Bihar - The Land of Chhat Puja
Being a land with richcultural heritage, Bihar celebrates Chhath Puja with great enthusiasm and splendor. Although, Chhath Puja is celebrated in many Indian states like Jharkhand, parts of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Mumbai, the Chhath Puja celebrations in Bihar have a distinct charm and flavor. Being the most joyous and grand festival of Bihar, Chhath Puja is devoted to Sun God (Surya) and his wife Usha, who is popularly called ‘Chhathi Maiya’. Literally, the word Chhath implies to “sixth" in Bhojpuri, Maithili and Nepali dialects, as the festival is celebrated on the 6th day of the Kartikeya month of the Hindu calendar, and so known as “Chhath Puja”. This festival, according to the English calendar, falls in the month of October or November, and lasts for 4 days, and so is the longest festival after Navratris. All the water bodies, like ponds, rivers, and ghats,this time, turn into places to offergratitude to Lord Surya, the god of energy, for sustaining the life on the Earth and helping to cure many illnesses and diseases. Furthermore, devotees seek Surya’s blessings and pray for the longevity and prosperity of their family members and nearest-dearest one. If you want to experience the Chhath Puja celebrations, then visiting Patna, which is situated on the banks of the holy Ganga, and indeed the best place to witness the magnificent celebrations across the city, would be a good option.
The second longest, festival of India, Chhath Puja consists of 4-day rituals, and so requires a different level of determination for observing this fast. First day is the Nhay-Khay, when devotees take a bath in the holy water of Ganga early in the morning and then prepare prasadato offer to the Sun God. Devotees observe fast and eat just one meal in the entire day. I reminisce about how this day is full of delicious traditional food like chane ki dal, kaddu ki Sabji, andtheyummiest kheer. Second day is called Kharna, when the devotees fast for the entire day. In the evening of this day, Tasmai with puri is offered to the Sun God, and then devoteescan break their fast. After worshipping the God, devotees again keep fast, without food or water, for the next about 36 hours. It reminds me of my worry for my Grandmother’s health as she keeps this difficult fast.Third day is known as Sandhya Arghya(eveningofferings)which is also observed by fasting and without drinking even single drop of water. This day is full of fervour and eagerness as children and other family members fill the bronze and bamboo baskets with fresh fruits like apples, oranges, bananas, dry fruits and homemade delectable sweets like saanch andthakua. Oh! It prompts me how I used to ask Mumma, “When shall I get to eat thakua ? Today’s evening or tomorrow’s morning?”. And, all the time she used to scold and order me to apologize to Sun God for being gluttonous. Yes! I was ravening for thakua. Oh! Now let’s return to the context. Then, the male members take the basket on their heads to the riverside or ghats where prayer is offered. On the ghat, the devotees take a dip and offer arghya to the setting sun.You may wonder why only male members carry the baskets? Why this auspicious ritual discriminate females against males? In every Chhath, I interrogate these questions. So, my family members allow me and my sisters to carry these baskets to the ghats. My readers may say that I’m stubborn. Yes, I am! I seek for equality in every domain. Oh, going out of the context is my old habit, and I apologize for this. Fourth day is known as Usha Arghya (morning offerings) when devotees gather on the ghats and takes a dip in the water and offer prasadato the Sun and Usha After this offering, they break their fasts and have Prasada from the baskets.
You may wonder why residents of Bihar celebrate this great festival with great ardour and zeal? There are various mismatched answer to this as the its exact origins remain undefined and ambiguous. Some believe in religious explanation while others in scientific significance. Some devotees believe that Lord Rama has a lot to do with the inception of Chhath Puja, Rama and Sita observed a fast in honour of the Sun God and broke it only at the break of dawn next day, and this ritual subsequently evolved into the alluring Chhath Puja. Other believes that the answer can be traced from the stories of Mahabharata. Karna, who is said to be the child of Sun god and Kunti, religiously offered his prayers while standing in the water and then distributed the prasada among the needy. Another story says that Dhamuya advised Draupadi and Pandavas to offer prayer to the Sun God to get rid of their sufferings and to win their kingdom back, and soon their wishes were granted. Apart from the religious significance, rational and prudent beings believe that the Chhath Puja has it’s roots in science as well. Sun, being the primary source of energy, helps to get rid of toxicity and eliminate harmful bacteria and viruses from the human body, and enhances immunity. Taking dips in water and exposing oneself to the Sun increases the flow of solar bio-electricity that improves the overall functionality of the human body and provide mental calmness. There is agricultural significance attached to it as well, as this is s post-harvest festival where people show gratitude for a good harvest in the season just ended. Hence, festival of ChhathPuja carries great keenness and warmth for those residing in Bihar.