Following Diwali, Hindus celebrate one of their oldest festivities, the Chhath Puja.

Shortly after Diwali, the festival of lights, Hindus celebrate what is considered to be one of the oldest or most ancient festivities dating back to the early days of the religion, the Chhath Puja. Chhath translates to “sixth” representing the sixth fortnight of the Hindu month of Kartik. It also happens six days after the festival of lights. In 2016, the four-day celebration will last from November 4 to 7. Chhath Puja is a huge celebration in the Bihar and Jharkhand regions of India including neighboring Nepal. Other states that observe the festivity include Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

Religious significance

Chhath Puja is celebrated in honor of the Hindu Sun God Surya. The Sun God is believed to be one of the most powerful deities, sustaining life on earth. Aside from bringing light and the source of energy, Surya is also believed to grant wishes especially if traditional pujas or rituals are performed. During the fourth or last day of the festival, the arghya or offerings are made during sunrise of people hoping for peace, prosperity and a bountiful harvest. The offerings made on the sunset the day before is meant for thanking or showing appreciation for the blessings granted by the deity.

Legends linked with the festivity

In Hindu mythology, there are stories often linked with the Chhath Puja, such as the legend of Draupadi and Karna.

Draupadi is the wife of the Pandava Kings who were exiled and had lost their kingdom. It is said that because she was a loyal devotee of Surya and religiously performed the Chhath Puja, she was given the ability to heal even the worst kinds of diseases.

Karna is the son of Surya and because of his devotion to his deity father and because of his performance of Chhath Puja rituals, he gained supreme powers and became a mighty warrior.

The four days of the Chhath Puja

The festivity is observed for four days, and each day has its own name and set of activities. Traditionally, women are the main participants and observers of the pujas or rituals.

Day 1: Nahai Khai

“Nahai” is to bathe and “Khai” is to eat.  On the first day of the festivity, devotees go to bodies of water particularly in rivers to take a bath symbolizing the purification of their bodies from sins. After bathing, women will fill and bring home vessels with water from the river. The water shall be used for cooking during the festivity. The rest of the family members feast on the prepared meals after the vratti or devotee finishes her meal.

Day 2: Lohanda and Kharna

Day two commences a 36-hour strict fasting of the vratti or devotee. It’s a strict no food and no water fasting that will last until the sun goes down. Devotees also prepare delicacy offerings to the Sun God and the rest shall be shared by all when evening comes.

Day 3: Sandhya Arghya

Aside from the fasting of the vratti, there’s also a special offering ritual or puja made on sunset or evening called the Sandhya Arghya. The ritual involved dipping in the river or any body of water while the sun sets coupled with folk sinking. Food offerings are placed in diyas or small bamboo trays and are placed to float in the water.

Day 4: Usha Arghya

On the final day of the festivity, the arghya or ritual offering is made during sunrise. At the end of daylight, it also marks the end of the fasting of the vratti. Breaking the fast, the vratti often tastes ginger with sugar and a sip of water first.

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