Chhath Puja – the desi Thanksgiving! With inputs from Puja

Puja celebrating Chhath

To me, for a long time, Chhath was a religious festival largely celebrated in Bihar, they worshipped Sun, had something to do with river, as I would see a lot of people walking to Yamuna on those days. I didn’t know much about Chhath or didn’t bother to find out till Puja joined my team and came to office after the Diwali break with so many goodies – Thekua and sweets – prashad from Chhath Puja. Every year, since then, she would go home for Chhath and come back with delicious Thekua that her mother made at home for the Puja. Missing it this year as Puja has decided to extend her stay in Patna due to her impending wedding. Happy occasion indeed!   

Puja’s mom in a traditional attire performing Chhath Puja

Chhath Puja is a festival that falls in the fag-end of the Indian month of Kartik (late October/early November), after Durga Puja and Diwali.   Since it commences on the 4th day of Shukal Paksh and culminates on the 6th day of Shukal Paksh it is called Chhath Puja. Surya Dev or Sun God is worshipped for granting the gift of life to us on earth. Unlike Durga Puja and Diwali, this festival does not involve idolatry and is dedicated to the worship the Chhathi Maiya (Shashthi Mata) and sun God Surya along with his wives Usha and Pratyusha, the Vedic Goddess of Dawn and Dusk, respectively. It is believed that the main sources of Sun’s power are his consorts Usha and Pratyusha. Therefore, during Chhath, both his wives are worshipped along with Sun. In the morning, we worship the first ray of Sun, Usha, and in the evening the last ray of Sun, Pratyusha. This is the only festival where the sister of Sun, Chhathi Maiya, is worshipped and offered an Arghya or Prashad.

The festival is largely celebrated in Bihar, Jharkhand, UP and Madhesh region of Nepal, and of course now, owing to globalization, the residents of these states scattered all over the world celebrate Chhath. Celebrating the power of Sun, or oneness with nature, this is considered to be one of the most eco-friendly festivals. If we were to truly embrace the spirit of festivals like Chhath, most of our environmental woes would probably be addressed and the pollution wouldn’t be choking us every year.

The festival doesn’t distinguish between caste and class. Every devotee, rich or poor, offer the same Prashad to Sun God and follow the same rituals. A reminder that Nature or higher power doesn’t distinguish basis our birth or social status. Though a gender neutral festival it is largely celebrated by women and the rituals are to be strictly adhered to

The four-day festival, that comes six days after Diwali, starts with Nahaye Khaye (first day) when every member of the family along with the pavnitan (the one who performs this puja or devotees) have their food after taking bath.

Kharna (Second Day), is the second day of Chhath Puja. Kharna means fast the whole day, and on this day the devotees don’t drink even a single drop of water. In the evening, they can eat gur ki kheer (jaggery kheer), fruits and chapati loaded with ghee.

Sandhya Arghya (Third Day) falls on Kartik Shukla Shashthi and an Arghya is offered to Sun god on this day. Devotees stand in the river/ pond or a water body to offer Arghya to the setting Sun after fasting through the day.

Usha Arghya (Fourth Day) – On the last day of Chhath puja, in the morning, an Arghya is offered to the rising Sun. After the worship, devotees drink sharbat and raw milk, and eat a little prashad to break the fast, traditionally termed as Paran or Parana.

Thekua being fried on a traditional chulha at Puja’s place

Thekua and Kheer made of rice and jaggary are the main prashad of this festival. Delicious Thekua is made out of wheat flour, chasni (melted sugar) and ghee. Jaggery can sometimes be used as an alternative to sugar. Dough is prepared using these four main ingredients and cardamom can be added to enhance the flavour. The oval shaped dough is then deep fried in ghee or vegetable oil till it turns reddish brown. It is soft when hot but hardens after it cools. It is absolutely preservative free and lasts for days.

Chhath is a post-harvest festival and is celebrated after many agricultural produces like wheat, rice, sugarcane and so many fruits and vegetables, have been reaped. Devotees offer all these to Sun God, as according to them, without the benevolent rays of Sun cultivation and harvesting would not be possible. Hence, it is our very own thanksgiving festival, thanking the all mighty Sun God for bestowing and nurturing life!

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