Nepal, a country rich in cultural heritage and religious festivals, celebrates numerous festivals annually. Among these, Chhath Festival stands out as a unique Hindu celebration dedicated to Lord Surya (the Sun God). Known by various names such as Chhath Parva, Dala Chhath, Surya Shasthi, and Chaithi, Chhath Puja is a symbol of gratitude towards Suryabhagwan for sustaining life on Earth. Unlike other Hindu festivals, Chhath Puja does not involve idol worship and is significant for its environmental and health benefits.
The Essence of Chhath Puja in Nepal
Chhath Parva holds a special place in the Maithili culture of Nepal, with references in both Ramayana and Mahabharata. The festival, occurring just after Tihar in the Nepali calendar, falls in the month of Kartik. The rituals, typically performed during sunrise, embody a deep spiritual connection with nature and emphasize the healing powers of the sun's early morning rays. The primary rituals involve holy baths in rivers, fasting, long periods of sun worship, and the offering of Prasad by mostly married women, symbolizing prosperity and longevity for their families.
Historical Significance and Myths
The origins of Chhath Puja are rooted in Hindu mythology. It's believed that in the Mahabharata, Kunti's son, born from Lord Surya, initiated the tradition of Chhath Puja. Similarly, in the Ramayana, Lord Ram and Sita observed a fast and broke it only after sunset in honor of Lord Surya, laying the foundation for the annual celebration.
Rituals and Celebrations
Chhath Puja spans over four days, with each day having its own significance:
- Naya Khay (The First Day): Devotees take a dip in holy rivers and fast for the entire day, breaking it only after sunset.
- Lokhanda or Kharna (The Second Day): The day starts with a morning bath, followed by sun worship and a day-long fast. In the evening, devotees worship the sunset and the moon and end their fast with kheer, rice, and bananas.
- Sandhya Arghya (The Third Day): Fasting continues from the previous day. Devotees prepare and offer Prasad, spending the day in worship. In the evening, they gather at riverbanks to offer prayers to the setting sun.
- Bihaniya or Bhorwa Ghat (The Final Day): The day begins early with a bath, followed by morning prayers to the rising sun, marking the conclusion of the festival.
Health and Environmental Significance
Chhath Puja is not only a religious festival but also a celebration that promotes health and environmental awareness. The practice of sun worship during sunrise and sunset is believed to purify the body and mind, boost immunity, and enhance mental peace. The festival also emphasizes eco-friendliness and respect for natural resources.
Chhath Puja in the Times of COVID-19
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Chhath Puja in 2021 took a different turn, with celebrations being more subdued and safety precautions in place. Virtual celebrations, online gift exchanges, and smaller gatherings became the norm, ensuring the spirit of the festival remained alive while adhering to health guidelines.
Chhath Puja in Nepal is a testament to the country's rich cultural tapestry. It's a time for expressing gratitude to the Sun God, acknowledging the environment's importance, and embracing the physical and spiritual benefits of the rituals. This festival not only strengthens familial and community bonds but also highlights the harmonious interplay between human beings and nature.