When I was posted in Bihar, I came across the massive scale and graceful style of this festival. But when I came back to Mumbai, I was more surprised to see the same scale and fervour here too.
There was overcrowding of people with seas of emotions at almost all beaches. Now-a-days, to avoid overcrowding, particularly during the covid period, people have started performing rituals at home too.
I’m talking about Chhath, the 4-day festival of public faith and reverence, which is celebrated on the sixth day of Kartik Shukla Paksha, and hence its name. Today was the last day of this festival, dedicated to the Lord Sun, responsible for life, light and warmth.
Chhath is the biggest festival of the people of Bihar, Jharkhand, eastern UP and southern parts of Nepal. Gradually it has spread to other parts as well with their migration.
The rituals are rigorous, and observed over a period of 4 days mostly by women. On the first day known as Nahay Khay, Vratis (fasting person) have a satvik (sacred) meal only once.
The second day is called Kharna. After observing day long fast, Vratis take rice pudding made with jaggery in the evening. Thereafter Nirjala (without water) fasting starts for the next 36 hours.
On the third day, shortly before sunset, Vratis go inside pond, river or seabeach, carrying Daura (bamboo basket) of Prasad (prasadam) for Arghya (offering) to the setting Sun.
On the fourth day in the morning, they go for Arghya again to the rising Sun in the morning. Then Vratis break their fast and the festival comes to an end with distribution of Prasad.
There is no discrimination against any class of devotees during the festival. Rich and poor, Dalit and Brahmin, officer and peon can stand side by side in water while worshipping the Lord Sun, for whom all are equal.
Chhath is a unique festival, where there is no idol, no temple, no priest, no scripture, no mantra, and no havan. Devotees worship the God Sun directly.
When the sun’s rays descend on the Daura in the lap of the fasting woman, standing knee-deep in water, smearing vermilion from her nose to her forehead, it seems as if the Lord Sun himself has come down to play in her lap as a child with the nature’s bounty.
Motherhood is the most gorgeous and splendid form of a woman. This must have been the form of a woman in the mind of our forefathers, who called this earth “Bharat Mata” or “Mother India”.
As per Indian culture, the rising sun is worshipped by offering water, except during Chhath festival, when the setting sun is also worshipped.
The setting sun represents history, and any civilization survives only when it honours its history, worships its warriors and remembers all the invasions and conspiracies against it in the past.
The rising sun represents the future, and for any civilization to be successful, it is necessary that it should beautify its future with faith and devotion. Today’s generation is lagging behind in this respect, but I’m sure, they will realise its relevance and importance soon.