"Surya Shasthi Puja" (also known as Chhath) comes after "Deepavali" on "Kartik Shukla Paksha Shasthi" which coincides with October- November. "Chhath Puja" will be performed on 24th October 2009 (in the current year). "Chhath" is celebrated twice in a year "Kartik Chhath" is more important because fasting is easy in this month. The second occasion comes in the summer season in March- April which is called "Chaiti Chhath". Waterless fasting is difficult in the summer season.
Sun, in Hindu religion, is visualized as a deity who transits from east to west in his chariot pulled by seven white horses. The horses are the symbols of the seven days of the week. Some world famous temples were also constructed in honor of the Sun God. One such temple is the Sun temple at Konark near Bhubaneshwar in Orissa which was constructed by King Narasimhadeva in the 13th Century A.D.
It has been established by scientific research that all life in the biosphere and all the activities in the ecosystem of the earth are driven by solar energy. Therefore, the Sun is the real driver of the automatically operating life-support-system. This reality was realized by the rishis and saints of ancient India and they devised method of offering respect to the "Surya Dev" (Sun God) on the occasion of "Surya Shasthi Puja".
"Chhath" is the leading puja of the "Middle Ganga Plains" in India. The main states are Eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. It has also spread to Jharkhand and adjoining Chattishgarh and Madhya Pradesh. The Ganga plain is one of the densely populated parts of the country and rural workers have migrated to metro cities in search of jobs. The proportion of such migrant workers is very high in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata. The migrant workers either go to their native place for "Chhath Puja" or observe it at their place of work.
When people celebrate "Chhath Puja" in Delhi and Mumbai, it becomes an important occasion for political leaders to come forward for organizing and managing the affairs of the celebration keeping an eye on the electoral votes of migrant workers. These practices have popularized "Chhath Puja" in the country.
Millions of such migrant workers make an annual journey back to their native place for "Chhath". It is really hard to get railway reservation during this period. The government runs many special trains for commutation for about one month covering the three consecutive festivals of "Durga Puja", "Deepavali" and "Chhath".
The Puja System:
This "Puja" can be performed only by married women and widows. Unmarried girls are not allowed. Men also observe this "Vrata" (Puja). The rituals extend for four days.
On the "Kartik Chaturthi day" the whole house is washed and cleaned and a regular meal is cooked with utmost purity and care which is called "Nahana- Khana" (Bath and Meal). Lauki (Bottle Gourd) is the most important vegetable which has to be compulsorily cooked on this day. "Chhath" songs in Bhojpuri, Maithili and Maghi (local dialects of Bihar) keep reverberating in the air throughout the four-days-long rituals.
On the "Panchami day", in the evening "Kheer" is prepared with the combination of rice, milk and gur (jaggery). The "Parbaitin" (women fasting and performing puja) keep waterless fasting for the whole day on the "Panchami" and take only "Kheer" after sunset. This single meal of "Kheer" is called "Kharna"
The "Shasthi" is also a day of waterless fasting which may continue for about 36 hours. The "Prasad" (offering) is prepared on the Shasthi day which includes "Thekua" (Khajoor) - a recipe made from wheat flour, gur and pure ghee. All seasonal fruits, dry fruits, coconuts etc are required. "Sup" (household item made from bamboo for winnowing) is necessary for offering all the preparations to the Sun God.
The people go to the river side or near a pond or any other water body or by the side of a well to offer "Arghya" (offering of milk and water) to the "Surya Dev". The first "Arghya" is offered on the "Shasthi day" in the evening to the setting Sun and the second "Arghya" is offered on the "Saptami day" to the rising Sun. With the second "Arghya" the four day long "Puja" comes to a close and the "Parbaitin" break their fast.
The festival is a big equalizer. The families of the weakest sections of the society also perform this "Puja". Priests are not required for directing rituals. This becomes a 100% family affair in which there may be one or two "Parbaitins" but a large number of helpers. The do's and don't of this "Puja" are very strict and all possible steps are taken to keep the sanctity and holiness while preparing "prasad" and offering "Arghya". The general belief is that the "Chhath Puja" conducted with purity and reverence brings prosperity and good health to the family.
The mythological roots of this "Puja" can be traced to the Mahabhartha period when "Kunti" and "Karna" performed such worships by offering "Arghya" to the Sun. There is mention of Sun worship in Vedas also.
As per tenets of Vedic astrology, Sun is the ruler of all the planets. It represents soul, health, general prosperity, father etc. Anyone with weak Sun is advised worship of this astrological planet. The simplest way to do so is to worship the God on the "Surya Shasthi Day". This worship will also enhance the strength of the Sun in the horoscope of those people for whom Sun is the ruling planet or lords of good houses in the horoscope. Being the only visible God, the worship of Sun is easy. It is recommended for health and prosperity by Vedic Astrologers.