Where the world thanks the rising sun for a new day, Bihari’s worship the setting sun for a new hope because they say that the darkness deserves importance to make us realise the value of brightness. Chhath is not just a festival but more bigger and brighter than that, maybe that’s why Biharis call it ‘Mahaparv’ not just ‘Parv’. This festival clocks twice every year once in Chaitra (March-April) and another in Kartika (October-November).
Chhath is an ancient Hindu festival historically native to the Indian subcontinent, specifically to the states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, and the southern parts of Nepal. It is celebrated six days after Diwali and the rituals are observed over four days. Prayers during Chhath puja are dedicated to the solar deity, Surya, to show gratitude and thankfulness for bestowing the bounties of life on earth and to request the granting of certain wishes. Chhathi Maiya (Shashthi Devi), the mother goddess and Sun’s sister, is worshipped as the Goddess of the festival. According to Vedic astrology, this devi protects the offspring and provides longevity to them.
This four-day long festival includes holy bathing, fasting and abstaining from drinking water (vrata), standing in water, and offering prasad (prayer offerings) and arghya to the setting and rising sun. Some devotees also perform a prostration march as they head for the river banks. Interestingly, Chhath Puja is not idolatry in nature and many environmentalists consider it as a very eco-friendly way of celebrating the elements of Nature (derived from age-old Pagan worship).
Chhath has also been mentioned in both the major Indian epics – In Ramayana, when Rama and Sita returned to Ayodhya, then people celebrated Diwali, and on its sixth day Ramrajya was established. On this day Rama and Sita kept fast and Surya Shashthi/Chhath Puja was performed by Sita. Hence, she was blessed with Luv and Kush as their sons. While in the Mahabharata, Chhath Puja was performed by Kunti after they escaped from Lakshagrih. The worshipers are mostly women, but men can also worship.
The pure and holy days of Chhath start with Nahaye Khaye (Day 1), then Rasiaav-Roti/Kharna/Lohanda (Day 2), followed by Sandhya Arghya (Day 3) and finally the Usha Arghya (Day 4). The prasad offerings include sweets, Kheer, Thekua and fruits (mainly sugarcane, sweet lime and banana) offered in small bamboo soop winnows. The food is strictly vegetarian and is cooked without salt, onions or garlic. Emphasis is put on maintaining the purity of the food, increasing the piousness of this Bihar’s holy festival.