Contributed by Mr. C.I. Sivasubramanian
This is the season of festivals. And one which is strictly regional.
This is a unique festival celebrated in Bihar and Biharis settled elsewhere. The festival is celebrated for 4 consecutive days.
Chhath means six; the festival is called Chhath as it falls on the sixth day after Amavasya This year it comes on the 31st October.
For one night and day, the entire Bihar practically live on the banks of the river Ganga and make a ritual offering to the Sun God. Since the festival is essentially a prayer to the Sun god, it is also known as ‘Surya Sashti’.
All Indians consider Ganga a sacred river and since it passes through Bihar, the devotees use the river banks to celebrate the Chhath puja. The Festival is celebrated mainly to thank the Sun God for the bounties it has given to the people in this earth. The occasion is also used to make special wishes. It can be compared with the ‘Thanks Giving’ day in America.
The first day of the festival is known ‘Naha Kha’ or bathe and eat. The devotees take a dip in theGanges and use the holy water to prepare ‘satvik’ food like rice porridge, puris, etc. The food is shared by the community.
On the second day, Panchami, the day before Chhath, known as ‘Kharna’, the devotees observe a fast for the whole day, which ends in the evening a little after sunset. After the worship the offerings are distributed among family and friends. From this day onwards, for the next 36 hours they go on a strict fast without even drinking water.
The third day Sashti, is the principal festival, Chhath, and the day is spent in preparing the offerings to the Sun God. In the evening the entire household accompanies the devotees to the river bank to make the offerings to the setting sun.
On the night of day three, a colorful event takes place, known as ‘Kosi’. Llighted earthen lamps are kept under a canopy of five sugarcane sticks. The five sticks signify the human body made of the five great elements – earth, water, fire, air and ether. This is a symbolic ritual in Chhath Puja, performed especially in those families where marriage or childbirth has taken place recently. The lighted lamps signify the solar energy sustaining the human being. The occasion is almost a carnival. Friends and family, and numerous participants and onlookers all are willing to help and receive the blessings of the worshipper. Ritual regional folk songs are sung on this occasion.
Early morning on the 4th day, known as ‘Parna’ (lifting of the fast) the devotees, along with family and friends, go to the riverbank to make the offerings to the rising sun. The festival ends with the breaking of the fast and friends visiting the houses of the devotees to receive the prashad.
Witnessing Chhath being celebrated at the crack of the dawn on a river bank is a beautiful, enriching spiritual experience connecting the modern Indian to his ancient cultural roots.