Chhath Puja: The festival of Sun God, cleanliness, equality and fraternity
Apart from being the holy place from where five Sanskrit philosophies evolved and being the birthplace of Yajnavalkya, goddess Sita, Lord Buddha and many other god-like figures, Nepal’s Terai is also recognized as the fertile ground for festivals. A melting pot of different cultures, and traditions, the southern plains of Nepal is now in festive mood to celebrate the grand festival of Chhath.
Wherever you roam around in the streets or the markets, you will hear the loudly played melodious devotional folk songs by popular singers including Sharada Sinha and Kalpana. The festival, which is associated with faith, purity and devotion to the Sun god, has become a Mahaparva (grand festival), observed by married women. It witnesses a complete submission of devotees before the Chhathi Maiya.
So, who is Chhathi Maiya? She is believed to be the consort of Sun God. Vedas mentions Usha, wife of Sun God, as Chhathi Maiya.
The local folks have already arrived home to celebrate the Chhath Puja. They are geared up for cleaning watercourses (i.e., ponds or rivers where Puja is to be performed). The market across the region is flooded with traditional items used in Chhath puja, like earthen lamps, sugarcane, bananas and among other fruits. Along with this, a cleanliness drive is also on in villages, cities and waters.
There is fair corpus of Hindu scriptures mentioning the importance of Chhath. Of them, Ramayana and Mahabharata hold importance.
After returning from a 14-year exile, Lord Rama and Mata Janaki (Sita) observed a fast in the honour of ‘Surya Dev’ (Sun God) and broke it only in the dawn next day. Since then, Chhath Puja became one of the most important festivals among Hindus, celebrated with devotion and dedication every year in the month of Kartik (Shukla Paksha).
In Mahabharata, Karna, son of Surya Dev and Kunti, offered a prayer by standing in waters and distributed Prasad among the devotees, Rishis and others. Yet another story holds a significant space in Hindu texts – Draupadi and Pandavas performed similar worship to defeat and dethrone Kauravas.
The Chhath Puja begins with a vow to remain pure and sublime by not taking onion, garlic, hotel-made foodstuffs, and other non-vegetarian food till the conclusion of the festival. In other words, it’s submission to the God. The devotees, by relinquishing impure foodstuffs (that is, non-vegetarian, and onion and garlic), make a humble submission that they have surrendered themselves before the God for observing Puja and pledged to live under the blessings of the God throughout the life.
This way, the devotees on Wednesday (i.e., October 30, 2019) take a vow not to consume fish and other non-vegetarian food items or any other unholy products during this four-day long festival. It’s called “Machh-maruwa Barnai.”
Day-One: Nahay Khay (October 31, 2019)
In general, it’s believed that Chhathi puja starts from Nahay Khay. But it’s partially true. The Puja commences from “Machh-maruwa Barnai , i.e., a day before “Nahay Khay”, where the devotees and their family members take a pledge to refrain from eating non-vegetarian foods, garlic and onion made food items. On this day, the devotees take food after taking bath and offering prayers to Sun god. The devotees consume foods which are prepared in their own kitchen. It’s considered unholy to consume foods purchased from hotels or market.
Day-Two: Kharna (November 1, 2019)
The devotees take fast till the conclusion of Kharna in the evening. Kheer made up of rice, milk and Gund (Mithha or molasses) and Puri (made from flour) are offered to the God and distributed among the family members.
Day-Three: Saunjh Ka Arghya (often called Pahila Arghya) (November 2, 2019)
This day is considered to be the toughest day for the devotees, mostly women. They observe a rigid fast where they neither take water nor any food item. They take dips in the waters, mostly neighbourhood ponds or rivers in the evening and it goes till the sunset. They offer prayers to Sun God with all the Prasad prepared in their kitchen, like Thakuwa, Bhuswa, Khaja, Mithae and other fruits, including sugarcane and banana. A woman smears vermillion on forehead of another woman at the Ghat (i.e., bank of rivers or waters). It is considered auspicious to do so while extending prayers to the Sun God.
Day-Four: Bhor ka Arghya (November 2, 2019)
The devotees break their fast after offering prayers to the rising Sun. They take dip in waters and offer every Prasad to the Sun god again.
This way, the devotees take fast without consuming waters or other foods for more than 24 hours (beginning from Saunjh ka Arghya to the Bhor Ka Arghya).
There was and is a ritual of offering 70 types of homemade foods and fruits. However, it has some exceptions as well. If a devotee fails to offer all 70 types of food items, s/he has to offer Gamhari rice, which is exclusively cultivated in Terai and northern India, as a substitute for all the other lacking food items.
At this backdrop, a few things about Chhath is worth remembering here. This festival demands clean and green waters. This way, it advocates for a pollution-free atmosphere. Chhath seeks to unite the people in fight against the environmental hazards.
However, the Puja nowhere prescribes for bombarding of crackers or any act which tends to pollute the nature. Crackers are negative impact of modernization on Chhath.
Moreover, it’s the festival which tightens the bonds of equality, fraternity, unity and integrity. Every devotee—elite or middle class—prepares almost similar Prasad and other items to offer to the Almighty. All the devotees without any distinction in caste, colour or economy, arrive at the bank of rivers or ponds for extending prayers. Arguably, this is a festival of equality, fraternity, socialism, nature and cleanliness.
The food items prepared for Prasad or the melodious songs played at the Ghat or streets showcases our culture and implore people revive our cultural, traditional and linguistic legacy. This is also a forum to celebrate our folk music, dance, drama and revive our forgotten and fading cultural legacy of the region.
Published on October 30, 2019