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Festivals - Chhath Puja
 

Chhath (Hindi: also called Dala Chhath) is an ancient Hindu festival dedicated to Surya, the Hindu Sun God, Surya, also known as Surya Shashti. The Chhath Puja is performed in order to thank Surya for sustaining life on earth and to request the granting of certain wishes. The Sun, considered the god of energy and of the life-force, is worshiped during the Chhath fesival to promote well-being, prosperity and progress. In Hindu mythology, Sun worship is believed to help cure a variety of diseases, including leprosy, and helps ensure the longevity and prosperity of family members, friends, and elders.
The rituals of the festival are rigorous and are observed over a period of four days. They include holy bathing, fasting and abstaining from drinking water (Vratta), standing in water for long periods of time, and offering prashad (prayer offerings) and aragh to the setting and rising sun.
Although it is observed most elaborately in Bihar, Jharkhand and the Terai regions of Nepal in modern times, and is more prevalent in areas where migrants from those areas have a presence, it is celebrated in all regions and major urban centers in India. The festival is celebrated in the regions including but not exclusive to the northeast region of India, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Chandigarh, Gujarat, Delhi, Mumbai and Mauritius.
Chhath puja is performed on Kartik Shukala Shashti, which is the sixth day of the month of Kartik in theHindu Calendar, exactly 6 days after Deepawali. This falls typically in the month of October or November in the Gregorian Calendar.
It is also celebrated in the summer (March–April), on Chaitra Shashti, some days after Holi; this event is called Chaiti Chhath.[6] The former is more popular because winter is the usual festive season in North India, and Chhath, being an arduous observance, requiring the worshipers to fast without water for more than 24 hours, is tougher to undertake in the Indian winters.

Etymology

The word chhath denotes the number 6 in Hindi and the festival is celebrated on the sixth day of theHindu lunar month of Kartik.
The word Chhath is also a compound of two words: "Chah" meaning "six stages", and "Hath" refers to the science of Hath Yog (austerity). The word Chhath refers to the process of consciously obtaining the solar energy through six stages involving the methods of Hath Yog. "Hath" here refers to the austerities such as fasting and standing in water.

History

It is believed that the ritual of Chhath puja may even predate the ancient Vedas texts, as the Rigvedacontains hymns worshiping the Sun god and describes similar rituals. The rituals also find reference in theSanskrit epic poem Mahabharata in which Draupadi is depicted as observing similar rites.
In the poem, Draupadi and the Pandavas, rulers of Hastinapur (modern Delhi), performed the Chhath ritual on the advice of noble sage Dhaumya. Through her worship of the Sun God, Draupadi was not only able to solve her immediate problems, but also helped the Pandavas later regain their lost kingdom.
It is also believed that Chhath was started by Karna, the son of Surya Putra Karna who ruled over the Anga Desh (present day Bhagalpur district of Bihar) during the Mahabharat Age. He was a great warrior and fought against the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra War.
Its yogic/scientific history dates back to the Vedic times. The rishis of yore used this method to remain without any external intake of food as they were able to obtain energy directly from the sun's rays. This was done through the Chhath method.

Rituals and traditions

Chhath is a ritual bathing festival that follows a period of abstinence and ritual segregation of the worshiper from the main household for four days. During this period, the worshiper observes ritual purity, and sleeps on the floor on a single blanket.
This is the only holy festival which has no involvement of any pandit (priest). The devotees offer their prayers to the setting sun and then the rising sun in celebrating its glory as the cycle of birth starts with death. It is seen as the most glorious form of Sun worship.
Bihar has a number of Sun temples, flanked by a surajkund or sacred pool of the Sun, forming a popular venue for the celebration of this festival.
The main worshipers, called Parvaitin (from Sanskrit parv, meaning 'occasion' or 'festival'), are usually women. However, a large number of men also observe this festival. The parvaitin pray for the well-being of their family, for prosperity and for offspring. Once a family starts performing Chhatt Puja, it is their duty to perform it every year and to pass it on to the following generations. The festival is skipped only if there happens to be a death in the family that year.
The prasad offerings include sweets and fruit offered in small bamboo winnows. The food is strictly vegetarian and it is cooked without salt, onions or garlic. Emphasis is put on maintaining the purity of the food.

The four days Of Chhath Puja

Day 1:Nahakha (literally, bathe and eat):
On the first day of Chhath Puja, the devotees take a dip, preferably in the holy river Ganges, and carry home the holy water of the river Ganges to prepare the offerings. The house and surroundings are scrupulously cleaned. The parvaitin allows themselves only one meal on this day.
Day 2: Kharna (the day before Chhath):
On Panchami, the day before Chhath, the parvaitins observe a fast for the whole day, which ends in the evening a little after sunset. Just after the worship of earth, the offerings of Rasiao-kheer (rice delicacy), puris (deep-fried puffs of wheat flour) and bananas, are distributed among family and friends. From this day onwards, for the next 36 hours, the parvaitin goes on a fast without water.
Day 3: Chhath Sanjhiya Arghya (evening offerings):
The day is spent preparing the prasad (offerings) at home. On the eve of this day, the entire household accompanies the parvaitins to a riverbank, pond or a common large water body to make the offerings (Aragh) to the setting sun. It is during this phase of Chhath Puja that the devotees offer prayers to the setting sun.
The occasion is almost a carnival. Besides the parvaitin, there are friends and family, and numerous participants and onlookers, all willing to help and receive the blessings of the worshipper. Ritual rendition of regional folk songs, carried on through oral transmission from mothers and mothers-in-law to daughters and daughters-in-law, are sung on this occasion.
The folk songs sung on the evening of Chhath reflect the culture, social structure, mythology and history of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Nowadays, modern Chhath songs, largely Bollywood film remixes, have caught on, but the old tradition still goes strong with a great degree of sanctity. The three main linguistic regions of Bihar (the Maithili, the Magadhi, and the Bhojpuri), and all the various dialects associated with these, have different folk songs; but have an underlying unity in their dedicated to Chhath. The minor nuances of the Chhath rituals, such as in the Kharna ritual, vary from region to region and across families, but still there is a fundamental similarity.
Kosi: On the night of day three, a colorful event of Kosi is held. Here, lighted earthen lamps are kept under a canopy of five sugarcane sticks. The five sticks signify the human body made of Panchatattva (the five great elements - earth, water, fire, air

 
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