The Call of Chhath
Nothing takes one back to one’s childhood than a festival. Chhath Puja brings back memories of mothers, grandmothers, aunts and cousins bustling around preparing for the pujas, cooking and spreading joy and that special buzz.
Shilpa A Singh 17 Nov 2023 7:24 AM GMT
It is that time of the year when phone calls are being made back home, recipe books are being poured over and provisions are being stocked up. For, the four-day Chhath Puja is round the corner.
Diwali heralds the advent of Chhath and the devout in Bihar, Jharkhand and parts of Uttar Pradesh and Nepal, whether in their hometowns or elsewhere in the world are preparing to celebrate.
Every single festival in the Indian calendar comes with its own special menu card. For Chhath the food made during this festival is usually sattvik, that is without onion, garlic and spices). Each of the four days has its own special dietary requirement.
If you are planning to observe Chhath, here are a few recipes you could try out. Rest assured, not only are they delicious, but they are also nutritious.
Day 1: Nahay Khay
The first day of Chhath Puja falls on the fourth day after Diwali and is called nahay-khaay (bathe and eat). The devotees take a dip in a river if there is one near them, or sprinkle Gangajal. The vrati (one who fasts) has to use a datun (neem stem used as a toothbrush).
Folk singer Sharda Sinha, who has sung several Chhath songs, told Gaon Connection that she remembers walking long distances in her in-laws’ village in Patna district of Bihar to fetch the holy water in brass pots from the Ganges, along with others who were fasting.
After the bath, devotees prepare kaddu-bhaat (bottle gourd with rice), and have it after offering it to the deity.
“In Mithilanchal, it is called arwa-arwain because only arwa rice is used. The meal holds significance for a vrati or parvatin or worshipper. It is a preparatory step before embarking on a fasting journey of 36 hours,” said folk singer Sinha. According to her, such a meal cools the stomach, tempers the taste buds, and purifies the digestive system.
People also cook chana dal (split chickpea lentils), while in some households moong dal (yellow lentils) is prepared. In some places, bottle gourd is prepared along with split chickpea lentils.
After eating on nahay-kahaye, sometime around noon, the vrati starts the nirjala or the waterless fast.
Day 2: Kharna
The second day of Chhath is known as Kharna or Lohanda. On this day, devotees break the fast after sunset. They cook kheer-roti (rice pudding made with jaggery and chapatis smeared with ghee) or poori on the clay stove and offer it to the deity on a banana leaf, along with bananas.
“The vrati has to eat the prasad in silence. Once the vrati has eaten, the prasad is distributed to others in the household and in the neighbourhood. It is the only meal to be had that day. The fast starts after Kharna and it is broken on the last day of Chhath, after arghya,” said Sinha.
The one who fasts stays awake through the festivities and can sleep only on the ground. “I remember collecting pual (dried, yellowed stalks from crops) from the fields for my mother. It gave warmth during the winter night so that she could rest for a while, and prepare for the arduous day that lay ahead,” recalled Amrendra Sharma, an actor from Pashchim Champaran in Bihar.
“Where pual isn’t available, a blanket is put on the floor as wool is considered pure,” Kamakhya Narayan Singh, the Guwahati-born filmmaker from Mumbai, told Gaon Connection. Singh now uses a stove instead of a clay chulha to cook Kharna prasad in Mumbai. He has been observing the Chhath fast for the past five years now.
Day 3: Sandhya Arghya
The third day of Chhath Puja is the main day of the festival. It is spent preparing khasar (small balls made from rice flour and jaggery) and thekua (made from jaggery and wheat flour) to be offered to the deity.
“The wheat flour used for thekua is coarse. We have places in Mumbai where the machine is thoroughly cleaned, before the wheat is ground for Chhath,” said Singh.
Meanwhile, folk singer Sinha narrated how the vrati stayed awake at night singing songs and making the prasad. “The work used to start at midnight after Kharna in some households. The vrati has to stay awake, so this helps her do that,” she added.
Once the prasad is prepared, the daala (festive offering for the deity) is readied for the evening arghya. Chhath daala is the offering of seasonal fruits and vegetables to the deity. “These include turmeric, ginger, sweet potato, radish, yam; gram and pea, water chestnut, sugarcane, gagra nimbu (lemon), coconut with husk and water, banana, custard apple, and dry fruits,” Ravi S Sahani, Patna-based photographer, told Gaon Connection.
Some people offer arghya in a brass soop, while others use a bamboo soop; both are considered pure. “People also buy a clay elephant that comes with a big diya (earthen lamp) fixed atop it for Chhath Puja. The red/pink aarta patra made from the akwan plants is a must for Chhath. Local artisans make them,” he added.
The beautifully decorated soops with the sweets, water, milk and earthen lamps, are taken to a water body, where the vrati in new clothes stands knee-deep in water and offers them to the setting Sun. “Those who stay in the city like me and can’t go to a water body to offer arghya, do it on their terrace,” explained filmmaker Singh.
Also Read: Chhath Puja in Images
Day 4: Usha Arghya
The last day of Chhath Puja starts soon after midnight when the vrati prepares the parna (meal to break the fast), and then readies the soop afresh.
At dawn, the vrati once again makes the offering to the Sun god and this marks the culmination of the festival.
According to folk singer Sinha, people break their fast with sharbat (juice), sprouted grains, cucumber, and prasad. “All these have a cooling effect on the stomach that has not received food for 36 hours at a stretch. These foods are light for a vrati to digest,” she said.
This is followed by a full course meal that includes rice, dal, green veggies, including bachka, tarua and tilkor. “We also prepare fritters. And serve them with curd and chutney. The food is meant to tickle a vrati’s taste buds,” the folk singer added.
Singh breaks his fast with thekua, jaggery and warm water. He said he always looked forward to the feast that followed. It includes kadhi-badi (a traditional blend of a spiced and creamy yoghurt curry or kadhi which is served along with crispy chickpea flour fritters), kohda (pumpkin), ole (Elephant Foot or yam) and aloo-gobhi (potato-cauliflower) vegetables besides fritters with a generous helping of rice.
In some homes the vrati breaks the fast with ginger and warm water, followed by vegetarian meal and then fish curry and rice that is considered a good omen like it is in actor Sharma’s home.
“The vrati break the fast with ginger and warm water, followed by tea. We prepare vegetarian delicacies, but it is mandatory to have fish and rice by the vrati that day,” he said.
This last feast sees the conclusion of the Chhath celebrations, till the following year.
Happy Chhath! Jai Chhathi Maiya!