Chhath or Dala Chhath is a Hindu festival, unique to Bihar state in India and Terai, Nepal. The word chhath denotes the number 6 in Hindi and the festival begins on the sixth day of the Hindu lunar month of Kartik, which corresponds to the months of October-November in the Gregorian calendar. The festival of Chhath begins a week after Diwali.
Chhath is the holiest Hindu festival of Bihar and extends to four days. This festival has particular significance in Bihar, but it is also celebrated in Uttar Pradesh and nearby areas. Chhath is a festival dedicated to the Sun God, considered to be a means to thank the Sun for bestowing the bounties of life on earth and fulfilling particular wishes.
Also called Dala Chhath – it is an ancient and major festival. It is celebrated twice a year: once in the summers (May-July), called the Chaiti Chhath, and once in the winters (September-November)around a week after Deepawali, called the Kartik Chhath. The latter is more popular because winters are the usual festive season in North India.
This is a ritual bathing festival that follows a period of abstinence and ritual segregation of the worshiper from the main household for four days. During this period, the worshiper observes ritual purity and sleeps on the floor on a single blanket. The parvaitin pray for the well-being of their family, for prosperity, and for offspring.
On the eve of Chhath, houses are cleaned. On the first day of the festival, the worshiper cooks a traditional vegetarian meal and offers it to the Sun God. This day is called Naha-Kha (literally, ‘Bathe and eat’!). The worshiper allows herself/himself only one meal on this day from the preparation.
On the second day, a special ritual, called Kharna, is performed in the evening after Sundown. From this day onwards, for the next 36 hours, the worshiper goes on a fast without water. The evening of the next day, the entire household accompanies the worshiper to ritual bathing and worship of the Sun God, usually on the bank of a river or a common large water body. The same bathing ritual is repeated on the following day at the crack of dawn. This is when the worshipper breaks his/her fast and finishes the ritual.
Chhath being celebrated at the crack of the dawn on a riverbank is a beautiful, elating spiritual experience connecting the modern Indian to his ancient cultural roots. The folk songs are sung on the eve of Chhath mirror the culture, social structure, mythology, and history of Bihar.