Chhath Puja, The Trail of the Sun Salutation

Four decades ago I went into the den of a famous Bhrigu astrologer in Kolkata with my grandfather and marvelled at a wall full of calendar art images of the various Gods of the raashi chakra. I was especially intrigued at the image of the Sun God who was dark and looked rather Ashuric with a thick curled up moustache than the fair skinned and elegant featured Jupiter, Venus and Mercury. After long discussions between us, my grandfather and I decided that the Sun must have been a non-Aryan God at a time in the Indian history when Aryans and non-Aryans fought embittered battles.
Chhath puja is the worship of the Sun; the deity of Chhath Maiya seems to be more of a compulsion to place a Goddess at the centre of the worship because female deities usually adorn community gatherings in festivals among Hindus. Chhath starts on the third day of the waxing moon, in the days of misty autumn when the earth has just started to cool off and days are pulling up fast into purple red twilights. It is a time when we emerge out of the dark moon; we are just waking up to a new life after death. It is on the second day of Bhratri Dvitiya that girls pray to the Lord of Death that their brothers be spared of his sceptre, on the third day of Akshay Tritiya we pray for our long lives. On the fourth day the Chhath celebrations begin with fasting and much controlled eating, with long penance of standing in the waters and then congregating around the lit fire with simple and rude food. The Chhath, literally means the sixth day, is the day of the culmination of the community forces around peace and abstinence; the celebration is not of plenty but of constraints, the restraint on relentless consumption. It is an offering of simple savouries and fruits to the Sun God, rather than the harrowing blood sacrifices of the American Indians and the Incas and the Mayas, the other people who also worship the Sun. Non-violence and vegetarianism is a long standing ethos of the Indians especially those who occupy the land of the Sun worshippers.
It is interesting that Bihar, which is the centre of the Sun worship, is also the centre of peace; Sita was born here and throughout the Ramayana, she has stood for grace and dignity, for resilience and patience. It was here that Karna the son of Sun was born illegitimately to Kunti, and it was this land that would henceforth be his kingdom, namely Anga. Karna’s life was one of loyalty, sacrifice and forbearance. It was in this very land of Sun that the Pandavas learnt the art of beating death from Dhaumya, an important sage of the epoch. Sometime later in history, in the northern fringe of the land of the Sun people would be born two most important preachers of universal peace, namely Buddha and Mahavir. It would be here that the first sermon would be preached against animal sacrifice in rituals during Ajatashatru and it was here, with its centre in Magadha would be established the mighty Mauryan empire, the world’s first welfare state. A little towards the south, would be the Sum Temple of Konark, where Krishna’s son, Shamba would migrate to be cured of his leprosy. The Sun takes away leprosy, kills mite, decimates the various other death inflicting diseases. The Sun trail has united India as has no other festival; the Pongal of the south, the Itu of Bengal, the Magha congregation of the Kumbha and Sankranti everywhere in India. Suryanamaskar is the highpoint of yogic practice.
In the 13th century, the sun would again be invoked by dark people with snubbed features in the far away denuded mountains of antiquity, namely the Aravallis where the Mewar kingdom would be established under kings like Shiladitya and Hamir. And about four centuries before this, the persecuted Parsis would descend in India to protect their faith around the worship of Ahura Mazda, the source of the Supreme Light. The Sun was appropriated by the Vedic people and hymns were composed around Him in Sanskrit, but never has the Sun been invoked for war; surprisingly not even for prosperity, but essentially to illuminate the soul, the life force, the good sense among humans, for the civilizations to be free of darkness and death. Hence we pray to the One with rays spread out like the petals of the hibiscus, the one who is with the Ultimate brightness and the one who can end every kind of evil, literally under the sun.

About secondsaturn

Independent Scholar. Polymath.
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