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Chhath Puja is a four-day festival where the third day is known as Surya Shashti and is observed as the main day. It is observed as a fasting period when the devotees start observing rituals two days prior to Shashti. Basically, Shashti is the second day after the Purnima in the month of Kartika. The set of four days are given different names as:
Nahay Khay, which falls on the Chaturthi Tithi (fourth day after Purnima) and is the first day when the rituals begin. The second day is also known as Kharana when the devotees observe a fast and break it in the evening. Shashti is the third day and is the most important of the four-day festival. Saptami is the fourth day when the entire four-day rituals are concluded.
First And Second Days
People from all over India celebrate the festival and worship Surya Dev. During the four-day fast, on the first day, the devotees get up early during the Brahma Muhurat and take bath in a sacred river. This is known as holy bath. They eat 'Kaddu Bhath', a meal prepared especially for this day. On the second day, a fast is observed which can be broken only in the evening.
Third Day - Shashti
On the third day also the devotees fast and have to stay without eating or drinking anything. In the evening, the Chhath Puja is performed. After this, an argha (the act of offering water to a deity) using a copper vessel while standing in water such as in a river, is offered to Surya Dev.
Fourth Day - Saptami
The fast kept on the third day is broken on the fourth day morning where an argha is again offered to the Sun during sunrise. This is known as Paarun Bihaniya Argha. Some fruits and homemade sweets are kept as Prasad in a basket; this basket is then offered a puja. This Prasad is also offered along with argha (water) to Surya Dev. This prasad is then eaten by the devotee and the fast is broken.
Why Is Chhath Puja Performed?
The festival of Surya Shashti is observed to get a higher recognition in the society. It is said that Surya Dev helps in gaining social prestige and recognition. Therefore, the fast is observed for a better health of oneself and one's family members besides prosperity and happiness. It is believed that a puja performed on this day can cure chronic diseases as well through the blessings of Surya Dev.