Chhath is a festival of reverence to the solar deity, the only festival in the world where devotees offer salutations to the setting and rising Sun. The word Chhath denotes the number six and thus the name itself serves as a reminder of this auspicious day on the festival calendar.
The festival of Chhath is widely observed in eastern India. This is a festival where worship of God Sun is performed. It may be noted that Sun’s worship is not done at many places. This festival is one of the most difficult to observe and is done to thank Surya or Sun for sustaining life on earth.
In Indian mythology, the worship of Sun god is believed to be beneficial and capable of curing diseases. The process of observing this festival is very rigorous. This festival is spanned across four days. Almost immediately after the merriment of Diwali subsides, the solemnity of Chhath takes over. Women of the household make various preparations puja. While the younger women and children take over the everyday household chores. These women begin with a thorough spring-cleaning of all the things that would be used to prepare the prasad or food offerings to Sun god. Everything, from the kitchen chulha to the ladles, cooking utensils, and frying pan, is purified.
It is the bounty of the harvest, which is deemed a fit offering to Sun god. Newly pounded rice is soaked and made into a paste. Dry fruits, nuts and slivers of coconut are used as flavoring and the cooked lump is then rolled in the palms and then they are fried.
Chhath is a festival of prayer and purity observed with somberness and strict discipline, a festival that should not be missed. It is held in high esteem and regard.
The four days of Chhath are:
On the day before the actual worship, devotees take a cleansing dip, preferably in the Ganges, and bring back some holy water to prepare the offerings. A fast is observed for the whole day and late in the evening, the devotees, after performing worship at home, break their fast. The offerings – typically a rice porridge, Sohari/puris (deep fried puffs of wheat flour) and bananas – are shared among family and visiting friends and relatives.
Fast or Upvaas (fasting) begins on the second day and this is referred as Kharna. On Panchami, the day before Chhath, the Vrati observes fast for the whole day, which ends in the evening a little late after sunset. Just after the worship the offerings of Rasiao-kheer (rice delicacy), Sohari/puris (deep-fried puffs of wheat flour) and bananas are offered to deities and then the whole family shares the Prasad.
Shaam ki Arghya
Offerings are made to the setting Sun. Chhath is the only festival when the setting sun is worshipped. This signifies Indian culture where Sun is respected despite on decline.
The devotees reach the riverbank again just before the sunrise, and offer prayers to the rising Sun. Once the prayers are done, the devotees break their fast with the Prasad or the offerings. This culminates this festival.
The devotee follows very strict rituals during this festival and the whole family supports the observer, also called as Parvaiti or Parvaitin. This festival is observed most elaborately in Bihar, Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and the Terai regions of Nepal in modern times, and is more prevalent in areas where migrants from those areas have a presence, it is celebrated in all regions and major urban centers in India. The festival is celebrated in the regions including but not exclusive to the northeast region of India, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Chandigarh, Gujarat, Delhi, Mumbai and Mauritius.
It is believed that Chhath was started by Karna, the son of Surya Putra. Karna, who ruled over the Anga Desh (present day Munger district of Bihar) during the Mahabharat Age. He was a great warrior and danveer and fought against the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra War.
The ancient Sanskrit epic Mahabharat has references to Draupadi, worshipping Sun. In the epic, Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas, rulers of Hastinapur (modern Delhi) had performed the Chhatha-Vrata, seeing the Pandavas in deep trouble and on advice of noble sage Dhaumya. Through her worship of Sun god, Draupadi was not only able to solve her immediate problem but also helped the Pandavas later regain their lost kingdom.
Perhaps the most respectable character in Mahabharata, because he cannot be faulted for his actions. Perhaps the most deserving and worthy who achieved nothing, because everyone around him was plotting against him. From Indra to Krishna. Perhaps the odds were stacked against him, perhaps this was his destiny that his own guru cursed him. Even on the battlefield,everyone was on Arjuna’s side and he lost the duel inspite of fighting better. In my opinion, he was better archer, a better human being who did not get his due.
For those who want to know more about this character, please read Rashmirathi penned by Ramdhari Singh Dinkar. You will not find a better representation of this character. Perhaps I am taking too much time and not going into the details – so here is the story of Karna for you.
Karna is one of the central figures in Hindu epic Mahabharata. He was the first son of Kunti, and was thus brother to the Pandavas, and the eldest of them. Although Duryodhana of the Kauravas appoint him king of Anga, his role in the legend far exceeds the importance of a king. He fought for the Kauravas in the great battle at Kurukshetra.
The princess Kunti, while young attended to the sage Durvasa for a full year, while he was a guest at her father`s palace. The sage was pleased with her service and so he granted her a boon whereby she could call upon any of the gods through a mantra and the god would grant her a son equal to the god in splendour. Unsure of whether the boon would actually be granted, Kunti, while still an unmarried young girl, decided to test the mantra and called upon Lord Surya, the Hindu deity of the sun. When Surya appeared before her, she was completely overawed. Bound by the power of the mantra, Surya granted her a son as radiant and strong as his father, although she did not want a child. Through his divine power, Kunti retains her virginity and honor. Thus Karna was born. As Surya`s son, Karna is born with an armour (`Kavacha`) and a pair of earrings (`Kundala`) which are dipped in Amrit the nectar of immortality.
Kunti was now in the embarrassing position of being an unwed mother. Unable to face the world with her divine child, she placed Karna in a basket and floated him down a river with his jewelry, praying fervently that he would be kept safe.
The child Karna was borne down the river and picked up by King Dhritarashtra`s charioteer, Adhiratha, a suta(meaning son of a Kshatriya man and a Brahmin woman). Karna was raised by him and his wife Radha (not the same Radha who was Lord Krishna`s Companion at Mathura) as their son and named Vasusena (born with wealth), due to his natural set of armour and earrings. They knew something of his parentage by the jewellery he was found with, and never hid from him the fact that he was not their biological child. He was also known as Radheya because of the name of his mother Radha. His younger brother, Shon, was born to Adiratha and Radha after Karna`s arrival.
The bond between Karna and his foster family was one of pure love, respect and affection despite the lack of blood relationship. Adhiratha was honored by Karna in front of all the warrior kind, and Karna lovingly performed his duties as a son and brother within his foster family, despite his rise as king of Anga and the eventual revelation of his true birth.
As he grew into adulthood, Karna sought to be a warrior – being a Kshatriya and divine at that, it is said to have run in his blood. He correspondingly moved to Hastinapura. He approached Dronacharya, who at that time had established his school and was training the Kuru princes, requesting admission into his school. Drona refused to teach him, as he was a sutaputra. Karna realized his caste would continue to be a barrier in his quest for knowledge. He decided eventually to approach Parashurama himself. He did so, and was accepted as a student by Parashurama, who was under the impression he was a brahmin. Karna is spoken of as a diligent student, whose attention and concentration mirrored Arjuna`s. Parashurama trained him, to the point where he declared him his equal in the arts of war and fighting. During his stay in Vishnuavatar Parashurama`s hermitage, Karna befriended many Rakshasas, Yakshas, Gandharvas and Nagas.
As Karna`s training comes to completion, Parashurama learns the truth. One afternoon, when he is tired, he requests Karna to bring a pillow for him, so he may sleep outside in the shade. Karna instead offers him his lap as a pillow. While Parashurama is asleep, an insect comes by, and alighting on Karna`s thigh, bites him. Despite the pain, Karna does not move as it would disturb his Guru. The insect bites deeply into his leg, causing blood to flow out, the warmth and feel of which wakes up Parashurama. He asks Karna how he could withstand the pain and the sight of blood, neither of which brahmins are capable of. He deduces he is a kshatriya, as only they possess the resolve to withstand such pain. He curses Karna, stating that when he requires an astra (divine weapon) the most, he will be unable to recall its incantations. Radheya pleads with him, upon which Parashurama tells him, in a mollified tone, that while his curse is irrevocable, Karna will eventually achieve what he senses as his goal – fame. He tells Karna that eventually, his name will become immortal.
Karna leaves Parashurama`s hermitage, and wanders about for some time. One day, seeing something flash by him, he shoots an arrow at it out of reflex reaction. The arrow kills his target which turns out to be another brahmin`s cow. Its owner, seeing it dead, curses Karna stating that when he is fighting the most crucial battle of his life with his dearest enemy, his chariot wheel will sink and he will be helpless.
Cursed twice over, Karna returns to his home. He does not tell his family about the curses, merely that his training is complete. Eventually, he decides to seek out a position at the court in Hastinapura.
Tournament of Hastinapur and becoming King of Anga desh
Drona held a tournament at Hastinapura, to display the skills of the Kuru princes, whose training was also complete. Arjuna emerges in this tournament as a particularly gifted archer. Karna, who was at that time a member of the audience, decided to challenge Arjuna, who was fairy complacent about his position and ability. He repeated all of Arjuna`s feats, to the chagrin of Drona and the Pandavas, and the amazement of Duryodhana. To establish a clear winner, Karna challenges Arjuna to single combat. Drona, however refuses Karna his duel, asking first for his clan and kingdom – according to the rules, only a prince may challenge Arjuna who is a prince of the Kuru house. Duryodhana, eldest of the Kauravas, offers Karna the throne of Anga (today`s Bhagalpur in Bihar), so that Karna would be a king and thus eligible to participate in the contest. This act is considered one of the few truly noble actions carried out by Duryodhana. When Karna, who is emotionally overcome at this, asks him what he can do to repay him, Duryodhana tells him all he wants is his friendship. `I want your heart` he tells Karna, to which Karna says it is already his.
Friendship with Duryodhana
This event establishes key relationships in the Mahabharata, namely, the strong bond between Duryodhana and Karna, the intense rivalry between Karna and Arjuna, and the enmity in general between the Pandavas as a whole and Karna.Karna is spoken as a loyal and true friend to Duryodhana. While he was later party to the infamous game of dice to please Duryodhana, he was opposed to it to begin with. Karna disliked Shakuni, and advised Duryodhana continuously to use his prowess and skill to defeat his enemies, rather than deceit and trickery. When the attempt to kill the Pandavas in the house of lac fails, Karna chides Duryodhana in his despondence, telling him the ways of cowards are doomed to failure and exhorting him to be a warrior and obtain what he wants through valour.
As a king, warrior and friend of Duryodhana, Karna became part of the Hastinapura court. He went on to repeat Bheeshma`s actions in bringing the princesses of Kashi to Duryodhana as wives, appearing at the Kashi court, seizing the princesses, and challenging the kings and princes to take them from him if they can.
Another story goes that Karna aided Duryodhana in marrying the princess of Chitragandha(not to be confused with Princess Chitrangada of Manipur). In her swayamvar, the princess rejected Duryodhana and was going to garland some other king when the eldest son of Dhritarasthra forcibly lifted and carried her away. The other kings present at the swayamvar pursued Duryodhana. However, Karna defeated them single-handedly.Among the kings present in the princess of Chitragandha`s swayamvar were Jarasandha, Shishupala, Dantavakra and Rukmi.
As a token of his appreciation of Karna`s valour, Jarasandha is said to have gifted Karna a portion of Magadha (modern day Bihar).
During the Pandavas` exile, Karna took upon himself the task of establishing Duryodhana as the World Emperor. Karna commanded an army to different parts of the country to subjugate kings and made them swear allegiance to Duryodhana, the king of Hastinapura or else die in battle. While Karna succeeded in all the battles, subjugating even the allies of the Pandavas, the conquest was not permanent. In this military adventure, Karna is stated to have waged wars and reduced to submission numerous tribes including those of the Kambojas, the Shakas, the Kekayas, the Avantyas, the Gandharas, the Madarakas, the Trigartas, the Tanganas, the Panchalas, the Videhas, the Suhmas, the Angas, the Vangas, the Nishadas, the Kalingas, the Vatsa, theAshmakas, the Rishikas (i.e south-western Rishikas located in Maharashtra) and numerous others including mlecchas and the forest tribes.
Karna is most famous for his generosity, which was said to surpass that of the gods. Following his appointment as king, he took an oath : Anyone who approached him with a request at midday, when he would worship the Sun, would go away with his request fulfilled. He would never let anyone leave empty-handed. This practice contributed to Karna`s fame as well as to his downfall, as Indra and Kunti took advantage of it.
Several stories are told as to Karna`s generosity. One goes that a brahmin, who required sandalwood to cremate his departed wife, approached Karna for it. It was raining heavily and the brahmin needed dry sandalwood (an alternate version is that there was a shortage of sandalwood in the city). Karna, unable to procure sandalwood from the market, noticed that the pillars of his palace were of sandalwood, and calling for an axe, cut them down to give the brahmin his wood.
Seven untold and unknown facts about Bhishma Pitamah from Mahabharata
Bhishma, or Devvrata will be known in the history as one of the great warriors who adorned this earth. The story of his birth was and his death were strange, but even stranger were his deeds on this planet. We all know that he has taken couple of difficult vows, but there are few other stories which are equally mesmerizing. Read on.
The garland of ever fresh lotuses
This is the story of Amba and Bhishma. It is a well known fact that Amba was discarded by her lover and Bhishma. She did severe penance to exact her revenge on Bhishma. Following this, Lord Subramanya appeared and given her a garland of lotuses which were fresh forever. This was also said that whosoever wears the garland, would be the enemy of Bhishma. Getting her desired blessing, she sought the help of the present warriors, but such was the clout of Bhishma, nobody dared to accept the garland.
Frustrated, she hanged the garland at the gates of King Drupad and left. Later on, she dived in a pyre of fire and given her life. In her next life, she was born as a girl to Drupad and playfully wore the garland and later became the reason of Bhishma’s demise.
The stalemate between Bhishma and Parshurama – teacher and disciple
After leaving garland of Lotus, Amba reached to Parshurama and requested him to teach Bhishma a lesson. Parshurama, who also was the teacher of Bhishma, decided to fight him in order to have justice for Amba. The fight ensued for a long time and nobody could be beaten. Reason, Parshurama was akhand chiranjeevi, means one who could not die and Bhishma had a boon from his father, Shantanu, that he would be able to choose the time of his death.
The sixteen year old who held a river
Bhishma was the child of Ganga and Shantanu. There is a story of how Ganga drowned her seven sons, and Bhishma was eighth. This was because of a curse from sage Vasistha. Ganga took her eighth child away with her. After 16 years, a youth was found stopping the water flow of Ganga with a wall of arrows. When Shantanu came to know, he himself went to see that. He found a young man doing this, then he got ready to have a fight with him, the then Gangaa came, introduced him as his son and handed over him to Shantanu. Shantanu brought him home. His Guru were Parashuraam Jee and Brihaspati Jee like teachers.
Bhishma chose his date of death and waited for 58 days
Grandsire Bhishma’s body was pierced all over by arrows which served as his bed. He noticed that the sun was in Dakshinayana and hence it was not the best time to embrace death. Hence he waited 58 days for Uttarayana while lying on the bed of arrows. Bhishma Pitamaha had attained a boon from his father Shantanu that death would befall him only when he desired it.
Bhishma teaches Pandavas from the death bed
On the bed of arrows, after the war of Mahabharata was over, Pandavas reached over to Bhishma. Yudhisthira asks some questions which essentially ask how the welfare of mankind can be achieved. Bhishma answers by stating that mankind will be free from all sorrows by chanting the [quote]”Vishnusahasranama“[/quote], which are the thousand names of the all-pervading Supreme being Vishnu, who is the master of all the worlds, the supreme light, the essence of the universe and who is Brahman. All matter animate and inanimate reside in him, and he in turn resides within all matter. This is available in anushashana parva of Mahabharata.
An excellent book by none other than Anant Pai from Amar Chitra Katha. Third one is dedicated to the battle of Kurukshetra.
Bhishma was known as Prabhasa in earlier birth as a vasu
Vasus went for a holiday with their wives to a mountain tract where stood the hermitage of Vasishtha. One of them saw Vasishtha’s cow, Nandini, grazing there. Its divinely beautiful form attracted him and he pointed it out to the ladies. They were all loud in praise of the graceful animal, and one of them requested her husband to secure it for her. The vasu, Prabhasa explained that this cow is of no use, but on her insistence, he has given in. When Vasistha knew about, he cursed vasus to be born into the world of men. When the Vasus came to know of the curse, they asked forgiveness. Vasistha softened the curse on other brothers, but not on the one who took the cow away. This boy later became the eighth child of Ganga and Shantanu, Devvrata. He later known as Bhishma, who even caused the Lord to break his promise.
Bhishma made lord Vishnu to break his vow
Perhaps the grandest of his feats, was the occasion in the war of kurukshetra, when Shri Krishna decided to fight the grandsire. This happened after Bhishma created havoc in pandava’s army with his skills. Lord Krishna decided before the war that he will not pickup any weapon. On other hand Bhishma promised Duryodhana that he will fight like a lion and will kill Arjuna. There was an intense battle between Arjuna and Bhisma and Arjun being powerful still was no match for Bhishma. Bhishma shot arrow which cut Arjuna armour and his gandiva bow. Arjuna was helpless before the wrath of the old, but powerful warrior. As Bhishma was about to kill Arjuna with his arrow Lord Krishna could not tolerate his devotee’s plight and he immediately threw down the chariot rein and jumped off the chariot onto the battle field and lifted a chariot wheel and charged Bhishma. Arjuna tried to stop Lord krishna but Lord says that in order to protect my devotee I must break my own promise.
Karna was the eldest son of Kunti and Lord Surya. There is not much available about his family, but following briefly tells about the family of this great archer, the rashmirathi.
In some texts, Vrushali has been names as the wife of the great warrior Karna, but there is not much material available on her. The son of Karna, Vrishketu is mentioned more frequently and it is also known that Pandavas developed good liking towards him, especially Arjuna.
Karna had two wives- Vrushali- from whom he had seven sons – and Supriya- a friend of Bhanumati. Bhanumati was the wife of Duryodhana. Vrushali committed sati on Karna’s funeral pyre.
Vrishketu and other sons
Vrishketu was Karna’s only son to survive the horror of the Kurukshetra war. He later came under the patronage of the Pandavas. Vrishketu accompanied both Bhima- to acquire the sacrificial horse and Arjuna, where he famously fought – (and was killed by) Babruvahana.
Shri Krishna’s first response was to revive Vrishketu with the magical Nagmani and only then turn his attention to Arjuna. During that campaign, Vrishketu married the daughter of king Yavanaath, probably a King in the west. It is recorded that Arjuna developed a great affection for his nephew Vrishketu and trained him to be one of the best archers in the world.
Mahabharata mentions the names of Karna’s seven sons – Vrishasen, Sushen, Bhanusen, Satyasen, Prasenjit and Satyasandh, and Vrishketu.
Out of these, four of them were killed by Pandavas. Vrishasen was killed by Arjun, who contrasted the situation with Abhimanyu and told Karna that just as he killed Abhimanyu when Arjun wasn’t there to protect him, Arjun would kill Vrishasena despite Karna’s presence, and went on to do just that. The next day, Nakula was involved in a battle with Bhanusen, Sushen and Satyasen, and killed them.
In some texts, this is mentioned that one of Karna’s son was killed during the chaos, which was followed after Draupadi’s swayamvar.
Parshurama is the sixth incarnation (one of the dashavatara) of Lord Vsihnu. He is said to be one of the chiranjeevis. Chiranjeevi means one who doesn’t die.
Parshurama is born to Sage Jamdagni and Renuka. Parshurama was very obedient to his father, and once when asked by his father, he did not hesitate and beheaded his own mother. Jamdagni and Renuka meditated before the birth of Parshurama and with the blessing of Shiva, Vishnu agreed to take incarnation as their son which became sixth of the ten dashavataras. He was the fifth son of his parents.
In his childhood, he did severe penance and pleased Lord Shiva. Lord presented him with the weapon parshu, thus the boy was called as Parshurama.
Killing of king Kartavirya
At that point of time, a king named Kartavirya Arjuna became very strong. He also defeated Ravana. One day, he came to the hermitage of sage Jamdagni and was welcomed by the sage. Jamdagni had a cow, Kamdhenu, presented by Indra, which allowed him to serve his guests. Impressed, kartavirya wanted the cow, which Jamdagni denied. The king stole the calf.
Parshurama was not at home at this point of time. When he returned back, he went to the palace of King Kartavirya and killed him. Then he retrieved Kamdhenu and came back to his home.
Killing of Sage Jamdagni
Soon, sons of Kartavirya discovered their father at the palace and knew that only Parashurama could have killed him. In revenge, they traveled to the hermitage and murdered Jamadagni, surrounding the rishi and shooting him to death with arrows like a stag. Afterwards, they decapitated his body and took his head with them.
When Parshurama discovered his mother weeping over the body of his father, he vowed to avenge the death of his father. He hunted down the sons of Kartavirya at the palace. He killed them all and returned with the head of his father to conduct the cremation. Parashurama then vowed to enact a genocide on the war-mongering Kshatriyas twenty-one times over.
Parshurama is also the guru or teacher of Bhishma, Drona and Karna. Parshurama’s famous curse is on Karna which rendered the Brahmastra useless for Karna.
Parshurama and Rama ( dashavatara’s of Lord Vishnu)
During Sita swayamvar, Rama broke the bow of Lord Shiva. Hearing the sound of breaking of the bow, Parshurama came there and challenged Rama to string the bow with an arrow. Rama, being an avatar of Lord Vishnu, easily mounted the arrow and asked Parshurama, where should I fire this arrow now? Parshurama realized that Rama was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, and his own role has completed now.
Kavach and Kundal are significant in terms of Indian mythology or to be specific, Mahabharata epic.
These were the insurance for Karna, the tragic hero from Mahabharata, as he was impenetrable from any weapon, as long as he was wearing them.
It happens that Karna was born to Kunti as a divine intervention from Surya, the Sun god. He was born with Kavach and Kundal of him. Kavach refers to body armour and Kundal are the ear-rings.
So basically, he was born with an added advantage over anyone. So in the epic of Mahabharata, when he decided to fight with Duryodhana, he was unknowingly giving him a massive advantage. The consequence of this could have resulted in Duryodhana winning the war.
How this could have happened? After all, we hear every time that truth always prevails. So, heavens have other designs. Like in every story, where the evil is so strong, there is invariably a small chink in armour, a small opening which is exploited by good forces. Like Ravana was vulnerable to humans, Lord Vishnu also found a way to neutralize Hiranyakashyap.
So what was his achilles heel? Being a good person, it is equally difficult to defeat him by wrong means. Indian gods, especially Indra have always descended to not so sporting means, when it comes to their advantage. This time again, he finds a way, and rather exploits a virtue in Karna.
Karna was famous for his benevolence. And he never returned anyone when someone requested him. So Indra, this time, disguises himself as a brahmin, and asks for his Kavach and Kundal.
Karna didn’t hesitate for a moment and took out Kavach and Kundal which were never separated from his body and handed over his advantage to Indra, and eventually to Arjuna and Pandavas.