Ghats have been spruced up, roads wiped clean and all arrangements are in place as people, mainly from the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, are all set to observe their most important festival of the year today. Celebrated on the sixth day after Diwali, Chhath is an ancient festival dedicated to the Sun God.
With the rituals actually spanning over four days, Chhath is also considered one of the most difficult festivals. Those doing the puja, mostly women, have to go without food and water for long durations over these four days.
On the first day, which is called ‘nahan khan’ or ‘nahai khai’, the worshippers take a dip in a river or a pond in the morning and carry home water from the same water body. The water is used to prepare prasad (offerings) for the Sun God. The house and its surroundings are then cleaned.
These worshippers have only one meal on this day. Day Two is ‘lohanda’, when the women observe a fast for the whole day, ending it only after sunset. And then begins another 36-hour tough fast during which they are not even allowed a sip of water.
On the day of Chhath, after preparing the prasad, they take a holy dip in the water body in the evening and worship the Sun God and Chhathi Maiyya.
The entire household, along with friends and acquaintances, accompany the women to the riverbank or pond as they offer ‘sandhya arghya’ (evening offerings) to the setting sun, with others singing folk songs meant for the occasion. On the fourth day, devotees gather around the same river or pond and offer ‘Usha arghya’ (morning offerings) to the rising sun.
It is only after this puja that the worshippers break their fast. The prasad is then distributed among family members and friends. The prasad mainly consists of fruits and sweets. All households observing the rituals make this special sweet, thekua, which is offered as prasad.