Chhath, the festival which is is celebrated six days after Diwali, is believed to be even older than the ancient Vedic texts. The ritual is also mentioned in the Rigveda.
The Chhath ritual of worshipping the Sun God, even finds its mention in the Mahābhārata when on sage Dhaumya’s advice, Draupadi performs similar rites to help the Pandavas regain their lost kingdom of Hastinapur.
According to a folklore in the state of Bihar, there’s another history behind celebrating Chhath Puja.
It is believed that Lord Rama and Sita had kept fast and done a puja to please the Sun God after they had returned to Ayodhya from their 14 years exile.
From that point on the ritual became a tradition and over the years transformed into the festival of Chhath.
The Chhath Puja rituals, spans over four days, where devotees, who are mostly women, go without food and water for long duration over this period.
While being without food and water for the ritual is hard enough, the ritual also requires the devotees to take a dip in cold river or pond, three times over the span of four days.
On the first day of the Puja (Nahan Khan), the devotees take a dip in a river or a pond early in the morning and then carry some water home from the same water body to prepare prasad.
They clean their houses and its surroundings and have only one meal on this day.
Day Two is called ‘lohanda’, and devotees on this day observe a fast from morning till sunset (having just one meal) before the tough task of 36-hour long no-food-no water fast begins.
On the third day, which is the actual Chhath, the devotees after preparing the prasad take a holy dip in the evening while they worship the Sun God and Chhathi Maiyya.
During this puja (sandhya arghya), the entire household, along with extended family, friends and acquaintances accompany them to the riverbank or pond as they worship the setting sun.
Chhath, also is the only Puja which worships the setting Sun, a custom that is followed in no other religion.
For the whole evening, the family sings folk songs and celebrates.
These celebrations, go on the whole night and into the fourth day morning when devotees again gather around the same river or pond and worship the rising sun (Usha arghya).
It is only after this morning puja that the devotees break their fast with the prasad and then distribute it among family, friends and associates.
While this might be one of the most difficult pujas in the Hindu religion, it is also one of the most celebrated occasion in Bihar and Nepal.
One of the biggest reasons that Chhath has special place for a Bihari, is because Sita’s homeland Janakpur was located in the Mithila, a region which falls in Nepal and partially in Bihar, and this is where they believe Chhath Puja originated.
Thousands of people gather on river banks each year just to witness these celebrations.
Interestingly, a majority of people who are away from home are ready to miss Diwali, but not Chhath Puja as it touches an emotional chord with them as the whole family gathers to celebrate it.
And they travel any way possible to reach back home to be part of the celebrations.
Those who cannot, find places in the city itself to be able to celebrate it
Then there are also others, owing to their busy lifestyle find other ways to celebrate it even if they can’t find a water body nearby.
No matter in what country a Bihari is in, Chhath is the time they go back to their old roots.
Here’s a compelling video by Bihar Tourism Board on Chhath: