The word Chhath is the Prakrit derivation of the Sanskrit word Shashti which literally means sixth. Chhath Puja is an ancient Hindu celebration that has its origin in the scriptures of the Vedas. The festival is dedicated to the Sun God and His consort Goddess Usha who is also known as Chhathi Maiya.
Devotees perform worships and rituals on this occasion to thank the Sun God for sustaining life on Earth and also to request to grant some boons — like longevity, wellness, cure from various diseases, prosperity, and progress – in all, overall well being.
Devotees observe rigorous rituals for a period of four days that include holy bathing, abstinence from food and water and making prayer offerings.
History and Mythological References:
It is believed that the rituals of Chhath puja dates back to prehistoric times. The earliest mentions of such rituals are found in Rig Veda. However, it is believed that the rituals of Chhath puja may even predate the ancient texts of the Vedas. In Rig Veda mentions have been found of hymns in praise of the Sun God and also descriptions of rituals that are similar to those of Chhath Puja. It is also believed that local kings had invited Maga Purohits, who are in the modern times known as Shakya Dwipi Brahmins, to start the ritual of Sun worship for the Maga Purohits were believed to be experts in Sun worship. In the Vedic times it is believed that the sages used the techniques mentioned in the rituals of Chhath Puja to sustain without intaking food or water externally. They are believed to have had powers to obtain energy directly from the rays of the Sun.
The rituals of Sun worship also find reference in the famous Indian epic Mahabharata. In the epic it is depicted that the kings of Indraprastha (which is somewhere in the vicinity of modern day Delhi), Pandavas, and their wife Draupadi were advised by the noble sage called Dhaumya to perform the rituals of Chhath Puja to invoke the Sun God to not only solve their immediate problems, but also to help them regain their lost glory and kingdom. According to the tales of Mahabharata, however, it is believed that the Chhath Puja was first performed by Karna, who was the son of the Sun God, who was the king of Anga Desh which is presently located in the Bhagalpur district of the Indian State of Bihar.
During the Chhath Puja, apart from invoking the Sun God, worship is also done of Chhathi Maiya, who is believed to be the consort of the Sun God. She is invoked to bless the devotees with divine consciousness so that they can overcome all hurdles that come in their way and finally attain Moksha or salvation.
Dates of Chhath Puja in the next five years according to the modern day calendar:
Chhath Puja has derived the name since it is performed on the sixth day of the Hindu month of Kartik in the Shukla Paksha or the bright lunar fortnight. When plotted against the modern day Gregorian calendar the day comes sometime between the months of October and November. However, Chhath Puja is also observed once during the Hindu month of Chaitra which falls sometime in the months of March and April. This is known as Chaiti Chhath. However this one is not as popularly celebrated as the one that comes in the month of Kartik.
- In 2014, the Chhath Puja date is Wednesday, October 29.
- In 2015, the Chhath Puja date is on Tuesday, November 17.
- In 2016, the Chhath Puja date is on Sunday, November 6.
- In 2017, the Chhath Puja date is on Thursday, October 26.
- In 2018, the Chhath Puja date is Tuesday, November 13.
Type of Holiday:
Chhath Puja is not a gazetted or national holiday in India. However, people all across the various cities of the country who observe the occurrence have the option of taking a Restricted Holiday on this day to mark the occasion. Government and private offices remain open on this day though. Also, local businesses, banks and transportation systems in the cities operate in full swing. However, certain institutions may opt to remain closed on this day.
Rites and Rituals:
During the four days of Chhath observance a devotee is expected to maintain purity of body and mind. The worshipper is expected to take a holy dip bath and follow a period of abstinence during this period. When a family begins to perform this ritual it is expected that the upcoming generations too would follow suit year after year. Chhath puja is not performed in a worshipping family in a given year only if there has been a death in the given family in the aforesaid year.
Chhath is a four day festival. It is a joyous occasion where the devotees dress in their best and sing devotional songs at home or in the riverside. The first day ritual of holy bathing is known as Nahay Khay. Devotees take holy water after bathing to their homes. Homes are cleansed. Only one meal is allowed on that day. On the second day of the festival the devotees fast for the whole day (Lohanda and Kharna) and break it only as the sun sets after a ritualistic prayer. On the third day, people offer Sandhya Arghya (evening prayer) in the river banks. On this day clay lamps are lit (Kosi) under the shade of five sugarcane sticks. The sugarcane sticks are believed to represent the five elements or the Panchatattva, namely the earth, water, fire, air and ether, of which the human body is composed of according to Hindu beliefs. The fourth day is known as Paarun, on which day the devotees offer Bihaniya Aragh (prayer offering) at the riverbank. Devotees also break their fast by having the Prasad.
Offerings (prasads) of Chhath puja include sweets, kheer (milk and rice pudding), thekua (sweetmeat), puri (Indian bread) and fruits. The offerings are cooked in an auspicious manner maintaining purity and are devoid of salt, onions or garlic.
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