Chath Puja: A festival like no other

The auspicious four-day festival of Chath Puja is just around the corner, and the devotees have already started the preparations. The festival is celebrated twice a year during Chaitra (March-April) and Kartika (October-November). Still, the latter is believed to be the most significant, as it falls six days after Diwali. This year, the Chath Puja starts from November 17th to November 20th. The ancient Hindu Vedic festival is celebrated with great pomp and devotion in Bihar, Jharkhand, eastern Uttar Pradesh, and Nepal.
Known by other names such as Chaith, Chathh Parv, Pratihar, Dala Chathh, and Surya Shashti, the Chathh Puja is dedicated to the worship of Lord Surya (sun) and Chhathi Maiya. Worshipping of Lord Surya is a mark of offering our thankfulness to the supreme source of power, and Chatthi Maiya, the sister of Lord Surya, is worshipped as the goddess of the festival.
According to Hindu mythology, the Chath puja started during the early Vedic period, when the sages performed it for many days without any food intake. The festival marks its mention in the Indian epics of the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The puja was performed by Karna, who was the son of Lord Surya. According to another legend, Pandavas and Draupadi offered Chath Puja to regain their lost kingdom and overcome all the obstacles. In the Ramayana, Lord Ram and Goddess Sita offered puja to Lord Surya, kept fast together after returning from exile, and were blessed by two children, Luv and Kush.
Chath Puja considered a Mahaparva (mega festival), involves many rituals that are followed for four days. The first day of the Chath Puja starts with ‘Nahay Khay’ in which the devotee keeping the fast takes a holy bath and the whole house and the surroundings are cleaned. The meal includes the preparation of bottle gourd, which is eaten with Bengal gram dal and rice. This is the last meal eaten by the devotees, which is said to clean their mind and body.
The second day of the Chath Puja is called ‘Kharna’. The devotee goes the whole day without even having a single drop of water. A ‘bhog’ is prepared in the evening, which includes kheer made from jaggery and eaten with roti.
The third day is when the setting sun is worshipped. All the family members and relatives accompany the devotees to the riverbank or artificial pond set-up, where offerings are made to the sun during sunset. This day is also spent without the intake of food or water by the devotee.
On the last day of the Chath Puja, the ‘Arghya’ is offered to the rising sun while standing in the water. Once the puja is completed and the prasad is offered to the Sun God, the 36-hour arduous fast of the devotees is broken by water and prasad.
The sweet and rustic aroma of freshly made Thekua and Khajuria is very significant to Chath Puja. Along with these delicacies, seasonal fruits such as sugarcane, banana, sweet lime, and coconut are offered to the deities by the devotees. Throughout the four days of Puja, folk songs echo in every house and street. This puja holds a legacy of being passed from generation to generation and is considered very pious.
The Chath Puja brings a sense of calmness and purity. The delectable snacks are always the most anticipated part of the festival for those who cannot be a part of this holy occasion. No matter how far we are from home, faith brings us all together to celebrate this holy festival.
The author is from the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (Jammu)

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