‘Thy Beams, So Reverend and Strong’: Chhath, Sun Worship and Bihar

Rivers of light, people, flowers and fruits – Bihar is a sight to behold during the four days of Chhath Puja.

3 min read
Hindi Female

Every year, on the sixth (‘chhath in Hindi, Bhojpuri) day in the month of Kartika of the Hindu lunar calendar (October/November in the Gregorian one), a four-day frenzy of fasting and ritual purification seizes Bihar.

Human waves of turmeric yellow and scarlet surround water bodies, gazing reverentially at the rising sun. Parched throats make an offering of fruits and flowers to rivers and, in the approaching dusk, thousands of diyas are let upon the water, a sea of floating stars fit to rival the one above.

Chhath Puja has arrived.


The Rituals

Rivers of light, people, flowers and fruits – Bihar is a sight to behold during the four days of Chhath Puja.
A Hindu devotee prays during Chhath celebrations in Mumbai. 
(Photo: Reuters)

Chhath Puja, or Surya Shasti, is rigorous in the demands it makes of one’s body and soul. Tradition expects those who have committed themselves to the four days to honour their commitment every year. The rituals are divided into the following stages:

Nahay Khay

On the first day, the devotees take a dip in Kosi, Karnali, or Ganga and carry some of this holy water home as an offering. The ladies observing the fast this day are allowed only one meal.

Lohanda and Kharna

The fast ends in the evening, a little after sunset. Just after the worship of sun and moon, the offerings of kheer, puris, and bananas are distributed among family and friends. The devotees go on a fast without water for 36 hours after second day’s evening prasad.

Sandhya Arghya

On the eve of this day, the entire household accompanies the devotees to a riverbank, pond or a common large water body to make the offerings (arghya) to the setting sun.

Usha Arghya

On the final day of Chhath Puja, the devotees, along with family and friends, go to the riverbank before sunrise, in order to make the offerings to the rising sun. The festival ends with the breaking of the fast. Friends, relatives visit the houses of the devotees to receive the prasad.


‘...Levelled Brilliance, Fiery-Fresh, the Sun’

Rivers of light, people, flowers and fruits – Bihar is a sight to behold during the four days of Chhath Puja.
Women worship the setting sun at Rani Pokhari on the eve of Chhath in Kathmandu. 
(Photo: Reuters)

The Sun, that life-sustaining source of energy at the centre of our universe, has been worshipped as a deity by nearly every culture. It is no surprise, therefore, to find a four-day-long festival devoted exclusively to expressing gratitude for its seemingly infinite bounty.

Bihar’s numerous Sun temples, like Deo in Aurangabad, Surajpur, Barunark, etc, form the site of worship. These sun temples are generally surrounded by a surajkund, a sacred pool of sun, where devotees pay worship to both the rising and the setting sun, acknowledging the circle of life and the necessity of death, even as they pray for the prosperity and long lives of their offspring.

Chhath Puja is unique since it is the only holy festival that dispenses with the services of priests. Beyond the ceremony and the rules lies the elemental pleasure of basking in the warmth of a giving star on a winter morning, and being grateful for it.


The Legends that Wed Chhath to Bihar

Rivers of light, people, flowers and fruits – Bihar is a sight to behold during the four days of Chhath Puja.
A devotee with an offering of fruits and flowers during Chhath Puja in Mumbai. 
(Photo: Reuters)

Though Chhath Puja is celebrated in Nepal, Jharkhand, eastern UP etc, Bihar stakes a special claim on it through the legend of Karna, Kunti’s son with the Sun God in the Mahabharata. Some inherited stories hold that Karna was the first person to start the tradition of Chhath Puja when he ruled over Anga Desh, or present-day Munger in Bihar.

Another legend, from the Ramayana this time, affirms a more tenuous claim. It is considered that Lord Rama and Sita had fasted and offered worship to the Sun in the month of Kartika during their coronation after returning to Ayodhya after 14 years of exile. From then, Chhath Puja became a significant festival in Hinduism in Sita’s homeland Janakpur (present day Nepal) and the adjoining Bihar.


The truth of these claims, we would argue, lies not in their historical veracity but in the insight they provide into the ideals a culture cherishes. And what better ideals to cherish than energy, warmth and light?

(This story has been republished from The Quint’s archives.)

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Topics:  Festival   Bihar   Chhath puja 

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