From India’s Bihar to California’s Bay Area, Hindus celebrate ancient sun festival

by | Nov 16, 2023 | Religion

(RNS) — An ancient ritual as old as Hinduism itself has traveled through time and space all the way to the waters of California’s Bay Area. Starting at sundown on Friday (Nov. 17), hundreds of Hindus will wade into the waters of Quarry Lakes, a manmade lake in Fremont, California, to express reverence to nature, which they believe to be God manifest. 
The festival of Chhath, which originated in the Indian state of Bihar, is devoted to Surya, the god of the sun. Worshippers thank Surya for providing light, warmth and life by fasting for three days and offering solitary prayers and fruits.
But Chhath’s rituals, stemming from the earliest roots of Hinduism, known as Vedic Hinduism, which was prevalent in India more than 3,000 years ago, predate the Hindu gods we know today by some 1,400 years. 
With a focus on meditation and gratitude, the Vedic tradition, named for the Vedas, its sacred texts, is still present in yoga’s Sun Salutation, or suryanamaskar.
Hindus prepare Chhath puja offerings at Quarry Lakes Regional Recreation Area in Fremont, California, in Nov. 2019. (Photo courtesy Sunil and Shalini Singh)
“What I really value in Chhath is a connection to my roots and to an ancient tradition,” said Pushpita Prasad, a Bihari Californian who has participated in the festival in recent years. “It makes me feel very powerful to be a part of something that my ancestors might have been doing thousands of years ago.”
While it began with a single family’s observance in 2011, the Quarry Lakes Chhath has turned into an event that will draw 1,700 people this year — a number limited by the Quarry Lakes park authority’s cap on attendance. With more than 4,000 Hindus expressing interest, the event is sold out in minutes after word spreads that registration is open. 
“People become very nostalgic about this,” said Sunil Singh, who founded the Quarry Lakes celebration with his wife, Shalini. “It is th …

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