Festival of the month: Chhath Puja

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Each year after Diwali, for four days, many celebrate the Chhath Festival by performing a series of rites which end in a gathering with water rituals, music and mingling.

Chhath Puja is one of the biggest festivals in Bihar, and parts of Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and various Hindu communities in Nepal also celebrate it. Bhagalpur in Bihar draws thousands of devotees to the Barari Ghat by the River Ganga.

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What is Chhath Puja?

 

Observance of the festival often includes holy bathing, fasting, standing in water and prayer offerings.
Observance of the festival often includes holy bathing, fasting, standing in water and prayer offerings.
Image courtesy: ©Mukesh Srivastava/Lonely Planet

The festival is dedicated to the Sun God Surya and spans four days. People descend to the ghats by holy rivers and offer prayers to thank the sun for sustaining life on earth. Chhathi Maiya or Usha, Surya’s consort, is also worshipped. Morning and evening offerings, dips in rivers, days of fasting, and prasad are all part of the festival, to seek Lord Surya’s blessings for prosperity.

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At sunset on the sixth day following Diwali, married women who have fasted for 36 hours then immerse themselves in water and make offerings of fruits and flower to Surya.

On the final day, worshippers visit the riverbanks at sunrise for a morning offering called Usha Arghya. Prayers are offered to the rising sun, after which the fast is broken.

Apart from the rituals, festivities are in full swing. Homes and surroundings are cleaned, new clothes are worn and people sing folk songs. After evening prayers on the ghats, people light diyas and lamps in their homes, under a shade of sugarcane.