Celebrated primarily in the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and the Madhesh region of Nepal. Chhath is an ancient Vedic festival, historically native to the Indian subcontinent and Chhath Puja, which is central to the celebration of this festival is dedicated in honour of the solar deity, Surya and his sister Shashti Devi (Chhathi Maiya), in order to get their blessing and to thank them for bestowing all the fortunes of life. This is the only festival that is dedicated to Lord Surya, who is considered to be the source of all power.
In Nepali and Hindi languages, Chhath means six, implying that this festival is celebrated on the sixth day in the month of Kartika. On this day, devotees offer prayers to the God of light, as he is considered the life force that binds the universe and gives energy to all living things. Devotees perform rituals and prayers that span over a period of 4 days. Fasting is the most significant part of the festival and the people who observe a fast on this day are referred to as ‘Vrati’.
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This year Chhath Puja is being celebrated on Friday, November 20.
Legend dictates that Chhath Puja has been performed since the Early Vedic Period and sages from this era used to perform the prayers by exposing themselves to direct sunlight to get energy and life force from the rays of the sun, after having maintained a fast. This ritual is still carried out by various people in their own prayers.
Another legend believes that in ancient times, Draupadi and the Pandavas used to celebrate Chhath in order to solve their problems and gain back their lost kingdom. Yet another legend believes that Chhath Puja was first performed by Karna, the offspring of Lord Surya and Kunti. Karna was the ruler of Anga Desh, which is present day Bhagalpur in Bihar.
This festival is one of the few Hindu celebrations where there is no idolatry involved. It is dedicated solely to the worship of Shashti Mata and the Sun God Surya, along with his consorts Usha and Pratyusha, the Vedic Goddesses of Dawn and Dusk respectively. It is believed that the true source of the Surya are his wives, Usha and Pratyusha.
Chhath is considered as the most environmentally friendly festival as in its essence it is the worship of elements in nature and is often used to spread the message of nature conservation. Even more so, Chhath is one of the very few Hindu festivals that transcends the rigid restrictions of the caste system, which emerged for the post-Vedic period. It touched upon the ideas of equality, fraternity, unity and integrity. Each devotee, regardless of their class or caste, prepares the same offering for the Sun God and arrives at the banks of the rivers and ponds for extending prayers.
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