Four-day long festival of Chhath Puja is celebrated on the sixth day of Kartik Maas, from where the festival got its name. The word “Chhath” simply means “Six”.
Bihar, the northern Indian state is the epicenter of this celebration; however it is celebrated in other states like Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Delhi and in some western Indian states like Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra with almost equal spirit.
Nahai Khai (Naha Khay or Bathe-and-eat): It is the very first day of the festival on which Vratti/ devotees take a bath in the river, pond, or any other water body, especially in the River Ganges. They bring the water of Ganga home and with this water they cook the Prasad- a religious meal- commonly pumpkin, bottle gourd and mung- chana daal. On this day devotees clean the house and nearby compound. The vratti take meal on this day only once. The meal is prepared without any contamination and when it is ready, first the Vratti eat and then other members of the family.
Lohanda and Kharna: On Panchami or the fifth day as per Hindu calendar, the Vrattis observe fast for the whole day. They do not eat anything not even a drop of water before the sunset. The whole day is spent preparing for the festival, shopping essentials like sugarcane, fruits and other things. Later in the evening, vrattis prepare special Prasad called Rasiao-kheer (a type of sweet dish with the help of jiggery, rice and milk) and chapattis. With these specially made Prasad and fruits like banana, radish, green ginger, bettle leaves and spices like black cardamom and cloves, Vrattis worship Chhathi Maiya and offer these Prasad. After puja the vratti breaks their fast by eating the Prasad and later on it is distributed among family and friends. On the mid night of Kharna people prepare thekua- a special Prasad for Chhathi Maiya.
Sandhya Arghya (evening offerings) - Sanjhiya Ghat: The third day of Chhath Puja is divided into two major parts according to rituals.
Sandhya Arghya: Also called Sanjhiya Ghat or evening offering, the whole day is spent resting and preparing offerings at home (early in the morning before sunrise usually). During the day, the daura (a basket made of bamboo sticks) is prepared by putting into it all the offerings including thekua and seasonal fruits. In the evening, the vratti and every family member gather at the bank of the river, pond or a reservoir devised and decorated for the puja. Vratti sit on the ghat and worship the setting sun. Folk songs are sung that show the social culture of India. Later in evening when the sun sets, vratti offer the Sandhya Arghya, worship Sun God and then come back to home.
Kosi or Koshiya: On the night of Sandhya Ghat or Arghya a canopy is made by using five sugarcane sticks. The sugarcane sticks are tied together through a yellow cloth and the lighted lamps, earthen pots in the shape of an elephant are put under the canopy. The five sticks of sugarcane stand for five natural elements or panchtatva- earth, fire, sky, water and air. The Kosi ritual is followed by those families where a child has taken birth or a marriage has taken place recently. The lighted earthen lamps are symbolic to solar energy that sustains light. This ritual is conducted either in the courtyard of the house or in the angan or at the rooftop. Later the kosis are taken to the banks of the river where they are lighted again and after this ritual they are sent back to the home.
Usha Arghya (morning offerings) or Bhorwa Ghat: The offering given to the Sun God in the morning is called Bihaniya Arghya or morning offering. The vrattis and the family members again gather at the bank of the river early in the morning and sit until the sun rises. They sing and worship Chhati Maiya. When the sun rises, the morning arghya is offered by going into the water with arghyas kept in sauri or supali. After morning offerings, the vratti distribute Prasad among each other and take blessings from elders on the ghat. After that, they come back to home.
After returning from the ghat, vrattis break their 36-hour long fast by taking ginger and water. After that delicious food is prepared and offered to the vratti to eat. This is called Paran or Parna. As they fast for a very long period, they usually take light food on that day.
This way the four-day long Chhath Puja is concluded.