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The sacred chhath puja: Our annual family get-together and spiritual connect

Read this personal memoir by Utkarsh Jha on his family celebrations of Chhath puja.

Following the prayer traditions of the Chhath Puja are not simple and only the most devoted can perform them. It is a 36-hour nirjal (waterless) upwaas (fast with a sankalp/resolution). Only one member of a family keeps it at a time and for the length of the fast, they remain barefoot,  sleep on the ground and immerse themselves in work and prayer. 

ladies in auspicious red sarees performing chhath puja

The four-day ancient Hindu festival of Chhath Puja is celebrated in the holy Kartik month to worship the Sun God and Chhathi Maiya (who is said to be the sister of God Surya). It is observed mostly in Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, and in Nepal.

Chhath puja in Nepal

This festival comes six days after Deepawali (chhath stands for 6th). 

Till my paternal grandmother, dadi, was alive it was she who did it on behalf of the whole family.  It is a huge deal if someone observes this tradition and so all family members come from near and far to witness it. Dadi’s Chhatt puja was the grand-annual family get-together for us for as long as she lived! We children had the responsibility of selecting the best wheat in our farms for the various offerings to be made to God and our favourite mithai (sweet) was thekua

thekua

On the first day of the preparation, the family people would nahaye khaye which literally means, to bathe and eat. The main menu for the day includes the famous dal-chawal-kaddu (pulse-rice-pumpkin) combo! On the second day would be Kharna where Dadi would begin her upvas and she wouldn't consume even a drop of water. But she would prepare dinner and gur kheer (a dessert made from rice milk and jaggery) for the whole family! 

offerings araghya and prassad for chhath pooja

After that, she would do her prayers and rituals in solitary confinement without any disturbance from anyone. On this day one prays to the benevolent Goddess Chhatti Maiyya and to the respective Kul Devi (Clan Goddess) of the people. She would break her fast now and leave some food on her plate as that is considered the blessing of God. Children fight over those leftovers to eat them! We always did!

chhath puja prasaad

After this meal dadi would resume her upvas which would last 36 hours. The third day is Sandhya Araghya and baskets of prasaad are put together to be taken to the riverside. We children would select spots by the river with a good view and then clean them nicely. We would sleep early and then wake up at two am!! 

children enjoying chhath puja

At 2 a.m. we’d bathe, wear new clothes, reach the riverside and sit on our selected spots. Then we would wait for our dadi to arrive. It would be dark and chilly in the morning. We’d search for our dadi and then we would spot her. She would arrive walking, (still barefoot). As soon as the first rays of the sun would appear, she would begin her prayers. 

a lady facing standing in water facing the Sun for Chhath Pooja

It would be a beautiful sight, to see a sea of people entering the river to pray. The atmosphere at the river side on that early morning would have divine energy that even we children felt. If we didn't know better we'd have believed that we were in Rishikesh or Haridwar.

a sea of humanity in a river performing chhath puja

After the prayers were done, the basket would be opened and prasaad distributed to all. Then dadi would wear a new saree and walk back home… On the way, she worshipped the fields as they were our sustenance and life. 

Yes, Chhath Puja is a significant festival for us Biharis. We wait for it eagerly each year.  Many people perform Hawan (ancient Hindu practice of making offerings to deities through fire) also during this time. The crackers left over from Deepawali are burst during Chhath Puja.

bursting crackers during chhath puja

Chhath is celebrated in Mumbai as well.

chhath puja in mumbai

This festival brings families and communities closer and is a treasured spiritual practice for us. Understandably,  we celebrate Chhath Puja with great reverence, enthusiasm and humility.

As told to Team Language Curry by Utkarsh Jha.



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