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Chhath is an ancient Hindu 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 fesival 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. They include holy bathing, fasting and abstaining from drinking water (Vratta), standing in water for long periods of time, and offering prashad (prayer offerings) and aragh to the setting and rising sun.

It is observed most elaborately in Bihar, Jharkhand and the Terai regions of Nepal in modern times, and is more prevalent in areas where migrants from those areas have a presence, it is celebrated in all regions and major urban centers in India.
It is believed that the Maga Purohits (modern days known as Shakya Dwipi Brahmins) were invited by local kings for their expertise in Sun worshiping. They started the tradition of Chhat Puja. Today Chhat Puja is celebrated specially in those places where Shakya Dwipi Brahmins are found.

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. The word chhath denotes the number 6 in Hindi.

It is also celebrated in the summer (March–April), on Chaitra Shashti, some days after Holi; this event is called Chaiti Chhath. The former is more popular because winter is the usual festive season in North India, and Chhath, being an arduous observance, requiring the worshipers to fast without water for around 36 hours continuously, is easier to undertake in the Indian winters.

The prayer to "Sun-God" is a historical phenomenon in whole country. The famous temples of "Sun-God" in Multan, Kashmir, Chittod, Moghera  & Konark are the evidence of the same. 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 Mahābhārata in which Draupadi is depicted as observing similar rites.

In the poem, Draupadi and the Pandavas, rulers of Hastinapur (modern Delhi), performed the Chhath ritual on the advice of noble sage Dhaumya. Through her worship of the Sun God, Draupadi was not only able to solve her immediate problems, but also helped the Pandavas later regain their lost kingdom.

It is also believed that Chhath was started by great warrior Karna, the son of Surya Putra Karna who ruled over the Anga Desh (present day Munger district of Bihar) during the Mahabharat Age and fought against the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra War.

Its yogic/scientific history dates back to the Vedic times. The rishis of yore used this method to remain without any external intake of food as they were able to obtain energy directly from the sun's rays. This was done through the Chhath method.The chhat puja is very popular in Dehri-On-Sone (Rohtas), Patna, Dev & Gaya. Now a day it is celebrated in approximately all parts of India.

Chhath is a ritual bathing festival that follows a period of abstinence and ritual segregation of the worshiper from the main household for four days. During this period, the worshiper observes ritual purity, and sleeps on the floor on a single blanket. The devotees offer their prayers to the setting sun, and then the rising sun in celebrating its glory as the cycle of birth starts with death. It is seen as the most glorious form of Sun worship.

Bihar has a number of Sun temples, flanked by a surajkund or sacred pool of the Sun, forming a popular venue for the celebration of this festival.Patna, Bhagalpur, Munger, Haveli Kharagpur   (Banahara) ,Samastipur, Dumka, Sahibganj, Dev, Gaya, Ranchi, Rampurhat are known popular for chhath puja.
The main worshipers, called Parvaitin (from Sanskrit parv, meaning 'occasion' or 'festival'), are usually women. However, a large number of men also observe this festival. The Parvaitin pray for the well-being of their family, for prosperity and for offspring. 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.

The prasad offerings include sweets (Thekua) and fruit offered in small bamboo winnows. The food is strictly vegetarian and it is cooked without salt, onions or garlic. Emphasis is put on maintaining the purity of the food.

On the first day of Chhath Puja, the devotees take a dip, preferably in the holy river Ganges, and carry home the holy water of the river Ganges to prepare the offerings. The house and surroundings are scrupulously cleaned. The parvaitin allows themselves only one meal on this day.It is also known as " kaddu-bhat" in some region.Generally Parvaitin eat kaddu, channa dal, and arwa chawal (non-boiled rice). Traditionally the food is cooked on soil stove & mango wood is used a fuel. Only bronze or soil utensils are used to prepare the food. But now days steel utensils are also used in preparation of food.

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 Rasiao-kheer (rice delicacy), puris (deep-fried puffs of wheat flour) and bananas, are distributed among family and friends. From this day onwards, for the next 36 hours, the Parvaitin goes on a fast without water.

The traditional way of preparation of Kheer for Parvaitin is without sugar. Only Jaggery is used in preparation of prasad for other family members & friends. The prasad is prepared by the Parvaitin itself in the bronze or soil utensils only. While eating the prasad by Parvaitin if any unwanted thing like small stone etc comes into the mouth immediately they have to stop eating without making any complain.

Sanjhiya Arghya (evening offerings): The day is spent in preparing the prasad (offerings) at home. On the eve of this day, the entire household accompanies the Parvaitins to a riverbank, pond or a common large water body to make the offerings (Aragh) to the setting sun. It is during this phase of Chhath Puja that the devotees offer prayers to the just setting sun. Traditionally during the aragh the Parvaitin should wear the single saree colored with turmeric. But now a days printed & colored sarees are also in use.

The occasion is almost a carnival. Besides the Parvaitin, there are friends and family, and numerous participants and onlookers, all willing to help and receive the blessings of the worshipper. Ritual rendition of regional folk songs, carried on through oral transmission from mothers and mothers-in-law to daughters and daughters-in-law, are sung on this occasion.

The folk songs sung on the evening of Chhath reflect the culture, social structure, mythology and history of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Nowadays, modern Chhath songs, largely Bollywood film remixes, have caught on, but the old tradition still goes strong with a great degree of sanctity. The three main linguistic regions of Bihar (the Maithili, the Magadhi, and the Bhojpuri), and all the various dialects associated with these, have different folk songs; but have an underlying unity in their dedicated to Chhath. The minor nuances of the Chhath rituals, such as in the Kharna ritual, vary from region to region and across families, but still there is a fundamental similarity.

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 Pancha-tattva (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. People perform this ritual at home, during late evening on day three after making the offering to the just setting sun. After that, it is done at the banks of the river on day four before making the offerings to the rising sun.

Bihaniya Aragh (next morning offerings): On the final day of Chhath Puja, the devotees, along with family and friends, go to the riverbank before sunrise, in order to make the offerings (Aragh) to the rising sun. The festival ends with the breaking of the fast by the Parvaitin and friends visiting the houses of the devotees to receive the prashad. The Chhath has so much importance that even millionaire begs for prasad at the Chhath ghat. This symbolizes that all persons are beggar in front of the Almighty. Witnessing Chhath being celebrated at the crack of the dawn on a river bank is a beautiful, elating spiritual experience connecting the modern Indian to his ancient cultural roots. After aragh Goddess Mother Ganga is worshipped.

Only sunrise and sunset are the periods during which the majority of humans can safely obtain the solar energy directly from the Sun. That is why, in Chhath puja, there is a tradition of offering Arghya to the Sun in late evening and in early morning. During these phases (one hour window after sunrise and before sunset), the ultraviolet radiation levels remain in safe limits.

Source: Internet 

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