FACTS & FIGURES
Time of the year - October/November
Places to Visit - Northern Bihar
Duration - Two days
A week after Diwali, the festival of lights, comes the festival Chhath. For one night and day, the people of Bihar practically live on the banks of the river Ganga when a ritual offering is made to the Sun God.
The word Chhath denotes the number six and thus the name itself serves as a reminder of this auspicious day on the festival almanac. The venue for this unique festival is the riverbank and since the Ganga transverses the countryside of Bihar like a lifeline, it is but appropriate that the banks of this river should be the ideal prayer location. Chhath is considered a means to thank the Sun for bestowing the bounties of life on earth as also for fulfilling particular wishes.
With no temples to visit, or house to spruce up before the festival, one would conclude that Chhath puja would be an easy sail through. However, for this puja, things are anything but easy and the ritual observances of this occasion would make a medieval Franciscan Order appear frivolous.
The celebrations of the days are as follows: on the day before the actual worship, devotees take a cleansing dip, preferably in the Ganges, and bring back some holy water to prepare the offerings. A fast is observed for the whole day and late in the evening, the devotees, after performing worship at home, break their fast. The offerings -typically a rice porridge, puris (deep fried puffs of wheat flour) and bananas - are shared among family and visiting friends and relatives. On the second day, the 24-hour fast begins. The day is spent in the preparation of offerings at home and in the evening, the devotees move to a riverbank (or a pond). There, offerings are made to the setting sun. At nightfall, the devotees return home where another colorful celebration takes place. Under a canopy of sugar cane sticks, clay elephants containing earthen lamps, and containers full of the offerings are placed. There the fire god is worshipped. Devotees maintain a strict fast without even water. Just before sunrise, the devotees reach the riverbank again and offer prayers to the rising sun. Once the prayers are done, the devotees break their fast with the prasad or the offerings. After that, the prasad is distributed among family, friends and anyone who asks for it. The offerings characteristically consist of deep-fried and sweet rolls of stone ground wheat flour, grapefruit, whole coconuts, bananas, and grains of lentils. During the puja, these items are contained in small, semicircular pans woven out of bamboo strips called soop.
Chhath is a very colorful festival and new clothes are a must for the devotees. There is much music and a lot of singing of folk and devotional songs, both at home and on the riverbank. In Patna, millions of people throng the banks of the river Ganges for miles and the camaraderie this festival evokes is unparalled.
PLACES TO VISIT
The best place to witness this festival is Bihar especially the northern parts of the state. The festivities and tradition of this festival are worth experiencing. The preparation of delicious sweets and other goodies is an important part of the festival.