Chhath Puja: A Holy Festival of Bihar

GS Paper I

News Excerpt:

President Droupadi Murmu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi led political leaders wishing people for Chhath Puja on November 19.

About Chhath Puja and Festival:

  • For centuries, the Chhath festival has been celebrated in Bihar and some parts of eastern Uttar Pradesh and Nepal, making it much more visible across the country.
  • Almost all civilisations have worshipped the 'God Sun', but it has a unique form in Bihar Chhath Puja, the only occasion where the setting sun is worshipped along with the rising sun.
    • According to the Hindu calendar, Chhath Puja is celebrated on the sixth day of Kartik month.
    • Chhath Puja, also known as Surya Shashti, is a bathing festival followed by a four-day period of abstinence and ritual purity.

The Mythological stories behind Chhath Puja:

Several beliefs are prevalent about why Chhath is observed. Some believe it is a carryover from when man worshipped nature.

  • Ramayana Epic: After Lord Ram and Goddess Sita returned victorious to Ayodhya from Lanka, they are said to have observed a fast and conducted a yagna for the Sun god.
  • Mahabharata Epic: When the Pandavas were in exile, Draupadi went to sage Dhaumya for help, who advised her to observe a fast and pray to the Sun, and eventually, all her prayers were answered. Karna also organised an elaborate ceremony in the same epic honouring his father, Surya (the Sun).

How Chhath festival becomes important for community and well-being?

  • Environmental Significance:  Countless devotees who join their hands as the Sun’s rays spread over them feel the touch of divinity and devotion in a measure little else brings to them.
    • Some people observe the fast, and the entire community gets involved in making the festival a success — cleaning river banks and the roads leading up to those banks,
  • Cultural Significance: People gather all the little things needed for the rituals while preparing thekuas (Bihari cuisine). This festival means the coming together of the community, the legendary Bihari migrants returning home to soak themselves in their culture and homeland once more.
    • Equal treatment: People from any caste can observe this festival. No priests are involved; the devotee is fasting for and praying to a visible, apparent Sun God, who shines on everyone equally.
  • Scientific Significance: Chhath Puja is the best way to detoxify our body by taking dips in water and exposing the body to the sun. It increases the flow of solar bioelectricity, improving the human body's functionality.
    • It is also said that Chhath Puja helps to kill harmful bacteria and prepares the body for the upcoming winter season.

Conclusion:

The message behind the festival is that everyone is equal in the eyes of God, that nature sustains us and is worth honouring, and that dusk is as essential as dawn because life is cyclical, and what sets can and will rise again.

PYQs

Q. Do we have cultural pockets of small India all over the nation? Elaborate with examples. (UPSC 2019)

Q. Indian Diaspora has an important role to play in South-East Asian countries’ economy and society. Appraise the role of Indian Diaspora in South- East Asia in this context. (UPSC 2017)

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