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Chhath puja: Worshipping sun god

Chhath puja: Worshipping sun god
Once least known and celebrated only in Bihar and some parts of Uttar Pradesh, the Chhath puja is an ancient Hindu festival and only Vedic festival dedicated to the Sun god. The four-day long Chhath puja is performed with the sole objective to thank Sun, the god of energy, for sustaining life on earth.

Chhath puja is performed on Kartika Shukla Shashthi, which is the sixth day of the month of Kartika in the Indian calendar. It is also celebrated in the summer (March-April), on Chaitra Shashthi, some days after Holi; this event is called Chaiti chhath. The former is more popular because winter is the usual festive season in north India, and Chhath, being an arduous observance, requiring the worshipers to fast without water for around 36 hours continuously, is easier to undertake during the Indian winters.

Sun worship is believed to help cure a variety of diseases, including leprosy, and helps ensure the longevity and prosperity of family members, friends, and elders.

The rituals of the festival are rigorous and are observed over a period of four days. They include holy bathing, fasting and abstaining from even water, standing in water for long periods of time, and offering arghya to the setting and rising sun.

The prasad offered to the Sun god during Chhath are sweets, kheer, thekua and fruits kept in a small bamboo basket. The prasad should be cooked without salt, onions or garlic. The four-day festival includes: Nahay khaiy (abulation), kharna (worship of moon), sanjhiya arghya (evening offer) and paaran (the morning offer).

On the first day devotees bathe early in the morning in the holy water of Ganga or a water body and bring some water to their home to prepare the offerings. The home and its surroundings should be cleaned on this day. They take only one meal consisting of kaddu-bhat (boiled rice and bottle-gourd) cooked in bronze or clay utensils over a fire of mango tree wood in a clay stove.

On the second day (the day before Chhath) panchami, devotees observe fast for whole day and break their fast in the evening after sunset after the worship of earth. They offer rasia-kheer (rice boiled with jaggery), puris, fruits in the puja. After taking meal in the evening, they go on a fast without water for the next 36 hours.

On the third day (day of Chhath) they offer the sanjhiya arghya at the jetties of river banks. Other family members take blessings from the parvaiti (the one who is fasting) by offering milk, water to Sun god. On the night of Chhath, a vibrant event of Kosi is celebrated by lighting clay lamps under the covering of five sugarcane sticks. The five sugarcane sticks indicate the panchatattva (earth, water, fire, air and ether) of human body made of panchatattva.

On the early morning of the fourth day (paaran), devotees along with their family and friends offer bihaniya (morning) aragh. Devotees end their festival through breaking the fast by having the Chhath prasad.

The festival is also celebrated in a big way in the metros of Delhi and Mumbai, where there is a presence of large migrant population. Migrants from Bihar and eastern UP have also taken the festival to Madhya Pradesh, western Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Gujarat, Mauritius, Fiji, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Suriname and Jamaica.

The legend has it that the maga purohits (modern days known as Shakyadwipi brahmins) were invited by local kings for their expertise in Sun worshiping. They started the tradition of Chhath puja.

It is also believed that the ritual of Chhath puja may even predate the ancient Vedas texts, as the Rigveda contains hymns worshiping the Sun god and describes similar rituals. The rituals also find reference in the Sanskrit epic poem Mahabharata in which Draupadi is depicted as observing similar rites. In the epic, Draupadi and the Pandavas, rulers of Hastinapur (modern Delhi), performed the Chhath ritual on the advice of noble sage Dhaumya. Through her worship of the Sun god, Draupadi was not only able to solve her immediate problems, but also helped the Pandavas later regain their lost kingdom.

It is also believed that Chhath was started by Karna, the son of Surya (surya putra Karna). Surya Putra Karna ruled over the Anga Desh (present day Bhagalpur district of Bihar) during the Mahabharata age. He was a great warrior and fought against the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra battle.
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