Worshipping the sun is a prevalent practice in various parts of the world, especially in India, Egypt and Europe.
Sun, the sole grantor of life and light in the cosmos is worshipped heavily in the Indian northern states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and the Madhesh region of Nepal. During Chhath Puja, devotees come together to thank the Sun God for bestowing earth with life. The date differs from year to year. Every year, Chhath Puja falls on the sixth day of Kartik (November) month of the Hindu calendar.
While other religions worship the sun in their own way, Indians worship the setting sun along with the rising sun symbolic to the cycle of death and rebirth. Sun’s sister Chhathi Maiya, Shashti Devi or Katyayani, (form of Durga) is also worshipped along with the sun God.
The rituals of Chhath Puja are rigorous and are observed for four days without the involvement of a priest. The rituals are performed at the river banks and are eco-friendly as claimed by the environmentalists. The rituals include holy bathing, fasting and abstaining from drinking water, standing in water for long periods of time, and offering prayers, prasad and arghya (vedic ritual of offering water) to the setting and rising sun. Some devotees extend these rituals to prostration march as they head to the river banks. In certain communities, if any one person stops performing the ritual in any particular year, the ritual is forfeited for the said family.
Chhath is not a gender-specific festival however, most of the worshippers are usually women.
In the history of Chathh, it is believed that the ritual was performed by Sita and Draupadi to bring prosperity and peace.
The parvaitin (women worshippers) pray for the well-being of their family and for the prosperity of their offspring. They perform it every year and pass it on to the following generations.
The prasad offerings are strictly vegetarian and are cooked without salt, garlic and onion. They include sweets like kheer, thekua (sweet snack made of wheat) , rice laddu (made of rice grit) and fruits like sugarcane, sweet lime and banana. The prasad is offered in small bamboo soop (winnows).
The rituals of Chhath Puja are believed to have health benefits as the sun rays detoxifies the mind and the body and improves immunity. The rituals of Chhath puja aim at preparing the body and mind of the devotee for cosmic solar-energy-infusion.
Rishis of yore adopted the same practice of directly absorbing the energy from the sun instead of taking it from food or water.