Chhath puja is an ancient Hindu Vedic festival dedicated to the Hindu Sun God, Surya and Chhathi Maiya. The Sun, considered as the god of energy and of the life-force, is worshiped during the Chhath festival in order to thank Surya for sustaining life on earth and to promote well-being, prosperity and progress.
The festival’s origin could perhaps be traced to the Harappan Civilisation and to the matriarchal/matrilineal days of pre-historic India. This fascinating four-day festival is among the few all-women ceremonies that is still in practice today, which is conducted by the womenfolks of a family, without the supervision of a male priest.
It is believed that the ritual of Chhath puja may even predate the ancient Vedas texts, as the Rigveda contains hymns worshiping the Sun god and describes similar rituals. The rituals also find reference in the Sanskrit epic poem Mahabhrata in which Draupadi is depicted as observing similar rites.
It is said that in the times of the Mahabharata, Chhath Puja was performed by Draupdi, the wife of Pandava Kings. Once during the long exile from their kingdom, thousands of wandering hermits visited their hut. Being devout Hindus, the Pandavas were obliged to feed the monks. But as exiles, the Pandavas were not in a position to offer food to so many hungry hermits. Seeking a quick solution, Draupadi approached Saint Dhaumya, who advised her to worship Surya and observe the rituals of the Chhath for prosperity and abundance.
The Goddess who is worshipped during the famous Chhath Puja is known as Chhathi Maiya. Chhathi Maiya is known as Usha in the Vedas. Usha is the term used to refer to dawn ─ the first light of day. It is said ─ Usha and Pratyusha, wives of Sun are the main source of Sun. Both Usha and Pratyusha are worshiped along with Sun in chhath parva. Usha (literally, the first morning sun-ray) is worshipped on the last day and Pratyusha (literally, the last sun-ray of day) is worshipped in the evening by offering water or milk to the rising and setting sun respectively. This is the only parva which signifies rising sun as well as setting sun.
With the rituals actually spanning over four days, Chhath is also considered one of the most difficult festivals. The rituals of the festival are rigorous and are observed over a period of four days. They include holy bathing, fasting and abstaining from drinking water, standing in water for long periods of time, and offering prasad and arghya to the setting and rising sun. The offerings made to the Sun God include the new harvest. The food consumed during this period includes these freshly cultivated fruits, vegetables and grains.
The significance of Chhath can be understood from the fact that, every town and most villages in both Bihar and Jharkhand have a pond dedicated to the festival of Chhath known as Chhath Talab.
Wishing you a very happy Chhath Puja. Jai Ho Chhathi Maiyya Ki!