Chhath Festival

Festivals of India are the same all over the country.  Even in Bihar the festivals are as they are in Punjab or Rajasthan.  But there is one Hindu festival that is uniquely Bihari.  That is the festival of ‘Chhath’. 
Mostly people of North Bihar observe it.  It is dedicated to the worship of the Sun God. Therefore, it is also known as ‘Surya Shasthi’.  Chhath is considered to be a means to thank the Sun for bestowing the bounties of life on earth.  It is also observed for fulfilling particular wishes.
The word ‘Chhath’ denotes the number ‘six’.  Thus the festival begins on the sixth day of the Hindu month of ‘Kartik’ in the Hindu lunar calendar.  It corresponds to late October and mid November, depending on the year.  It is one of the holiest festivals for Biharis.
There is a popular belief that all the desires of the devotees are always fulfilled during Chhath.  Also, an element of fear is present among the devotees.  They dread the punishment for any misdeed during Chhath.  Another curious feature has also been observed.  Biharis all over the county try to avail of their annual leave on this occasion.
The festival of Chhath is unique to Bihar and is marked by 4 day long celebrations and rituals.

First day

To wash away their sins, the devotees take a dip in a river.  They prefer the holy river Ganga.  They bring the river water to prepare the offerings.

Second day

The devotees observe a fast for the whole day.  It is broken in late evening, after performing worship at home. The offerings typically porridge of rice, puris (deep fried puffs of wheat flour) and bananas are distributed among family and visiting friends and relatives.

Third day

It is spent preparing the offerings at home during the day.  In the evening the devotees move to a riverbank or a pond.  There the offerings are made to the setting Sun.  At nightfall, the devotees along with the family and friends return home.  There another colourful celebration takes place.  Under a canopy of sugar cane sticks, clay elephants containing earthen lamps, and containers full of the offerings are place.  There the fire god is worshipped.

Fourth day

On the final day of the festivities of the grand festival, again the devotees, family and friends, move to the riverbank.  Offerings are made to the rising Sun. At the completion of the offerings, there is great celebration.  The devotes break their fast and the rich offerings are made to all the people around.
Chhath is a very joyous and colourful festival.  All the people dress up must in their best and new clothes have to be unstitched and people sleep on the floor.  Loud and devotional music reverberates in the air, purifying the whole atmosphere. Folk songs are sung both at home and on the riverbank.
Millions of people throng the banks of river Ganga in Patna.  All the people are busy in merry making.  The streets are kept spotlessly clean by bands of volunteers.  They also decorate all streets landing to the river with colourful festoons, ribbons, and banners.  The offerings of deep fried and sweet, rolls of stone ground wheat flour, grapefruit, whole coconuts, bananas, and grains of lentils are also very peculiar.  These items are contained in small, semi-circular pans woven out of bamboo strips.
Strict salt less vegetarian menu is observed (even onions and garlic are considered unwanted during the entire festival period).  Some earthen vessels are reserved for the period only.  Every precaution is taken that the purity of food is disturbed.
Renowned for their Sun temples, deo in Aurangabad and Baragaon near nalanda, are abuzz with activity.  These are the places where the Chhath in Bihar can best be seen.
The temples in India face east, towards the rising Sun.  The temple at Deo in Aurangabad faces west.  During the festival time, it is the most crowded place.  This day all the barriers of caste, creed and colour are forgot.  All the devotees throng the banks of the river.  They offer their prayers to the Sun God.
This festival brings to the fore the jubilation and festive gaiety of the people of Bihar.  The festival transcends all the artificial social and economic barriers.  The festival is more of a sacrifice, which entails purificatory preparations.