Rising Sun and setting Sun, both get importance in the festival of Sun worship – also known as Chhath Puja, which literally means – worshipping the consort of Sun Lord, seeking prosperity and evasion of evil over the family and the beloved. Ask any Bihari woman about the relevance of Surya Shashti or Chhath Puja, and she’ll say – “when misery strikes upon my beloved or my dear ones, the only resort I take to is – vow to do 11 Chhath Pujas consecutively, or rather do Chhath Puja lifelong – if this eclipse of my life clears away – which then DOES clear away and the Sun shines into my ever-lasting happy nest.”
A tough, meticulous and intricately cleanliness-centric ritual, Chhath Puja is the holiest form of rendering, which women offer to the worship of Lord Surya and his consort Usha, lovingly called Chhath Mayya. Women, clad in traditional Indian wear, mostly Saris, take extra care to ensure that the print of their Sari does not consist of even one single black colored print or motif in it. Black is considered totally inauspicious in Chhath Puja, and woman adorn themselves in all the vibrant colors of “Suhagan” shades, and strictly keep away from black, during the four day Chhath Puja, a mega ritual celebrated in northern India, especially Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
As the entire country sizzles towards the five day mega Indian festive carnival called Diwali, women in Bihar begin to welcome their saga of Surya Puja, which begins from the 4th day after Diwali, and culminates after a four-day long utterly rigorous Chhath Puja, on the Surya Shashti day, according to lunar calendar.
The holy river of Ganges, in its banks gets flooded on Chhath Puja grand finale, with women carrying “Supas” – fully decorated with the Puja essentials. The women walk deep into the water, immersing themselves in the holy dip, and offer “Arakh” or “Aragya” to the setting Sun , seeking the Lord and his consort’s blessings, asking for prosperity, sustained happiness, and warding away of all evils and hurdles in the families of the “Vratin” – the lady on fast.
During this period, the worshipper observes ritual purity and sleeps on the floor on a single blanket. The celebrations begin two days before the actual worship when the devotees take a cleansing dip in the water, preferably on the banks of River Ganges, and bring back some water to prepare the offerings. The whole household and surroundings are thoroughly cleaned.
On the next day, a fast is observed by the devotees and is broken only in the evening, a little after sunset, after performing the worship at home. Offerings typically comprise of rice porridge, puris, and bananas that are shared among the family, friends, and relatives. From this moment onwards, till the next day (third day), when actual Chhath Puja is performed, a 36 hour long fast begins.
Much of whole of the third day is spent by the family members in preparing the offerings at home. It’s the women of the household who are indulged in the preparations. A bath before entering the kitchen is also a must for everyone. In the evening, the devotees move towards the river bank, a pond or a common water body to offer prayers and praises and to make offerings to the setting sun. It is at this phase of Chhath Puja that families, friends, and relatives gather together to seek blessings from the worshipper.
It’s also a ritual that the regional folk songs that have passed on from generations are sung by the devotees. These songs reflect the history, culture, and mythology of each state in which the ritual is performed.
On the evening of this day, the colorful event called Kosi takes place, after prayers and offerings have been made to the setting sun. As per Kosi, it is a custom, especially if a marriage or childbirth has took place in a family, to light the earthen lamps placed on five sugarcane sticks, representing five great elements: Earth, Fire, Water, Air, and Ether.
On the fourth and final day of Chhath Puja, the devotees once again move towards the river bank or other water body to offer prayers and make offerings to the rising sun. It is after this that the 36 hour long fast is broken by the devotees by eating the same offerings or Prasad. After this, the Prasad is distributed among the family members and friends, or anyone who asks for it.
Chhath Puja is also incomplete without its special recipes. Thekua, prepared from Whole Wheat Flour (Atta), green Cardamom, Jaggery (Gur), Fennel (saunf) and Ghee – is a long storage delicious sweet-prasad. There is a flavour of holiness and purity in the Thekuas that are prepared during Chhath, and they taste like heaven.