Chhath Vratah Why in Bihar

During the Vedic period, lived an ‘asur’ named ‘Gayasur’ in ‘Keekat Pradesh’, a vast area spanning most of central India. Gayasur was an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu. Gayasur was massively huge in size too. It is said that when he lay on the ground, his head would fall in northern India and his legs in the Andhra region. What is important is that his heart (‘hriday sthal’) would lie in Gaya. Th e ‘devtas’ were very scared of Gayasur as he would trouble them for no reason. Th ey wanted to get rid of him and so they approached Lord Brahma for relief. But Lord Brahma told them He was helpless because Gayasur was among the greatest devotees of Lord Vishnu and nothing could be done to the supposedly atrocious asur.

Next, the devtas approached Lord Vishnu, but He was very hesitant to end the life of His most ardent worshipper. Th e devtas then suggested to Lord Vishnu that He could at least allow a ‘yagya’ (‘yagna’), invoking His name, to be performed on Gayasur’s heart, which lay in the Gaya region. Lord Vishnu reluctantly agreed to the idea and approached Gayasur, who realised that the performance of the yagya – that too in Lord Vishnu’s name – would lead to his instant death. But since he was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu, he accepted the request. Lord Vishnu, in turn, gave a blessing to Gayasur so that his name would never be forgotten in all times to come. Lord Vishnu blessed Gayasur that the place where a yagya was to be performed on his heart – that is, Gaya – would become the holiest of the holy places for Hindus, who would have to compulsorily perform ‘pind daan’ of their ancestors in Gaya and Gaya alone. (Th e practice continues since then.) Now, the devtas started searching for priests who had to be great worshippers of Lord Vishnu and, thus, could perform the yagya, but none were to be found. Th ey then approached Narada who told them that such priests could only be brought in from Shakya Dweepa in the ancient Iran region. Th ese priests were great worshippers of Surya (Sun God) and were also known as ‘Maga Brahmins’ (Reference ‘Vishnu Purana’ 2, 4, 6, 69, 71). In ancient Iranian language, ‘Maga’ means ball of fi re or Surya. Th e Sun God is considered a ‘swaroop’ of Lord Vishnu. (Th e name ‘Magadh’ can also be traced to ‘Maga’.)

Seven such Sun-worshipping priests were, therefore, brought in to the Gaya region to perform the ‘yagya’ on Gayasur’s heart. These priests, whose descendants survive even today in the Magadh region, were also known as ‘Shakdeepi Brahmins’ (Reference ‘Mahabharata’, ‘Bheeshma Parva’ 12, 33/ ‘Bhavishya Purana’, ‘Brahma Parva’ 139, 142). These seven Brahmins subsequently settled down in Gaya and its adjoining districts. Edicts found in 1937-38 AD in Govindpur of Gaya district mention this. Following in the footsteps of the ‘Maga Brahmins’, the people of the Magadh region also started the formal worship of Sun God. Surya is a ‘Pratyaksh Devta’ (visibile deity) and ‘Surya Shashthi’ (Chhath) has high scientific significance too. In due course, this came to be known as ‘Chhath Vrat’. The worship was rather simple and could be performed by common people. Although it required a lot of rigour, it did not need any intervention of purohits. With time, the significance of Sun worship (Chhath Vrat) grew and the festival became popular. The main reason was that observance of Chhath proved beneficial to the worshippers and their families. The origin of Chhath Vrat, therefore, has to be traced in the Magadh (Magah) region from where it spread to other places. The Shakdeepi Brahmins established Sun Temples at seven places in Magadh, including Deo, Ulaar, Aungari, Gaya and Pandarak. (Chhath of Deo is considered extremely auspicious.) The Pandas of Gaya Dham – the sole ‘Pitri Teerth’ of Hindus – also call themselves ‘Agnihotri Brahmins’. Agnihotri is a direct reference to Surya. During Chhath, ‘Usha’ and ‘Pratyusha’ are also worshipped along with Surya. Usha refers to dawn or the first light of the day. Pratyusha refers to dusk or the last light of the day. Both Usha and Pratyusha – popularly known as ‘Chhathi Maiyya’ – are believed to be consorts of Surya. That is why during Chhath, the worshipper offers prayers to the setting as well as the rising Sun. Lord Krishna’s son Samb and Raja Priyavrat are also said to have performed Chhath Vrat in the same Magadh region and benefitted.

1. Priyaranjan Bharti, a senior Patna-based journalist and also a Shakdeepi Brahmin from the district's Bihta region.
2. ‘Glories of Gaya: Glimpses of History and Archaelogy’, 42nd Indian History Congress Souvenir, Magadh University, Bodh Gaya, 28-30 December 1981. Upendra Thakur, MA, DPhil, Professor and Head, Department of Ancient India and Asian Studies, Magadh University, Bodh Gaya; Naseem Akhtar, MA, Curator, Gaya Museum, Gaya; Naresh Bannerjee, MA, PhD, Department of Economics, Gaya College, Gaya.