Chhath Puja is a Hindu festival dedicated to the worship of the Sun god. It is also known as Surya Shashti. The Sun, considered to be the god of energy and life force, is worshipped during the Chhath festivals to promote well-being, prosperity and progress. It is also believed—that the Sun god helps to cure a variety of diseases including leprosy, and ensures the longevity and prosperity of family members, friends and dear ones.
It is observed elaborately in Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Eastern UP and is also prevalent in some areas of West Bengal where migrants from those areas have a presence.
Chhath Puja or Chhat Shashti starts on the sixth day of the month of Kartic in the Hindu Calendar (in October or November) and is observed for a period of four days. There is another Chhath called Chaiti Chhath. It is celebrated in summer in the month of Chaitra (March-April), some days after Holi. However, the former is more popular because winter is the usual festive season in North and Eastern India.
The Chhath puja has some reference in the Vedic texts, as the Rigveda contains hymns worshipping the Sun god and describes similar rituals. The rituals also find a reference in the Mahabharata in which Droupadi is depicted as observing similar rites. There we see Droupadi and the Pandavas, rulers of Hastinapur (Delhi), performed the Chhath ritual on the advice of the sage Dhoumya. Through her worship of the Sun-god, Droupadi was not only able to solve her immediate problems of serving adequate food from a blessed pot, but also helped the Pandavas later regain their lost kingdom. It is also believed that Chhath was started by Karna, the son of Surya who ruled over the Anga Desh (Bihar) during the Mahabharata era.
The rituals of the festival are rigorous and are observed over a period of four days. They include holy bathing, fasting and abstaining from drinking water, standing in water for long periods of time, and offering prasad and Daragh (worshipping) to the setting and rising sun. During this period, the worshipper observes purity and sleeps on the floor on a single blanket. This is the only festival in the Hindu community which has no involvement of any pandit (priest). The devotees offer their prayers to the setting sun, and also the rising sun in celebrating its glory as of the cycle of death and rebirth in Hindu philosophy.
Bihar has a number of Sun temples, flanked by a Surajkund or sacred pool of the Sun, forming a popular venue for the celebration of this festival. There is the famous Konark temple or Surya temple near Bhubaneswar in Odisha, but no Chhath festival is held there.
According to yogic philosophy, the process of Chhath is divided into six stages of the Conscious Cosmic Solar Energy Infusion Technique :
Stage 1: Fasting and the discipline or cleanliness leads to detoxification of the body and mind. This stage prepares the body and mind of the Bratti (devotee) to receive the cosmic solar energy.
Stage 2: Standing in water with half the body (navel-deep) submerged minimises the leak of energy and helps the prana (psychic energy) to move up the Sushumna (psychic channel in the spine).
Stage 3: Cosmic Solar Energy enters the Bratti’s pineal, pituitary, and hypothalamus glands through the retina and optic nerves.
Stage 4: Activation of tri-glandular complex (pineal, pituitary, and hypothalamus).
Stage 5: A kind of polarization happens in the spine, which results in the Bratti’s gross and subtle bodies getting transformed into a cosmic powerhouse. This can also lead to the awakening of the latent psychic energy popularly known as Kundalini shakti.
Stage 6: The body of the Bratti (devotee) becomes a channel which conducts, recycles and transmit the energy into the entire universe.
Overall, it is believed—chhath makes one healthy, wealthy, and wise.