Chhath (literally means sixth) is celebrated on the sixth day of the month of Kartik from the Hindu calendar. It is also the sixth day after Diwali. This is a very important festival for the people of
Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh and is also considered to be one of the few major festivals in the honour of Sun god.
During the Vedic times, Surya, the Sun god was one of the main deities in the pantheon of gods. Thus this festival seems to have its continuity and significance from the Vedic times. Before we venture into the myths surrounding this festival, it is pertinent to mention that this worship has similarity with a number of other cultures like
Egypt, and the Japanese who were the worshippers of Sun God. Egyptian god Ra, or Helios of the Greeks, or Shamash of the Sumerians, or the Japanese worshiping a Sun Goddess (only reference of Sun Goddess), were all major solar deities of reckoning. Greece
Sun worship goes back to the Vedic age, with numerous hymns dedicated to Lord Surya in Rig Veda. The earliest reference of Chhath is found in Mahabharata which is credited to Karna, who was the son of Surya and Kunti and was also known as Surya Putra. Karna was made the King of Anga Pradesh, by Duryodhan, which is supposed to be the present day
Bhagalpur in Bihar, and thus the prominence of the festival in and around the region.
Mahabharat also refers to Draupadi’s worshiping of Surya when the Pandavas were going through their share of trouble. Though Draupadi did not get any immediate results out of the worship, but they did regain their rights and their kingdom at the end of it. Thus began the practice of worshiping Surya for achieving something or some desire.
The unique thing about Chhath puja is that it is probably the only festival, where the Sun is worshipped in both the forms, i.e. both the rising as well as the setting. Since the river Ganga is the lifeline of the states mentioned above, as it flows throughout the region, the worship takes place at the banks of the river
Ganga. Needless to say that Ganga has its own significance both in Mahabharat as well as in the Hindu religion. The practice of this worship has its yogic connections. It is said that in the Vedic times there were sages who would fast for unbelievable periods, and that the ability came from their gaining solar energy directly from the Sun. It is said that the rituals followed during the worship are quite similar to what the yogis of yore followed then.
As part of the ritual, people (especially women) observe fast and end up spending the whole day (sunrise to sunset) at the banks of the river. In this lies the significance of the festival. This whole day is used in a ritualistic detoxification of the body. The fasting followed by the sun rays especially during sunrise and sunset, gives an extra impetus on the different parts of the body and the much needed energy from the sun. As per the Yogis of the yore, sun helps in rejuvenating the skin and its rays at different times of the day, helps in improving the functions of different glands and their secretions.
Such festivals not only get people to spend time together, but also lead to some physical well-being. It is different matter that some sections of the society have misused such festivals for political positioning, but then what is a community if it doesn’t have its own share of both good and bad?