Chhath Puja is a 4-day festival, celebrated from the sixth day of Kartik month, as per the Hindu calendar. The word “Chhath” means “Six” and hence the name Chhath puja.
This festival is mainly celebrated in Bihar, but nowadays it is also celebrated in many other states like Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra with almost the same spirit.
The four days of Chhath Puja:
First Day – Nahai Khai (Naha Khay or Bathe-and-eat): On the first day of the festival the devotees (vratti) take a holy bath in a water body, especially in the River Ganges. They bring holy water of River Ganga to home which is used to cook the Prasad. Prasad is a food offering to the God, which include pumpkin, bottle gourd and mung-chana daal. Every house and nearby compounds are thoroughly cleaned on this day. The devotees (Vrattis) take meal only once on this day. The meal is prepared very neatly and when it is ready, the Vrattis eat first and then distribute among members of the family.
Second Day – Lohanda and Kharna: On the second day, the Vrattis observe fast for the whole day. They do not take any food or water till sunset. They spend the whole day for preparing for the festival, and shopping the puja essentials like sugarcane, fruits etc. In the evening, they prepare special Prasad called Rasiao-kheer (a sweet dish made of jiggery, rice and milk) and chapattis. With this Prasad and other items like banana, radish, green ginger, bettle leaves, etc., the Vrattis worship Chhathi Maiya and offer the Prasad. After completing the puja, the Vrattis break their fast by eating the Prasad and then distribute among family and friends. On the mid night of Kharna a special Prasad called thekua is prepared for Chhathi Maiya.
Third Day – Sandhya Arghya (evening offerings) – Sanjhiya Ghat: The celebration of the third day of Chhath Puja is divided into two important parts, based on the rituals.
Sandhya Arghya: Sandhya Arghya literally means evening offering. Beginning from the early morning, the whole day is spent for preparing offerings at home and these offerings, which include thekua and seasonal fruits, are put in a daura (a basket made of bamboo sticks). In the evening, the Vratti and every family member go to the bank of the river, or a clean water body, which are set and decorated for the puja. The Vratti sits on the ghat and worships the setting sun amidst singing of folk songs that reflect the social culture of India. Later, when the sun sets, the Vratti offers the Sandhya Arghya, worship Sun God and everyone come back to home.
Kosi or Koshiya: During the night of Sandhya Arghya, a canopy is made by tying together five sugarcane sticks with a yellow cloth. Lighted earthen lamps are arranged under the canopy the shape of an elephant. The five sugarcane sticks represent the five natural elements or panchtatva, namely earth, fire, sky, water and air. Usually the Kosi ritual is performed by those families where a marriage or childbirth has taken place recently. The lighted earthen lamps represent solar energy that bears light. This ritual is usually performed at the courtyard of the house or in the angan or at the rooftop. Then the kosis are taken to the river banks and lighted again, and after this ritual they return home.
Fourth Day – Usha Arghya (morning offerings) or Bhorwa Ghat: Bihaniya Arghya or morning offering is the offering given to the Sun God in the early morning. The Vratti and the family members sit on the bank of the river early in the morning until the sun rises. They worship Chhati Maiya and sing songs. When the sun rises, the morning arghya is offered by stepping into the water, keeping the arghyas in sauri or supali basket. After the morning offerings, the Vrattis distribute Prasad among each other and seek blessings from the elders on the ghat. Then, they come back to home.
After reaching home from the ghat, the Vrattis break their 36-hour long fast by consuming ginger and water. Then delicious foods are prepared and served to the Vratti. This is called Paran or Parna. Since the Vrattis have been observing fast for a long period, they could eat only a light food that day.
Thus concludes the four-day long Chhath Puja.