joined the chorus. Common people view this festival of Sun. But then why do we celebrate this festival by the name- Chhath Maiya. Normally, the fact behind this is not very well understood. There are a few legends behind this fact.
|Chhath Puja celebration at Patna’ Ganga Ghat |
We had a few stops for refreshments. And by the next day at 5 O’clock, we were in Hajjipur, a town near the bank of Ganges, near Patna. There was a traffic jam on the Gandhi Setu Bridge connecting Hajjipur to Patna. This is probably just because of people travelling to their homes that day. After spending a few hours in a traffic jam, we reached Patna-Mithapur bus stand. It was a pleasant sunny day, seems that Patna was welcoming me. As soon we boarded out of the bus, hoards of auto driver surround us, asking us to join them for a ride. My wife was getting anxious, seeing the crowd; but suddenly I heard a familiar voice, Bhaiya Ji when you arrived? Chhath Maiya has called you and your family. He was Sambhu, my neighbour. He runs his auto services in Patna; we always his auto service for our ride in the city. I looked at him and smiled and replied, “Yes the Chhath Maiya has called us. We reached home in the morning. My mother was very glad to see us. It was the moment of emotion and love. The week of Chhath festival is very emotive for Bihari; we meet our family members, friends, and relatives. We all come together to celebrate the festival: Chhath.
Myths of Chhath:
Chhath is one of the oldest Hindu festivals, dating back to the Vedic era. Unlike, other Hindu festivals It does not involve any idol worship. It is dedicated to Sun and his sister, Shasthi Devi (Goddess). People of Ganges basin mainly Uttar Pradesh and Bihar celebrate this festival for thanking Sun and his sister for bestowing life on the earth. The earliest recorded mentioned about this festival is in Rigveda, the hymn worshipping the God Sun. The Vedic sage’s intake sun rays as a source of spiritual and eternal energy. Another mentioned about this festival is in Ramanaya (Treta Yug); Sita and Rama worshipped after returning to Ayodhya. Sita had kept fast and offered prayers to Sun to celebrate the coronation of Ram.
And it is also related to Mahabharata(Dwapar Yug) where the wife of Pandava, Draupadi observe this festival to regain the lost power and kingdom; and Sun bestowed lost kingdom back to Pandava. Also, Karna, son of Sun and ruler of Anga-Desh (Modern day Bhagalpur, Bihar) performed Chhath. And because of his sheer devotion to his father Sun, he gained super-power and turned him to valiant warrior.
|God Sun & Chhath celebration idol at Patna |
Another connotation of this festival is celebrated to worship manas daughter of Brahma. Due to being born (incarnation) from the sixth part of the nature Prakriti on this day, she is worshipped as Shasthi Maiya, She is also called Shasthi Devi who is incarnated to Mithlanchal, a region in Bihar as a Chhathi Maiya. This is also a reason why this festival is widely celebrated in Bihar. She is the wife of Kartikeya (Also known as Murugan, Skanda, Kumara, and Subrahmanya), the Hindu God of war, due to this reason Shasthi Maiya is also known by the name as Devsena. It is also believed that she is the Goddess of fertility and hence due to this reason, on the sixth day of the birth of a child in the family, Shasthi Devi is worshipped.
According to another legend, on the day of the shasthi, Goddess resurrected the dead son of King Priyavrat. Thus, on the order of the king, people started the worshipping Shasthi Devi. And later on, this festival continued as modern-day Chhath Maiya Puja.
In another folklore, it is a celebration to worship the Sun and his two wives’: Usha and Pratyusha. Usha means the first ray of the day while Pratyusha means the last ray of the day. This is also a reason in this festival, celebrant worship both setting a Sun and a rising Sun.
|On the way to Ganga Ghat for worship |
Though this festival is mainly celebrated in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, it is widely celebrated around the world. It may be related to different civilization, where Sun is celebrated. In ancient time, Egyptian and Babyloniansperformed similar rituals for Sun worship. In Greek as a goddess Eos, in Romans as a goddess Aurora, in Lithuania as a goddess Austrine and in Arabia as a goddess Uzza was worshipped. In Vedictales, there is a story of Magapeople. Sun worshipper resident of Shakya Dweep, modern-day Iran. These Maghi Brahmin also called Sakaldwipi, Shakadwipi or Magha Brahmins. They are related to Zoroastrian, a very first worshipper of fire. They emigrated to India and settled down in Magadh, modern-day Bihar. And with the colonization of India, people from Bihar. They constructed several Sun Temples at different places in Magadh (Modern Bihar) region including Deo, Ulaar, Aungari, Gaya, Pandarak, etc. And with the colonization of India, people from Bihar were taken as slaves for example to Surinam, a Dutch colony, South Africa, Fiji, Guyana, Trinidad, Mauritius, etc. Hence, Bihar pravashi are still celebrating this festival in these countries until today.
This festival has many names Chhath Mahapuja, Chhathi Mata, Chhathi Maiya, Daala Chhath Puja and Surya Shasthi Pujawith many folklores but there is one thing common in all; we people of Bihar celebrate this to worship one and only one God who bestowed the life and prosperity on this planet, our God Sun.
Rituals and tradition:
|Daura (Daala) for evening & morning worship |Chhath Puja is primarily a festival of worship of Sun God. There is believe and perception in people that happiness, peace, safety, and prosperity come in the family from Chhath. Chhath synonym to sixth in Sanskrit; this festival commences on the sixth day of Hindu lunar month of Kartik. It is celebrated for four days during which worshippers also known as parvaitin follows the rigorous rituals including fast for two days, bath in holy water at sunrise and sunset. Also, the family members follow strict rules; only vegetarian food in the home is cooked without onion and garlic. This festival is observed by both male and female alike. This festival promotes equality in society; the festival is observed by both upper caste and lower caste, alike. No priest is involved in this festival. Parvaitin by themselves performed the puja. Also, if ones’ wishes are fulfilled then one performed the puja by collecting alms.
|Parvaitin gives blessing after paaran at Ganga Ghat |
Day 1. Nahay Khay: This is the first day of Chhath, the day of body purification. Parvaitinperformed the body purification in holy water preferably in river Ganga. After purification, they cook rice and bottle guard with split chickpeas in pure ghee and rock salt. All foods are cooked in the river Ganga water. Parvaitin breaks ones’ fast by eating this food.
Day 2. Kharna/Lohanda: This is the second day of the Chhath festival. On this day, the parvaitin fast whole day and eats only after sunset. On this day, parvaitin cook prasaad. Utmost care is taken to prepare prasad. Only organic foods are selected for preparing prasaad, also people helping parvaitin to cook Prasaad need to be clean. All ingredients are washed and dried in the Sun. After Sunset parvaitin worship and offer a prasad to Chhath Maiya which is cooked by own hand.
|Pious Kheer making by Parvaitin |The Main prasad are: Two Rice puddings are prepared in pure milk and ghee. One is without jaggery and another one with jaggery. The ladoo, (also known as Pithha) made up of rice and roti made of pure wheat and cow ghee. Prasad is distributed among all invitee and family members. On this day, parvaitin sets on fast for coming one and a half-day. During this period, parvaitin avoids any kind of fluid and solid food. They sleep on the floor and leave in isolation.
Day 3. Ardhya/Sasthi: Since morning, parvaitin and their helpers prepare special cookies popularly called thekua, made of wheat flour, jaggery, and ghee. Also, rice laddoo (known as Kasaar) is made of rice flour, jaggery, and ghee.
|Thekua making for evening Chhath worship |
In the afternoon, these preparations along with five different fruits, areca nut, clove, cardamom, turmeric, ginger, radish and cotton for aarti are arranged on bamboo baskets known as Soop and Daura. This soop is specially made by Dalit community. On this day, religiosity is on the streets. All community comes together to make sure that streets and riverbank are cleaned. People along with parvaitin go to the riverbank in the afternoon for offering Ardhya to the evening sun.
The Ardhya is a way of worshipping Sun. Parvaitin performs parikrama i.e. circumambulation in the river after taking bath. During this parikrama, parvaitin pick soop and other devotee offers milk and Ganges water to this soop facing Sun. In this, parvaitin thanks Sun for bestowing earth with good harvest and providing prosperity.
|Thekua for prasaad offering |
|Evening Sun’s worship at Ganga Ghat |Day 4. Ardhya/Paaran:
This is the final day of Chhath festival. On this day devotee and parvaitin offers Ardhya to rising Sun.
|On the way to Ganga’s Ghat for morning worship |
|Morning Sun’s view at Ganga’s Ghat |
This day, parvaitin wish for more prosperity and richness in life. Upon final Ardhya, parvaitin break their fast. They also distribute prasad to poor people and all people around.
|Worship perform after morning Ardhya |
Festivity at home:
In my home, my mother performs Chhath every year. She is the parvaitin in our home. I helped her in cleaning the house on the day before Nahay Khay. I cleaned the wheat and rice, raw materials for Prasad for Nahay Khay and Ardhya. I put them for drying on the roof. My son was in charge of keeping birds away from these grains. In my neighbourhood, the festivity was in its prime. Devotional music was playing in the neighbourhood. Females were singing popular Chhath songs. In the evening, I took rice and wheat for grinding. During Chhath, even shopkeepers didn’t charge for their services. The whole society works in a cohesive way to celebrate this festival. I joined my mother for a voyage to the river for a purification ritual. Taking a dip in the Ganges river washes our all sin. This year, the riverbank in Patna city was refurbished. The new bank was created. Now it is safer to swim in river Ganges.
In the afternoon, my sister and my wife helped my mother in cooking prasad. In the afternoon, my mother served split chickpeas and basmati riceto everyone. This is Prasad for Nahay Khay day. In the afternoon, we ate prasad together. We also invited our neighbours to join us. Next day, on the day of kharna, my mother prepared rice pudding on wooden fire. This rice pudding is my favourite prasad. On the day of Ardhya, we started preparing prasad very early in the morning. We cooked thekua and rice ladoo.
|People celebrating Chhath Puja at Ganga Ghat |While we were cooking, we were chatting and sharing our stories. This brings the joy of togetherness and love among all family members. Later in the afternoon, I sent my friend to reserve a spot place near the bank of the river Ganges. This is required as on this day usually there is a crowd of worshippers and it is helpful if one has a spot very close to the bank. Later, I carried soop in the Daura to the river bank. My mother walked to the river along with other family members to perform Ardhya. She performed the offerings to Sun at dusk. Next day we left for river very early morning before dawn, because on this day parvaitin, offers Ardhya to rising Sun. After Ardhya at dawn on the final day, my mother broke her fast by taking a sip of Ganges water. She also ate thekua and banana. Later she distributed prasad to everyone at the river bank. In the home, we prepared a feast for my mother. We also invited our neighbour to join the feast.
|On last day of Chhath Puja, Prasaad offering to a devotee at home |With this, my holiday also ends. We have to return to Delhi. My mother reserved an auto for dropping us at Patna railway station. Sambhoo, the auto driver agreed to drop us to Patna railway station.
We bid farewell to my mother and boarded the auto. In auto, Chhath song was playing. The journey to Patna junction took 45 minutes. At the station, Sambhoo helped me to board the train. I still remembered his last farewell word, “Bhaiya, Chhathi Maiya will bring happiness in your life and she will call you again next year. You should come next year again.” I murmured, sure I will come back again next year.
|On last day of Chhath Puja, Prasaad offering to devotee at home |
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