The sun god Surya is worshipped every day and all year round across regions. In south and west India, at the start of Uttarayana around January 14 every year, people offer their gratitude and prayers for good sunshine and abundant harvest. Similarly, the people of Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal perform the Chhath Puja to thank the sun during the Dakshiyana period, six days after Diwali. Chhathi Maiya, the sister of Lord Surya, is also worshipped in this puja.
Legend has it that Chhath Puja was celebrated upon the return of Lord Rama and Ma Sita to Ayodhya, six days after Diwali. In the Mahabharata, too, this festival finds a mention. Kunti is said to have performed the puja after the Pandavas escaped from the Lakshagriha trap and Draupadi observed it for the Pandavas to win the war at Kurukshetra.
This four-day festival is marked by Vrat (fasting), bathing in a river and offering arghya (libation of water) to Surya at sunrise and sunset.
On the first day, devotees prepare a simple dish made with lentils and bottle gourd. On the following day, they do not consume anything including water. In the evening, they eat a jaggery-based kheer. On the third day, families prepare Thekua, a sweet as well as savoury snack, Tikri, Khajuria, etc. They go to a riverside, stream, pond or lake and offer Gangajal as Arghya to Surya and Chhathi Maiya. At night, they sing Chhath songs and read the Vrat Katha.
On the last day, they go to the riverside before sunrise and offer Arghya and prayers to the sun, seeking protection and happiness of the family. After the puja, they break their fast by partaking of water and some Prasad.