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The Cult of the Chhath Puja

Chhath Puja

The Chhath Puja celebrated in Bihar is an Indian festival dedicated to the Sun God, Surya and Chhathi Maiya, considered the wife of Surya. Some scholars suggest that she was only her lover, while others claim she was his wife. Chat Puja, also symbolizes the harvest festival and on this day countless families come to water bodies and offer fruits, sugarcane and other delicacies to the sun god.

The prehistoric ritual was a vigil celebrated from dusk till dawn on the longest night of the year to make sure the sun rises again. It was again celebrated during the summer solstice on the longest day of the year, although on a much lower scale as a sign of gratitude. In pagan myths the festival symbolized the new year as the sun begins its ascent. Other traditions celebrate the birth of the sun god.

Ancient ceremonies of fertility, vegetation rites, and sun worship were common in many cultures, such as the Sumerians, Mesopotamians, the Babylonians, and all others believed that the sun was connected with rebirth and renewal. Inca was considered son of the sun. In Egypt, the pharaoh was considered a direct descendant of Ra, the sun god. Osiris, another Egyptian divinity associated with the sun, represented the dead king star (at the end of the day) in addition to fertility and light after dark.

Obviously for ancient populations such astronomical event was seen as a renewal of hope, a chance of survival and therefore, was mythologized as the birth of the Sun God. People continued worship throughout history, with many beliefs that have arisen around this worship. The worship of the sun probably originated the henotheism and ultimately monotheism.

The Festival of the Birth of the Unconquered Sun (Dies Natalis Solis Invicti) was celebrated when the light of day increased after the winter solstice, in allusion to the rebirth of the sun. The origins of this celebration, are located in the customs of the ancient peoples who celebrated during the winter solstice, some festival related to the sun gods such as Apollo, Helios or Mitra, among others. The feast of Brumalia was a feast dedicated to the Sun, held at the winter solstice.

Sun worship is present in an infinity of cultures, where their Gods or messiahs were allegories to the sun, that is, they were the personified sun. Examples are Horus, Apollo, Tammuz, Mithra, Helios and many other divinities. But why so many similar festivities at the same dates? Why the sun worship, which is what these parties were based on?

We have to keep in mind that the sun appears every morning, giving light, warmth and security, allowing life to be generated. The men were clear that thanks to him their sowings and crops could thrive, providing food to humans and animals in general. That is why from early mankind, engravings and sun worship follow each other around the globe. There are still questions in the air, why are these divinities so similar? Why born of a virgin mother?

If anything we have learned from our ancestors is the great importance they gave to the sun, stars and constellations in general. They had a spiritual obsession for the firmament and for representing it on earth, and they did it their way, worshiping them in their sacred writings or giving them huge monuments built on solid ground, because, after all, something beats us inside, call it Intuition or whatever you want, but something in our interior tells us that we have a very intense connection with those stars that supervise us from the dawn of humanity.

From America to Oceania, the sun was worshiped by many cultures and always as the benefactor of humanity, never in negative mode. It was the father of the stars of heaven because he is greater and more visible to any of them. As an example, let us put the Diaguitas, a people settled in the present Chile and who worshiped the sun god, believing also in a contrary part that was malignant. The Alacalufes, a nomadic people who still exist and who have preserved their customs for thousands of years believe that they are anointed children of the Sun Woman, because they know that life is conceived only by women.

In the Mayan town, the God of the Sun was known as Ahaw K'in and at dawn, appeared young and lush to undertake the journey. As the day passed, the Sun became increasingly old until sunset, when he became a jaguar to face the fight against the Knights of the Night. Once overcome, the jaguar became a young man who was preparing to start the new day.

In the Iberian Peninsula, the Kingdom of Tartessos, conquered by Carthage in the sixth century BC and settled on the banks of the Guadalquivir, south of the peninsula worshiped the sun and kept him in his prayers next to the Moon and Other elements of the medium. Also the Celts, in Cantabrian lands, Galician and astures dedicated worship to the Sun god among other elements like the serpent or the ray, all of the mother nature.

In Greek culture, the Sun God was personified in Helios. A sun chariot is a mythological representation of the sunshine. The Proto-Indo-European religion has a solar chariot. The concept is chronologically more recent than the solar boat and the corresponding expansion of Indo-Europeans to the invention of the wagon.

The sun itself is portrayed as a wheel, probably by the proto Indo-Europeans, as reported in greek Helios kuklos, Sanskrit suryasta cakram and Anglo-Saxon Sunnan hwe ogul. Generally speaking, the sun is seen as masculine and active. Some nomadic people of Central Asia, however, consider the feminine principle.

Some mythologists argue that sun god as female is more common than their male counterparts. The most close analysis of myths reveal a very different distribution than the contemporary popular belief with dualism found in many but not all traditions. In Germanic mythology, the Sun is female and the moon is male.

Sun is a symbol ubiquitous in men, which holds a dominant position in every culture, and it is therefore not surprising that this star was personified a lot of times. The theme of the solar myth enjoyed its greatest popularity, to the point that it became common to see in any legendary character with representation of the sun.

The rituals of the Chhath Puja are rigorous and are observed for a period of four days. They include sacred bath, fasting, abstinence from drinking water and standing in water for long periods of time during sunrise and sunset at dusk and dawn while prayers and rites are performed.

The Chhath puja is performed on the day of Kartika Shukla Shashthi, that is on the sixth day of the month of Kartika as per the lunar calendar. It is also celebrated in summer in the month of March or April, a few days after the festival of Holi, and this event is known as Chaiti Chhath, but the one celebrated in winter is much more popular.

During this period, devotees sleep on the floor. This is a festival which does not require any priest. Devotees offer their prayers during the sunset, and during the rising sun celebrate the glory of the sun. On the first day of the rituals devotees bathe, if possible in the Ganges river and take some water to their homes and prepare the offerings. The house and the surroundings, are cleaned. Women continue the vrata, which allows them to take only one meal during the day.

On the second day of the rituals devotees fast throughout the day and can eat soon after sunset. Just after worshiping the sun and the moon. Offerings like Kheer or rice pudding, puris and bananas are distributed among relatives and friends. Devotees fast without water for 36 hours after the sunset of the second day.

Sandhya Arghya is dedicated to the preparation of the offerings at home. On the eve of this day, the entire family accompanies the devotees to the banks of the river, pond or body of water to make their offerings during the sunset. It is during this phase of the rituals devotees offer prayers right at the time of the sunset. This is a very colorful moment. In addition to the religious devotees are friends, family members and numerous participants. Popular songs are also sung during the nights of Chhath.

On Usha Arghya on the last day of the ritual, devotees along with family and friends, go to the river bank before dawn to make their offerings to the rising sun. The festival ends with the breaking of the fast by devotees. Family and friends gather in homes to enjoy the food that has been served as an offering in this festival.

Most devotees who follow this festival are usually women, although there are a large number of man who also follow. The women pray for the welfare of her family and for the prosperity of their descendants. The rituals are performed every year. One can skip that tradition if there has been a death in the family that year.

In the offerings, or prasad, usually they include sweets, rice pudding or fruit, among others. The food is strictly vegetarian and cooked without salt, onion or garlic. Special emphasis on maintaining the purity of the food is done.

Women prepare and offer special sweets called thakua, bananas, coconut and seeds to the Sun God. This celebration is especially important in places like Bihar, Jharkhand, eastern Uttar Pradesh and the Terai region in Nepal. It is generally held in all regions and in major urban centers in India. It was declared Universal Cultural Intangible Heritage by UNESCO.

Comments

Jeevan said…
Being in India, i never know this festival. I know usually people take holy bath on no moon day and on a auspicious day praying for the ancestors soul.

Nice post and helps to learn another festival.
What a beautiful capture with light and darkness tugging each other!
Caryn Caldwell said…
Gorgeous series! I especially love the women going into the lake.
Shivya said…
Lovely pictures, especially the last one. I didn't know half as much about sun worship in India. Thanks for sharing!
Swathi said…
Hello Kalyan!!

Thanks for visiting my blog
Kala said…
Wonderful post Kalyan. I love the tones and light in the first photo.
Sans! said…
Thank you for your comment on my blog . I am really glad I found yours. I will visit often
anthony stemke said…
I enjoyed reading about the sun god, thanks for sharing, was interesting and I liked the pictures.
karren said…
FABULOUS photo!!!
Babli said…
Very beautiful pictures. I appreciate for your wonderful photography.
Max Coutinho said…
Kalyan,

Happy Sun worshipping!

I love the symbolism behind it and it makes sense because the Sun is life and vitality - without it, we are not.

Why the need to stay long periods in the water? What is the significance of that?

Gorgeous photos (as always) and thanks for sharing your joy with us :D.

Cheers

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