Chhath Puja: Worship of Sun god and Shashti Maiya!

Chhath Puja, also known as Sun Shashthi is celebrated on Kartik Shukla Shashthi. This festival is celebrated after 6 days of Diwali and mainly celebrated in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and the Madhesh region of Nepal with great fanfare. Banning Chhath in public places amid coronavirus this year has raised the political issue. The Chhath Puja is dedicated to the solar deity Surya and Shashthi devi (Chhathi Maiya) in order to thank them for bestowing the bounties of life on earth and to request the granting of certain wishes.
.The festival does not involve idolatry and is dedicated to worship the Chhathi Maiya or Shashti Mata and sun God Surya along with his consorts Usha and Pratyusha the Vedic Goddess of Dawn and Dusk respectively. It is believed that the main sources of Sun's powers are his wife Usha and Pratyusha. In Chhath, there is combined worship of both the powers along with the Sun. In the morning, worship of the first ray (Usha) of the Sun and the last ray (Pratyusha) of the Sun in the evening are offered to both of them. And the rituals 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 (prayer offerings) and arghya to the setting and rising sun. 
The festival takes place for four days, the very first day of Chhath is called Nahay Khay. On this day, the devotees take a holy dip into the water, especially into the river Ganga and take only a single meal on this day (the women folk who observe the fast).
The second day of the festival is called Kharna. On this day, the fasting without any drop of water is observed from the sunrise to the sunset. The fast is broken in the evening just after the sunset and making as well as offering food to the Sun God. After having Prasad on the second day, the third day’s fasting begins.
On the third day, a day-long fast is observed without taking water. The third day is the main day of Chhat Puja known as Sanjhiya Ghat. Offering Arghya to the setting sun is the essence of this day. It is the only time of the year on which people worship the setting Sun and offer Arghya. The third day’s fasting goes on throughout the night. On the next day after sunrise the Parna begins. On the fourth or can say the final day of  Chhath, people offer Arghya to the rising Sun, which is called Usha Argya. After Arghya, the 36 hours long fast is broken.
Environmentalists have claimed that the festival of Chhath is one of the most eco-friendly religious festivals that should be used to spread the "the message of nature conservation". [Moreover, it’s arguably one of few Hindu festivals that transcend the rigid caste system, which emerged in the post-Vedic period, to touch upon the ideas of "equality, fraternity, unity and integrity. Every devotee—elite or middle class (and caste)—prepares almost similar Prasad and other items to offer to the Almighty. All the devotees without any distinction in caste, colour or economy, arrive at the bank of rivers or ponds for extending prayers.
Chhath Puja is a festival of religious and cultural importance. This is the only festival in which Sun god is worshipped and offered an arghya. The worship of the sun in Hindu religion is of great importance. In the Vedas, the Sun God is called the soul of the world. The light of the sun has the ability to destroy many diseases. With the auspicious effect of the sun, the person gets health, wealth and self-confidence.
In Vedic astrology, the sun is said to be the factor of soul, father, ancestor, respect and high government services. On the Chhath Puja, worship of Sun god and Shashti Maiya is achieved for a person, children, pleasure and desire.

- Prabhakar Purandare

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