Chhath festival is unique in the annals of festivals in the country. While the world worships the rising sun; in the Chhath festival the setting in sun is worshipped first by the devotees. The second salient feature of this festival is that despite the fact that a detailed procedure has to be followed for four days; no formal ritual is performed and no priest is required in this festival. The third salient feature is that this festival is celebrated by a vast section of the society. In my village Baruraj under Muzaffarupur district many Muslim weavers also used to celebrate the festival. The fourth feature is that it is performed with highest sense of devotion and both physical and mental purity. There is a sea-change in the atmosphere of the Chhath festival. Everybody concentrates on devotion to the deity with utmost sincerity, austerity and purity of heart. Austerity thy name is Chhath festival!
The Chhath festival is the reminiscent of the Sun-worship widely prevalent in the country. The most popular Gãyatri hymn of the Veda is a prayer to the Sun god. It was so prevalent that even the Emperor Akbar was influenced by the Sun-worship which is testified to by the Memoirs of Jehangir. In fact, the existence of the Sun is sine qua non for the whole creation and therefore a grateful mankind has been worshipping the Sun since time immemorial.
Rudradhar, the great scholar of ‘dharmashastra’ from Mithila has written extensively on this festival almost 600 years ago in his famous work ‘Varshkrityam’. According to him, the story and other details of this festival have been taken from the Skanda-purana. He has written that by performing this Vrata, a devotee is freed from all diseases and dangers. He then elaborates the procedure of the Vrata, According to him, a devotee has to take meals only once on the fifth day of the bright fortnight of Kartik month and on the 6th day he has to take no cereal and no water. He has to go to the bank of a river in the evening and worship the Sun. The Sun is offered Arghya which literally means respectful offering. At night one should remain awakened and in the morning again one has to reach the river bank and after taking bath one has to offer oblations to the Sun god.
Now Chhath festival has become the symbol of ‘asmita’ of the Biharis and residents of eastern U.P. Wherever they stay, this festival is celebrated with austerity. Now there is a big gathering even on the beach in Mumbai.
Apart from the worship of the Sun, the festival is celebrated to worship the mother goddess also. The Chhathi maiya is none else than the Skanda-mata i.e. Parvati. There is a vidhan of her worship in the Bhavishya Purana. Thus the festival is unique in this also that the worship of the Sun is blended with the worship of Chhathi maiya i.e. Parvati. It should be celebrated throughout the country.