The festival of Chhath Puja is celebrated to worship the Sun God, and extol his virtues. It is an ancient Hindu celebration that traces its origins to prehistoric Vedic times. Along with the sun, his sister, Chhathi Maiya, is also worshipped for sustaining life on earth.
Chhath Puja is held over the course of four days, and is marked by various rituals, including fasting, standing in water for long periods of time, and making offerings to the Sun. 'Chhath' is a combination of two different Hindi words- 'Chah', denoting six stages and 'Hath' signifying the science of austerity. Hence, Chhath is a festival in which the devotees obtain solar energy in six different stages.
Chhath is observed six days after the famous Hindu festival- 'Diwali'. It is one of the most popular festivals of Bihar. Moreover, it is also celebrated with enormous zeal in Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and West Bengal.
Chhath is ritualized by worshipping and bathing followed by a phase of abstinence and isolation of the devotee from the family for four days. During these four days, purity is observed by the devotee. The four days of worship in Chhath are:
Nahay Khay : The worshipper takes bath in the river, preferably Ganges and carries home the holy water. The women keep fast (Vrata) and take meal only once on this day.
Lohanda and Kharna : It is the second day of Chhath Puja celebration. Women fast for a complete day and end it in the evening after sundown. They stay away from food and water for 36 hours after eating kheer (a sweet made of rice and milk) as a prasad on second day.
Sandhya Arghya : On this day, prasad is prepared and the whole family accompanies women to the bank of any large water body in the evening. Here, the offerings are made to the setting sun. The celebration at this time is no less than a carnival. Folk songs are also sung to add to the rejoicing.
Usha Arghya or Morning Offerings : On the last day of Puja, the devotees with familygo to the river prior to the crack of dawn. Here the rising sun is worshipped and the offerings are made to it. Women break the fast and then festival comes to its end. After that, the prasad is distributed to everybody.
According to the chronicles, the kings of ancient North India invited Maga Purohits as they were highly proficient in worshipping sun. Since this worshipping, the Chhath Puja was started. There is another belief amongst Hindus that Chhath Puja was celebrated in Vedic period also, as the hymns worshipping Sun God are found in Rigveda.
Mahabharata also contains the reference to this festival. Draupadi is shown offering the similar rituals in Mahabharata. According to it, on the advice of great saint Dhaumya, Pandavas and Draupadi performed Chhath Puja. In the result, Draupadi was able to crack the sudden problems and helped Pandavas in getting back their lost realm as well.
Another famous legend tells that this Puja was initiated by Surya Putra Karna (Sun's son Karna). He was the emperor of Anga Desha (now district of Bhagalpur in Bihar).