What makes the Chhath Festival in Nepal special?
Chhath Festival (Chhath Parva) is a four-day Hindu festival dedicated to dedicated to the worship of the Surya Dev (Sun God) and Chhathi Maiya (the Goddess of Shashthi). It starts after the completion of Dashain and Tihar.
During Chhath, devotees observe a rigorous ritual that includes fasting, holy bathing, and making offerings to the Sun.
In 2023, the Chhath Puja celebration begins on 17 November 2023 (Mangsir 1, 2080 B.S) with Nahay Khay and ends on 20 November (Mangsir 4, 2080 B.S) after Usha Argya.
In Nepal, Chhath is celebrated with great enthusiasm, especially in the Terai region, where Nepalese communities participate in the festivities. It is also celebrated in India, especially in Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, and some parts of Madhya Pradesh.
Importance of Chhath in Nepalese Culture
Several factors contribute to the significance of Chhath Parva in Nepalese culture as it represents a festival deeply ingrained in spiritual and cultural customs. They are:
- Cultural Diversity: Nepal is a diverse country with various ethnic groups and cultures. Chhath, primarily celebrated in the Terai region, brings together people from different backgrounds, fostering unity and understanding among communities.
- Spiritual Significance: The rituals associated with this festival involve devotion to the Sun God Surya Dev and Goddess Chhathi Maiya. Chhath provides a time for sincere prayers and rituals to express gratitude to the Sun God for sustaining life on Earth.
- Connection to Nature: Devotees perform rituals on the banks of rivers or ponds. This strengthens the bond between humans and the environment. Ultimately, it promotes ecological awareness and a sense of responsibility towards nature.
- Community Unity: Chhath is a communal celebration where families and communities unite to partake in rituals. This fosters a powerful sense of unity, collaboration, and social harmony among the people.
Legend behind Chhath Puja in Nepal
There are different legends associated with the Chhath festival. Each one has its own value and significance.
One such legend revolves around Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas, as told in the ancient Indian epic, Mahabharata.
In this tale, Draupadi and her husband face numerous challenges and are exiled to the forest. Seeking guidance, Draupadi approached the respected sage Dhaumya, who advised her to perform Chhath rituals to seek the blessings of the Sun God, Surya Dev.
Draupadi faithfully followed these rituals, which involved fasting and offering prayers to Surya Dev. Through her dedication, she overcame her hardships, and the Pandavas eventually reclaimed their kingdom.
Important Days during Chhath Festival in Nepal
The Chhath Festival in Nepal unfolds over four days, each filled with meaningful rituals. Here's a breakdown of the key days during the festival:
Day 1: Nahay Khay
Nahay Khay, the first day of Chhath Puja, commences before sunrise with devotees visiting rivers, ponds, or water bodies for a ritualistic bath. This sacred dip symbolizes the purification of the body and soul.
After the bath, devotees wear fresh, clean clothes and begin a day-long fast. The day's meal, 'Kaddu-Bhat,' comprises rice, lentils, pumpkin, and turmeric, prepared strictly adhering to ritualistic guidelines.
Throughout the day, devotees abstain from consuming anything besides this meal, gearing themselves spiritually for the subsequent rituals.
Day 2: Lohanda/Kharna
Kharna, the second day, witnesses a more stringent fast, devoid of food and water for the entire day. The day is spent in prayers, meditation, and preparation for the evening's rituals.
As the sun sets, devotees, mainly women, prepare the Prasad, meticulously crafting dishes like kheer (sweet rice) and chapatis.
Just before sunset, elaborate rituals take place where the Prasad is offered to the setting sun, followed by a heartfelt plea for blessings. After this, the fast is broken by consuming the Prasad.
Day 3: Chhath
The third day is dedicated to offering prayers to the setting sun. Donned in traditional attire, devotees gather at riverbanks with fruits, sugarcane, and other traditional items. This is a visually striking and significant part of the Chhath Festival.
Standing in the water, they offer 'Arghya' to the rising sun, presenting fruits, sugarcane, and thekua, a sweet delicacy, as offerings. These offerings symbolize gratitude towards the sun god for sustaining life on Earth.
The offerings also include incense, flowers, vegetables, coconuts, garlands, vermilion powder, lamps, honey, rice, sandalwood, money, cloth pieces, and any other items they desire to dedicate to the Sun.
The evening witnesses a similar ritual at sunset, reiterating the reverence for the sun and its life-giving energies.
Day 4: Usha Arghya - Morning
Usha Arghya, the final day, marks the culmination of Chhath Puja. Devotees return to the riverbanks before sunrise, one last time, to bid farewell to the sun god.
Expressing heartfelt gratitude, they offer prayers, seeking blessings for the well-being of their families and communities.
The morning rituals conclude with the breaking of the fast. The Prasad, sanctified by the sun's blessings, is shared joyously among family and community members, fostering unity and camaraderie.
How is Chhath Celebrated in Nepal?
In Nepal, particularly in the Terai region, the Chhath festival is celebrated with profound respect and excitement. Here are some important things people do during this festival.
1. Ritual Bathing
Devotees, predominantly women, gather at rivers, ponds, or water bodies before dawn for ritualistic bathing, cleansing themselves physically and spiritually as they prepare for the day's observances.
2. Offerings to the Sun
Elaborate preparations are made for offerings (Arghya) to the rising and setting sun. These offerings consist of a variety of items like fruits, flowers, sweets, etc. The Arghya is a profound expression of gratitude and reverence towards the sun god for sustaining life on Earth.
3. Fasting and Prayers
Devotees observe a rigorous fast and engage in prayers and hymns dedicated to the sun god. They seek blessings for the well-being and prosperity of their families.
4. Community Gatherings
Chhath Puja fosters a sense of community as families and neighborhoods come together to perform rituals collectively. The festivities create an atmosphere of unity, with people sharing traditional songs, and dances, and exchanging blessings and Prasad.
5. Colorful Decorations
Homes and surroundings are adorned with vibrant decorations, rangoli patterns, and diyas (lamps) to create a festive ambiance. The use of colorful fabrics, flowers, and traditional motifs adds to the celebratory spirit.
6. Cultural Performances
The festival often includes cultural performances like folk music, dance, and dramas that showcase the cultural heritage and traditions of the Madhesi community.
7. Environmental Consciousness
Chhath Puja emphasizes environmental conservation. Devotees maintain cleanliness around water bodies and strive to preserve the natural sanctity of the environment during the rituals.
Popular Holiday Destinations during Chhath Festival in Nepal
During the Chhath Festival in Nepal, many people capitalize on the holidays to explore different corners of the country. While individual preferences may differ, here are some sought-after places you can visit during the Chhath Festival:
Kathmandu during Chhath is a busy city around the local rivers, ponds, and lakes. The most popular pond in the city called Rani Pohari is decorated with colorful lights and vibrant flowers.
Along the Bagmati River, despite the sacredness of the area, devotees find spaces to perform the Chhath Puja. The riverbank becomes a hub of activity, with families and friends coming together to offer their prayers to the rising and setting sun, sharing stories and blessings.
As the day progresses, cultural events unfold. Folk music fills many parts of the streets, while the aroma of traditional delicacies wafts through the air. Visitors and locals alike immerse themselves in the cultural exhibits, savoring the tastes, rhythms, and colors of the Madhesi traditions.
Read the full details here: Kathmandu Valley
During Chhath in Janakpur, the entire city becomes a kaleidoscope of cultural fervor and religious devotion. The celebrations span multiple locations, with the Janaki Temple and the Dhanusha Sagar Lake being the epicenter of the festivities.
The Janaki Temple, dedicated to Goddess Sita, witnesses a constant stream of pilgrims and devotees during Chhath. The temple complex radiates with religious fervor, with worshippers queuing up for the darshan (sight) of the deity, seeking blessings for their families.
The entire city of Janakpur embraces the essence of Chhath with great cultural programs and folk songs in Magadhi, Maithili, and Bhojpuri languages.
The atmosphere pulsates with devotion, unity, and celebration, making it a captivating destination for those seeking to immerse themselves in Nepal's cultural tapestry.
During the Chhath festival, Birgunj becomes vibrant and lively with a lot of cultural fervor. The Ghats (riverbanks), particularly along the Gandak River, and Gadhairwa Pokhari are bustling with devotees and worshippers offering prayers to the setting and rising sun.
People dress in traditional attire, usually in vibrant colors, and gather at the riverside to perform rituals, sing Chhath songs (known as Chhath geet), and observe the age-old customs.
Not to forget, the proximity of Birgunj to India, specifically its border with Raxaul in Bihar, greatly influences the celebration of Chhath in the region.
Lastly, the Chhath Festival in Nepal stands out because it beautifully combines spiritual importance, cultural depth, and a strong link with the environment. Devoted to the Sun God, Surya, the festival cultivates profound devotion and thankfulness.
The celebration, intertwined with nature, showcases a cultural legacy that endures through generations, rendering it a unique and spiritually significant event in Nepal.