Friday, 1 July 2011

Chhat Puja Legend - Origin of Chhat Pooja

Legend or the origin of Chhat Puja or Dala Chhat is associated with Mahabharata epic. Mahabharata has the reference of Chhat pooja. It is also mentioned that Chhath or Dala Chhat was started in the time of Mahabharata.

Chhat Puja and Draupadi: Draupadi, wife of the Pandavas, has a great power to cure any type of disease including leprosy and other severe disorders. The main factor behind this was she worships Sun God (Surya Bhagwan) with utmost devotion. Sun rays have power of curing any disease. The celestial and divine energy of Surya made her most powerful woman in the world to cure any severe disease. As a commemoration of Draupadi and Surya Puja, the main Deity to worship on Chhat Puja is Surya.

Chhat Pooja and Karna: Chhat Pooja or Surya Sashti vrat is observed by King Karna, the son of Surya, who was renowned warrior and well-known for his nature of charity. Since Karna became a popular King by observing Surya Puja, Hindus also worship Surya dev for courage, fame, health, wealth and prosperity.

Chhath puja, the festival of Bihar is not about celebrations but a ritual carried down since time immemorial. Although Chhath Puja unique to Bihar it as been observed in some parts of West Bengal, Orissa, Assam, Mauritius, mainly among the Bhojpuri and Maithili speaking people. Chhath is also important for Nepalese worshipers of the Sun god as well as in eastern Uttar Pradesh. Chhath puja is a way to be grateful to the Sun for giving the bounties of life on earth and for the fulfillment of wishes of believers. Chhath puja is a festival of reverence to the solar deity, the only festival in the world where devotees offer salutations to the setting sun. Unlike Holi or Diwali, Chhath puja is a festival of prayer and appeasement observed with somberness, a festival that should not be missed. Chhath puja is held in high esteem and regard.

Chhath puja is the festival of truth, non-violence, forgiveness and compassion. Chhath puja is a festival celebrated by the Biharis on the sixth day of the lunar month after Diwali every year usually a 4 day long celebration accompanied by rituals or “Suryashashthi'. The rituals of chhath puja usually consist of fasting, folklores, hymns, together with the somber hues on the banks of the celestial Ganga or any fresh watery body. For example “Chhat Maiya” is celebrated on the banks of the river Ganga in Patna and on Yamuna in Delhi. A million lit lamps with thousands hands offering ‘Arghya’ to the sun makes it a delightful sight. The enormous faith in Chhat Puja has made it one of the most popular festivals this region.

Chhath is the only time when the setting sun as opposed to its rising is celebrated for its glory as the cycle of birth starts with death. After sunset, the devotees return home where celebration takes place by singing hymns while devotees maintaining a strict fast without even water for 3 days. Such is the faith in the “Chhath Maiya” as popularly called.

On the morning of the final day of chhath puja, the journey towards the Ganges starts before sunrise and the sun welcomed with folded hands. Offerings include sandalwood, vermilion, rice, fruits, covered usually covered with saffron colored cotton cloth. They offer ‘Arghya’ and chant mantras and hymns from the Rig Veda and commence the puja. The devotees break the fast. Prasad is distributed. According to belief if you beg for the Prasad all wishes will come true.

Almost immediately after the merriment of Diwali subsided, the solemnity of Chhath takes over. Adult married women of the household make all the preparations that are required for the puja. While the younger women and children take over the everyday household chores, these women begin with a thorough spring-cleaning of all the things that would be used to prepare the prasad or food offerings to the Sun God. Everything, from the kitchen chulha to the ladles, cooking wok, and, frying pan, is purified.

It is the bounty of the harvest, which is deemed a fit offering to the Sun god. Newly pounded rice is soaked and made into a paste. Dry fruits, nuts and slivers of coconut are used as flavoring and the cooked lump is then rolled in the palms, into hardened laddoos. Wheat flour becomes the main ingredient for the traditional cake called thekuwa. The dough is cut into shapes or pressed into wooden moulds before they are fried a crisp deep brown, to be eaten as a crumbling mouthful. Generous amounts of clarified butter, oodles of jaggery and coconut shavings go into this equivalent of the cookie.

For the preparation of these offerings, the lady in command observes certain rules like abstaining from eating cooked meals and not wearing stitched clothes. A bath before entering the kitchen is a must for everyone.

By the time the day of the fast arrives, all the preparations are complete and a solemn atmosphere prevails. Accompanied by chorus renditions of traditional devotional songs, the procession, which begins as a small group at a doorstep, becomes a surging crowd of devotees as one nears the riverbanks. In the procession, bare-chested men carry the prasad in a basket of bamboo weaves. The basket is held high above the crowds' hands for the fear of it being soiled by a chance impure touch. Within it are the laddoos, thekuwas and of course the fruits of the season. Coconuts, a bunch of bananas, an orange or two and always an earthen lamp, covered with a cotton cloth, dyed in turmeric, are the unchangeable contents.

No one tells the hour of prayer but, almost magically, the procession is timed to accuracy and the prayers are offered at the moment the Sun sets. On the banks of the river, no one can afford to slip or falter, as that would mean an evil portent. As the western sky of early winter turns rosy, the scene is a concerted vision of devotion as countless up-stretched arms hold aloft the glistening bamboo trays and baskets. The veiled oil lamps are gently glowing and a chorus of hymns rings the air. Minutes pass, and the faces become blurred as the crowd begins the walk back, leading away from the riverfront.

Having paid homage to the setting sun, the next day, one must make ready for the daybreak obeisance. This is the crucial part of the ritual and the journey towards the river begins when not even the slightest hint of sunlight is visible. It is a mahogany black sky outside as the festival falls during the dark phase of the moon. One can tell when the riverbank is near from the smell of dew soaked grass and lapping of water. This time the faces turn eastward and instead of just standing on the riverbank, the devotees enter the water for the customary holy dip. In the meantime, the baskets are left securely under a temporary canopy, made of freshly harvested sugar cane stalks. A four-sided platform is made especially for this with its corners decorated with terra cotta lamps shaped like elephants or birds. Sandalwood paste, vermilion, wet rice, flowers and fruits, covered over with red dyed cotton cloth, to ward off evil designs and spirits, add the right note of sanctity. Once the first streaks appear on the horizon, men and women, dressed in their saris and dhotis (loin cloth) plunge into the shallow waters. Having found a foothold and completely oblivious of the chilling waters, they begin the timeless mantra of the Rig Veda, specific to the Sun-the Gayatri Mantra.

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