Importance of Chhat Puja

via V.N. Gopalakrishnan published on October 26, 2009

Chhat is a popular ritual observed by people of Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgargh, some parts of West Bengal, Mauritius and Nepal a week after Diwali. Chhat also known as Dala Chhat Vrat is the festival of compassion, forgiveness, truth and non-violence. It is dedicated to Surya (Sun God), Agni (Fire) and Kartikeya or Muruga. People undertake the Vrat for the well-being of their family and it is believed that their wishes are fulfilled, if Chhat Puja is observed.

The word Chhat denotes the number six in Hindi and hence the festival begins on the sixth day of the Kartik month (October-November). This year, it is celebrated on October 24 and 25. Chhat is mainly a Bihari festival, and is celebrated wherever people from Bihar have migrated. In Tamil Nadu also the migrants from the North celebrate the festival. It is a ritual bathing festival that follows a period of abstinence and segregation of the worshipper from the household for four days. During the period of abstinence, the worshipper observes ritual purity and sleeps on the floor on a single blanket. The main worshippers are called Parvaitin and are usually women. However, a large number of men also observe the vrat. The Parvaitins pray for the prosperity and well-being of their family. It is believed that Chhat can be performed, if it is passed on to the worshippers from their ancestors. Once they decided, it becomes their duty to perform annually. The festival is skipped only if there is a death in the family that year.

Chhat is celebrated twice, once in summer called Chaiti Chhat and another in winter. The rituals usually consist of fasting, recitation of hymns and folklores. The three main linguistic regions of Bihar-the Maithili, the Magadhi, and the Bhojpuri-and all the various dialects have different folk songs but they have an underlying unity in their dedication to Chhat. Though some Chhat rituals vary from region to region, there is a fundamental similarity in its observation.

Chhat fasting, also known as Surya Sashti is observed mainly by women but men also join in the ritual many places. A million lamps are lit with thousands of worshippers offering Arghya to Sun by standing in knee-deep water. Arghya and Soop are the offerings which consist of flowers, fruits, sprouted grains, dry coconuts, sugarcane, white radish, sweets and khajurees. During the Chhat puja, devotees cook food devoid of garlic and onion in new earthen pots and the cooked food are considered as Prasad. The first day of Chhat is dedicated to cleaning, preparation and purification and hence it is known as Nahai Khai. The main food cooked on the day is rice, channa dal, and green gourd (lauki). Lauki is an important preparation and therefore the day is also referred to as Lauki Bhat. There is a popular belief that worshipping Sun God will help in curing diseases like leprosy.

The fasting on the second day is referred to as Kharna and is broken only after the evening puja at home. Kheer, sweets and fruits are offered to deities and then the whole family shares the Prasad. On the third day evening, Chhat Sandhya Arghya is offered by the devotees to the setting Sun at a nearby pond. 

In the evening, pujas are performed at home and a special puja is offered for Agni (Fire God). This puja is performed in a special area cordoned off by four sugarcane sticks. On the fourth day morning, Chhat Sooryodaya Arghya is performed. Devotees repeat the rituals performed on the third day evening for rising Sun. The Prasad is shared among the devotees and the Chhat Puja comes to an end.

The Mahabharata refers to Draupadi, wife of the Pandavas, worshipping the Sun God. It is believed that Chhat was started by Karna, son of Surya, who fought against the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra war. Hymns in praise of the Sun are found in the Vedas especially in the Rig Veda. The famous Sun temples are the Konark Surya temple of Orissa and the Arasuvilli Surya Devalayam in Andhra Pradesh.

(The author is a social activist and Director, Indo-Gulf Consulting. He can be contacted on [email protected])

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