Chhath Puja: an age-old ritual for the Sun god

Devotees offer morning and evening prayers at Hindon river

Culture

Eyetalk

November 8, 2019

/ By / Uttar Pradesh

Chhath Puja, also known as Dala Puja is a Hindu festival which is celebrated with gaiety and religious fervor mainly in northern and eastern states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, and West Bengal.  The word Chhath means sixth in Maithili, Nepali, and Bhojpuri languages. Dedicated to the Sun god, Chhath Puja is celebrated on the sixth day after Deepawali, another Hindu festival, giving it the name Suryasasthi

Dating back to the ancient era, it is a four-day-long affair in which the devotees throng by the riverside to take a holy dip and perform their religious prayers. Traditionally the festival was celebrated just by married women, but nowadays men too participate in the festivity with equal fervour.

Though mainly the festival is dedicated to the Sun god, his consort  Chhathi Maiya is also worshipped during the festivity. People descend to the ghats (river banks) of the holy rivers, in large numbers, and offer gratitude to the sun for sustaining life on earth, in the form of offerings and prayers. The third day of Chhath Puja is the most important day in which devotees keep a fast for the entire day, refraining from consuming even water. Devotees gather in large number and offer evening prayers to the setting sun, a practice that goes by the name  Santhaya Arghya. In contrast to the Hindu traditions in which the sun is worshipped during day time, it is the only day of the year when the setting sun is worshipped.

While people fast throughout the night, the carnivalesque spirit of the festivity is not dimmed. Numerous colourful practices are observed including the age-old tradition of filling Kosi. During the practice, diyas (earthen lamps) are lit under a canopy made of five or twenty-four sugarcane sticks. The canopy is filled with sacred offerings,  such as fruit extracts and is tied with a holy yellow or red coloured new cloth. The four days rituals include holy bathing, married women fasting for almost 36 hours, standing in water, offering fruits and flowers to Surya.

Devotees and all the vrattis (people who are fasting), family member as well as neighbours gather at the riverbanks. Married women who march up to the river banks or ponds wear new sarees and apply sindoor (vermilion) in a very different fashion from the tip of the nose till the end of the parting in the hair (joda sindoor). Women often apply the vermillion to each other as well, a pratice considered sacred.

As the sun gives its first ray, women enter the water and stand knee to navel deep, take a holy dip called nahan and sing devotional folk songs. The devotees face eastwards while offering the Usha arghya (morning prayer). The fast is broken by consuming and distributing thekua (a sweet snack). After coming back from the ghats, people on fasting consume ginger with water in order to break their fast and seek blessings from the elders of the family.

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