Chhath is a unique festival celebrated by natives of Mithila region of Nepal and India. Chhath puja is performed on kartika Shukala Shashti, which is the sixth day of the month of Kartika in the Hindu Calendar. This falls typically in the month of October or November in the Gregorian calendar. It is the only Vedic Festival dedicated to 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 festival to promote well-being, prosperity and progress. In Hinduism, 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.
Day 1: Nahay khay
Nahay khay means bath and eat. This is the first day of Chhath Puja. People take a dip, preferably in the holy river near to their residence and bring home Holy water of the river to prepare the offerings. The house and surroundings are fully cleaned. The devotees eat only one meal on this day.
Day 2: Kharna or Lohanda
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 Kheer (rice pudding), Bananas and Puris are distributed. There is a tradition to observe fasting for next 36 hours even without water.
Day 3: Chhath
The day is spent preparing the prasad (offerings) at home. In the evening whole family accompanies the devotee to a riverbank, lake or a common large water body to make the offerings (Aragh) to the setting sun. In Kathmandu, Rani Pokhari is opened for Argha that day. In Janakpur, Argha is offered in Ganga Sagar.
The devotees offer prayers to the setting sun. This is very important part of Chat Puja. In the evening people gather together and perform cultural programs with music and dances. The folk songs sung on the evening of Chhath reflect the culture, social structure, mythology and history of Mithila Pradesh and its vicinity. People sing songs in Maithili, Magadhi, and the Bhojpuri, the three main languages spoken in Terai and Madhesh region of Nepal. There are minor distinctions in celebration and puja performance among the regions and across families, but basically all celebrate the same festival with same enthusiasm and charm.
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 and ether). This is a symbolic ritual in Chhath Puja, performed especially in those families where marriage or childbirth has taken place recently. The lighted lamps signify the solar energy sustaining the human being.
Day 4: Paarun
Bihaniya Aragh is fourth and final day of Chhatt Pooja. Bihaniya Argha means Morning Offering. On Saptami, the final day of Chhath Puja, the devotees, along with their family and friends, go to the riverbank again before sunrise. They make the offerings (Aragh) to the rising sun. The festival ends with the breaking of the fast by the devotee of Chhatt parba. Prasad is distributed and gatherings of family and friends end the celebration.
This festival is considered as a symbol of cleanliness, devotion and cordial relationship and goodwill among people. According to history, the celebration is believed to have begun from the time of Dwapar Yuga (era), when the five Pandavs, while in exile in the forest, had worshipped the sun, asking for victory in the Mahabharat war. This is the only holy festival which has no involvement of any pandit (priest). 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. But when it is celebrated there is joy and happiness all around.
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