Chhath puja is performed on Kartika Shukla Shashthi, which is the sixth day of the month of Kartika. It is a four day long festival celebrated majorly in the states of Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh and all Northern regions and major Northern urban centers in India bordering Nepal. Chhat Pooja is also celebrated in Mauritius.
It is also known as Dala Chhat or Surya Shashti and is a very unique festival that is dedicated to the god of energy that is the Sun. It is observed most elaborately in the Mithila region of Bihar. The word Chhat denotes the number six in Mithila.People worship the sun during Chhat Pooja as it is considered to be the ultimate source of energy. The rituals of this festival are rigorous which include fasting and abstaining from drinking water (Vratta), standing in water for long periods of time, and offering prasad (prayer offerings) and arghya (offerings) to the setting and rising sun.
It is believed that Draupadi performed the Chhat ritual while the Pandava Kings were on exile. It is said that one day they were visited by 88 thousand Bhikshuks (wandering hermits) and as per the Hindu customs, the guests have to be treated well with food and water. But the Pandavas were in a bad condition as they barely had enough food for themselves. That is when Draupadi approached the noble saint Dhaumya who decided to help her as he was pleased with her merits of worshiping the sun God. Draupadi not only helped the Pandavas during that time but her prayers to the sun also helped the Pandavas in getting their kingdom back.
Another legend says that when Ram and Sita returned back to Ayodhya after 14 years of exile they had kept a fast during the coronation ceremony and they offered Pooja to the Sun during that time.
During the Vedic times it is said that the Rushis (sages) did not eat or drink anything as they received all the energy from the Sun. This energy intake was done through the Chhat Method.
The goddess that is worshipped during Chhat Pooja is known as Chhati Maiyya. She is the beloved young sister of Lord Surya.
Day One – Nahay Kay
On this day,people take a bath in the holy water of the River Ganga, Kosi or Karnali. Women restrict themselves to one meal on this day. The women observing this rituals are called Vratin.
Day Two – Kharna and Lohanda
The Vratins observe a fast for the whole day and have a meal after the sun sets. Pooja is performed and a traditional meal of Kheer and Puri is prepared.
Day Three – Sandhya Arghya or Pahela Aragh
The devotees fast on this day without consuming water. They spend the entire day in preparing pooja offerings which are arranged in a tray made out of bamboo. The evening rituals are done at the banks of a river or pond where all the devotees come together and the ‘Araghya’ is offered to the setting Sun.
Day Four – Bihaniya Arghya or Usha Arghya
On the final day of Chhath Puja, the devotees, along with family and friends,go to the riverbank before sunrise,to make the offerings (Arghya) to the rising sun. The festival ends with the breaking of the fast by the Vratins.