Chhath or Dala Chhath is a Hindu festival, unique to Bihar state, India and Terai, Nepal. This festival is also celebrated in the northeast region of India, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and some parts of Chhattisgarh. Songs for Chhath festival sung by Padma Shri Bihar Kokila Sharda Sinha are very popular.
The word chhath denotes the number 6 in Hindi and the festival begins on the sixth day of the Hindu lunar month of Kartik, which corresponds to months of October-November in the Gregorian calendar. The festival of Chhath begins a week after Diwali. Chhath is the holiest Hindu festival of Bihar and extends to four days. This festival has particular significance in Bihar, but it is also celebrated in Uttar Pradesh and nearby areas. Even in Mumbai, the migrants from the north celebrate Chhath beside the sea beach.
Chhath is a festival dedicated to the Sun God, considered to be a means to thank the sun for bestowing the bounties of life in earth and fulfilling particular wishes. Worship of the sun has been practiced in different parts of India, and the world from time immemorial. Worship of sun has been described in the Rig Veda, the oldest Hindu scriptures, and hymns praying to the sun in the Vedas are found.
In the ancient epic Mahabharata, references to worshipping of the sun by Draupadi, wife of the Pandavas, are found. It was believed that worshipping of the sun would help cure a variety of diseases, including leprosy, and also ensure longevity and prosperity of the family members, friends, and elders. It is also believed that Chhath was started by the great Danveer (alms giver) Karna, sired by the Sun God, who became a great warrior and fought against the Pandavas in the Mahabharata war.
Also called Dala Chhath – it is an ancient and major festival. It is celebrated twice a year: once in the summers (May-July), called the Chaiti Chhath, and once in the winters (September-November)around a week after Deepawali, called the Kartik Chhath. The latter is more popular because winters are the usual festive season in North India, and Chhath being an arduous observance, requiring the worshippers to fast without water for more than 24 hours, is easier to undertake in the Indian winters.
Chhath being mainly a Bihari festival, wherever people from Bihar have migrated, they have taken with them the tradition of Chhath. This 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 main worshipers, called Parvaitin (from Sanskrit parv, meaning ‘occasion’ or ‘festival’), are usually women. However, a large number of men also are the main worshiper. The parvaitin pray for the well-being of their family, for prosperity and offspring. They usually can perform Chhath only if it is passed on to them from their older generation. However, once they decide to do it, it becomes their duty to perform it every year, the festival being skipped only if there happens to be a death in the family that year.
On the eve of Chhath, houses are scrupulously cleaned and so are the surroundings. One the first day of the festival, the worshiper cooks a traditional vegetarian meal and offers it to the Sun God. This day is called Naha-Kha (literally, ‘Bathe and eat’!). The worshiper allows herself/himself only one meal on this day from the preparation.
On the second day, a special ritual, called Kharna, is performed in the evening after Sun down. On this day also, the worshiper eats his/her only meal from the offerings(Prashad)made to the Sun God in this ritual. Friends and family are invited to the household on this day to share the prashad of the ritual. From this day onwards, for the next 36 hours, the worshiper goes on a fast without water.
The evening of the next day, the entire household accompanies the worshiper to a ritual bathing and worship of the Sun God, usually on the bank of a river or a common large water body. The occasion is almost a carnival. Besides the main worshiper, 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 same bathing ritual is repeated on the following day at the crack of dawn. This is when the worshipper breaks his/her fast and finishes the ritual.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.
The folk songs sung on the eve of Chhath mirror the culture, social structure, mythology and history of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Nowadays, modern Chhath songs, largely Bollywood filmy 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 all dedicated to Chhath, they have an underlying unity. The minor nuances of the Chhath rituals, such as in the Kharna ritual, vary from region to region, and also across families, but still there is a fundamental similarity.
The Chhath Festival is basically a major festival of Bihar, but is celebrated with equal devotion in Delhi as well. This festival, which honors the Sun God, is celebrated six days after the festival of Diwali. The Chhath puja celebrations do not include much fanfare, rather, it is a festival of prayer and propitiation that is undertaken with somberness. Through this festival, people express their thanks and seek the blessings of the forces of nature, mainly the Sun and river. It is believed that the prayers of the devotees are always answered during the festival and, at the same time, they are also punished for doing any misdeed.
More than festivities, festival of Chhat Puja in Delhi involves a sacrifice on the part of the devotee, which leads to his purification. For Chath celebrations in New Delhi, several ghats (embankments) are reserved at the river Yamuna in the city. The puja takes place at these ghats only. Performed both by men as well as by women, the puja preparations start with the end of Diwali. Through the period, an austere lifestyle is followed. First of all, the house is cleaned and the family members of the person doing the puja take a holy dip. Throughout the festival of Chhath, the food prepared is saltless and totally vegetarian, without even onions and garlic. Even the vessels used are mostly earthen and people sleep on the floor.
The person who performs the Chath puja observes a fast from dawn to the dusk and ends by eating sweets. Thereafter, another fast is observed that continues for thirty-six hours and ends on the dawn of the final day. On the final day, the puja starts at the bank of a river some time before sunrise. People who perform the puja remain in river water from late midnight till the time the first ray of sunlight touches the earth. From that time onwards, devotees start flooding the river with offerings to the Sun God. This is followed by the distribution of the prashad amongst the devotees.
Chhatt is celebrated in Bihar and Jharkhand and where ever people from those regions have migrated to.
THE COLOURFUL FESTIVAL:
There are many festivals that are celebrated by the Hindus of Bihar and Jharkhand. The Hindu festival of Chhatt is unique to that region. Chhatt is dedicated to the worship of the Sun God and therefore, is also known as Surya Shashti. Chhatt is celebrated as thanks to the Sun for providing the necessities of life on earth, and also for fulfilling particular wishes.
The word Chhatt denotes the number six and thus the festival begins on the sixth day of the Hindu month of Kartik in the Hindu lunar calendar, which falls in late October and November.
It is commonly believed that the wishes of the devotees are always granted. Also, the devotees dread the punishment for any misdeed during Chhatt. Therefore, the city remains safe and experiences peace during this time when even criminals prefer to behave.
The Days Of Festivity:
The festival of Chhatt is marked by celebrations and rituals that last 4 days.
The devotees bathe in the holy river Ganges to wash away their sins. They also clean their homes thoroughly.
The devotees observe a fast for the whole day, which is broken in late evening, after performing the puja (worship ceremony) at home. They offer kheer (rice pudding) and fruit to God and then share it with family and friends.
The day is spent preparing the prasad (offerings) at home. In the evening the devotees go to a riverbank or pond where the prasad is offered to the setting sun. The devotees return home for another colorful celebration. Under a canopy of sugar cane sticks, they place clay elephants containing diyas (earthen lamps), and baskets filled with prasad. Agni(fire god)is worshipped.
On the final day of the festivities the devotees, family and friends go to the riverbank. Prasad is offered to the rising sun. The devotees break their fast and the prasad is shared with all the people around.
The Festivities And The Rituals:
Chhatt is a very joyous and colorful festival. All the people dress up in their best clothes. Devotional folk songs are sung both at home and on the riverbank. Millions of people gather at the banks of river Ganges in Patna (Capital of Bihar) to celebrate Chhatt. The streets are kept spotlessly clean by volunteers, who also decorate all the streets leading to the river.
The prasad includes sweets and fruit kept in small baskets made of bamboo.
The food is strictly vegetarian and it is cooked without salt, onions or garlic. Emphasis on put on maintaining the purity of the food.
Once a family start performing Chhatt Puja, it is continued annually by the following generations. If unable to perform the puja themselves for personal reasons, it is recommended that one should assist some one else who is performing the puja by providing funds or the prasad instead of completely missing the puja.
The Places Of Activity:
The sun temples in Aurangabad and Baragaon near Nalanda, actively celebrate Chhatt. During the festival time it is very crowded. All the devotees go to the banks of the river to offer their prayers to the Sun god.
Over the years people from both Bihar and Jharkhand have moved to other states and even to other countries for education or career. With them they have taken along the festival of Chhatt so it is now celebrated in many other places.
The splendour of Chhatt is some thing to experience and enjoy. There are beautiful folk songs sung for Chhatt. It is a shame that most of them are passed down in families but are not recorded for others to hear and enjoy.
Recently a few well known singers have tried to recreate the folk songs. A few examples can be found in the section ‘Chhatt Geet’. Hope you enjoy listening to them and will go out and buy the cd or tape from a reputable dealer.
Bihar celebrates Chhat festival
Patna: Large numbers of people thronged the banks of the Ganga for the annual festival of “Chhat Puja” or worship of sun god, which came to an end in Bihar on Friday. The festival is especially significant for married women who observe a two-day fast and offer prayers standing waist-deep in water for at least two hours and offer fruits and flowers to Surya, the Sun God. People go to bathing ghats on river banks and pay obeisance to both the rising and the setting sun during the festival which is celebrated on the sixth and seventh days from Diwali. Traditional music is also an integral part of this festival.
Preparations for this festival start a month ahead. The large numbers of devouts created a nightmare for the local officials who regulated movement of devouts along the river bank as a precautionary step to avoid any untoward incident. In 1995, at least 78 people had died when one such boat capsized during the festival.