Chhath Festival Dedicated To Sun
Chhath is an ancient Hindu festival dedicated to the Sun God, Surya. It is marked in order to thank the Sun for blessing the human life on the earth as ever. People also observe this festival very devoutly for the well-being, success and progress of their family members, society and friends. The rituals of the festival are rigorous and are observed over a period of four days. They include taking sacred bath, fast without even drinking water, standing in water for several hours, and offering prayer and prasad to the setting and rising sun.
According to the Hindu calendar, the Chhath festival is celebrated on the sixth day in Shukla Paksha of Kartik month. The festival is also known as Surya Shashti. Although a large number of men take part in the festival, it is conventionally dominated by women during its rites and rituals. It is also celebrated in the summer season (March–April). As it is celebrated in Chaitra (twelfth month of the Bikram Sambat) on Chaitra Shashthi, it is called Chaiti Chhath. However, the Chhath falling in Karkik is more popular because October-November is the most usual and favourble festive season in Nepal and India.
This is an age old festival of ancient Mithila and Magadh because some beliefs and testimonies say that the festival originated in the lands of Mithila and Magadh. It is observed by people from southern part of Nepal and northern region of India.
Chhath is emerging as a national festival in Nepal. It is now not only a festival of Hindus from the Terai rigion but Hindus of the Hill origin also accept and celebrate it as a big religious event. Some Muslim families from across the country also observe it from the bottom of their heart. In recent years, national and local media and people of different walks have started to pay great attention to and make preparation for the festival.
Myths behind the festival
The history of worshiping the Sun god dates back to the Vedic times when the Rishis used to pay homage to the Sun to sustain their lives without having any food. Through the prayer of the Sun, they were able to attain energy from the rays of the Sun.
The Rigveda, the ancient scripture, contains mantras pertaining to the prayer of the Sun and illustrates rituals similar to the Chhath festival. The festival also traces reference in another ancient scripture, Mahabharat where Draupadi is shown as worshiping the Sun god. Through the worship of the Sun god, Draupadi had been able to resolve her personal troubles as well as help the Pandavas regain their lost kingdom.
According to another mythical history, God Ram and Goddess Sita had kept fasting and offered prayer to the Sun in the month of Kartik after they returned to Ayodhya spending 14 years in exile. Imitating the rituals, people from ancient Mithila, the birthplace of Goddess Sita, and surrounding areas, started celebrating the festival every year on the same date. Thus, it became a significant traditional festival in the Hindu religion.
Many delicious and auspicious Puja materials are prepared during the festival. Devotees offer prasad to Sun and mostly they are sweets, Thekuwa, Bhusuwa, Puri and fruits included in a small bamboo tokari. The prasad must be cooked without salt, onion or garlic maintaining purity.
Among them, Thekuwa is the chief prasad. It is sweet in taste and is cooked using flour and sugar. Busuwa is another major prasad item. It is prepared from flour, wheat and sugar. Puri, another important Prasad item is baked with use of flour. It is fried bread. Kheer (rice pudding) is prepared cooking a mixture of rice, milk, sugar and dry fruits. Malpuwa, made with plain flour, is another delicious prasad item. Besides, several other fruits and vegetables available at home, neighbourhood and market are also offered to the Sun god.
Ways and beliefs
Generally, it is believed that once a family begins the festival, it has to be observed yearly. As time passes, it is inherited by next generation. It is missed only when there is a death of any family member that year. But this festival is not observed by all families in the Terai-Madhes region.
It is believed that worshipper of the Chhath should take a holy bath and follow a period of abstinence and become separate for four days from the main family. Throughout the period, he/she is believed as the pure spirit and sleep on the floor taking a single blanket. Thus, the festival is an arduous observance, requiring the worshipper to fast without water for around 36 hours continuously.
Four rigorous days of rituals
The Chhath is a strict and rigorous ritual because it covers four long days and every day has its own kinds of rituals and offerings. The first day of the festival includes taking a dip in the holy river. People also take the water of rivers to their home to perform special offerings and rituals. Houses and soundings are thoroughly cleaned on this day. Devotees only take food made using ghee, rice and milk without salt, onion and ginger-garlic. The first day is also known as Kaddu Bhat because rice is prepared without dal and vegetables. On the second day, devotees fast for the whole day and break their fast in the evening after the Sun sets. They offer kheer, puris and fruit during the puja. After taking meal in the evening, they go on a fast without water for the next 36 hours. The person who is observing the Chhath is known as the Parvaitin. The third day of the festival is spent in the preparation of the prasad (offerings). The day is also known as Sanjhiya Arghya because on this day, devotees offer their offerings and prayers to the setting Sun. In the evening, a large number of devotees gather on the banks of rivers and ponds to make offerings (Arghya) to the setting Sun. Folk songs are sung and played in the evening displaying the culture and history of the festival celebrating region. After Arghya, the devotees wear the saree of turmeric color. Other family members wait to get the blessings from worshipper. On the fourth and final day, family members and friends go to the banks of the river before sunrise and make offerings (Bihaniya Aragh) to the rising Sun. After these rituals, family members, relatives and neighbours are distributed prasad items. Devotees end their fast taking the Chhath prasad.
Meaning and significance
During the festival, the Sun god is worshiped to secure well-being, prosperity and progress of the family members. The festival is also marked believing that it helps cure a range of diseases, including leprosy as well as ensures the long life of family members and loved ones.
The rituals of the festival give mental peace and tranquility; boost the energy level and resistance of the body of devotees. The fasting also reduces the level of anger, jealousy as well as lot of negative thinking. It is also believed that worshipping the Sun god helps in slowing down the ageing process of devotees. The festival has a special significance as Sunrise and Sunset are the most important periods of the day during which a human body gets energy from the Sun without any harm to the body.