SHSH`THii puujaa TO
NEW DELHI, INDIA, October 31, 2003, kaartik maas, suD 6th: (From
Hinduism Today) :
The Chhath Puja started on October 31, 2003. It is an agrarian religious
festival that migrants from Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh have taken with
them -- some praying to the rising sun on the banks of the River Yamuna in
Delhi, others decked in traditional vermillion-bordered yellow saris,
conducting the puja on the banks of the Hudson River in New York. Chhath
derives its name from the day it is held, i.e., the sixth day after Diwali
according to the lunar calendar. It is popular in Nepal, also. People worship
the Sun at an important period after the monsoons when the sunlight is needed
to dry the ground so that the next crop of wheat can be planted. In fact,
freshly cut sugarcane figures in the offerings made to the Sun; devotees will
begin to enjoy their first sugarcane only after the puja finishes. Thus,
Chhath is a type of thanksgiving for agricultural Bihar. The distinctive
prasad (blessed food) during Chhath is thekua -- a mix of wheat, jaggery and
milk which is deep-fried in ghee (clarified butter).
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An agrarian prayer for prosperity
This morning, lakhs of devotees would be worshipping the rising sun as the
culmination of Chhath Puja. It is a religious festival that migrants of Bihar
and eastern Uttar Pradesh have taken with them — thousands will be praying at
the banks of the Yamuna in Delhi this week. There are even Bihari women in
America who, decked in traditional vermillion-bordered yellow saris, will be
conducting the puja on the banks of New York’s Hudson River!
Chhath derives its name from the day it is held, i.e., the sixth day after
Diwali according to the lunar calendar. Diwali is an amavasya (moonless night),
and Chhath is calculated accordingly.
Though Sun worship is not an integral part of Hinduism anymore, having died out
in the early Vedic period, the origins of Chhath might be likened to a revival
of Sun worship in Bihar. This came about when some Brahmins from Rajasthan
travelled across the country, reintroducing the practice (the construction of
the Sun Temple in Konark, Orissa, is linked to the influence). That Chhath has
remained confined to the main Gangetic plains of eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar
is not surprising, considering that most major festivals in India have
geographic boundaries (such as Durga Puja in Bengal).
Chhath is an agrarian festival. People worship the Sun at an important period
after the monsoons (and before the winter), when the sunlight is needed to dry
the ground, so that the next crop of wheat can be planted. In fact, freshly cut
sugarcane figures in the offerings made to the Sun; devotees will begin to enjoy
their first sugarcane only after the puja finishes. Thus, Chhath is a type of
thanksgiving for agricultural Bihar. The distinctive prasad during Chhath is
thekua — a mix of wheat, jaggery and milk which is deep-fried in ghee, further
underlining the agrarian character of this festival.
Chhath is officially a three-day affair, beginning on the fourth day after
Diwali, though now it is de rigeur to start on the third day itself. As it is,
the week that begins with Diwali is a culturally active week — you have bhaiya
dooj on the second day, which in some parts is combined with a kalam-dawat
It stretches over so many days because the devotees go through increasing stages
of ritual purity. In earlier times, only the well-to-do could afford to do the
puja; now it is decidedly democratic. Food is not just vegetarian, but even
onions and garlic are shunned; new utensils are purchased and cooking is done on
wood. Not just the people doing the actual puja, but their families and friends
also enter this mode of purity.
The worship takes place at the local river, since the ‘holy dip’, as in other
parts of India, is an integral part of ritual purification. Nowadays, however,
the worship in Bihar provides an extraordinary sight: whether people arrive by
buses, trucks, rickshaws, cycles, or by foot, they all merge into one mass at
the riverbed. Brahmins, Thakurs, Yadavs, Kurmis, or any caste, it all becomes
meaningless as devotees worship cheek-by-jowl, and even share their offerings.
In fact, engineering and medical colleges in Bihar set up pandals to distribute
prasad, and no one asks about the caste composition in these institutions.
The worship itself is not text-linked (remember, Sun worship died out in the
early Vedic period). It is a sort of meditative activity that peaks on the fifth
day’s sunset and the sixth day’s sunrise. Basically, the devotee does a namaskar
to the sun as it sets and rises around the critical Chhath night.
Several myths have become associated with Chhath — that you should do it at
least two years in a row, and that your material wishes will be fulfilled. My
mother, who visits India to do Chhath every year, brings along a long wish-list
from all her fellow Bihari-Americans who can’t make it, underlining the
changeless nature of faith.