Karwa Chauth

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Karwa Chauth is an Indian celebration which has no parallel anywhere else in the world. It is a ritualistic celebration,  where woman pray for the well being of her husband. On the fourth day after the full moon in the Hindu calendar month of Karthik, Indian woman especially in Northern and western regions of India fast from sunrise to moonrise for the longevity of their husbands. It is not just married women, but girls of marriageable age do this for getting a good husband in the future. Some regions in South India, Karadaiyan Nonbu’   a similar festival of the same theme is celebrated in the month of March.

Karwa Chauth scene from Super hit Bollywood Movie Dilwale Dulhaniya Lejayenge

There are no reciprocal celebrations in any culture where Men fast for the longevity of their wives. Though it may sound like a one-sided affair, the ripple effect of someone sacrificing a day’s sumptuous meal always helped make the wife endear to their husband. Moreover, this centuries old celebration cements men’s place as the provider and protector of the family – thus the emphasis on his longevity. Gender roles have undergone significant changes in the last few decades; it is more likely that celebrations like this are dying a slow death as we watch.

A Happy Karwa Chauth wishing poster

There are many stories about the origin of the festival. Most of India’s festivals can have origins traced backed from the legends of Mahabharata or Ramayana. There are many instances of woman observing fast for the well-being of their husbands in those ithihasas. It is more to do with, giving up or sacrificing something to gain something else.

A Karwa Chauth Scene from movie – Dil De Chuke Sanam

Sri Krishna advised Draupadi, the wife of Pandavas, to observe fast with rituals similar to Karva chauth, for a day for the safe return of Arjuna from Nilgiris. It seems, it all worked well for Draupadi. The story of Savitri and Satyavan   in Vana Parva of the Mahabharata, edges around a similar theme. Savitri has taken an oath to perform the austerities of fasting and prayers soon after her marriage to Satyavan for the longevity of her husband. When her husband died, Yama the God of death, after much persuasion obliged to her request for returning her husband’s life. This day is celebrated in Tamil Nadu as Karadayan Nonbu in the month of Falguni. In Bihar, Jharkhand, and Odisha, married women observe Savitri Brata, a tradition based on this.

On a closer look – behind the observance of these rituals, all indications points to a women’s desire for continued stability and security in her life. In an agrarian society, after the harvest, the woman folk spend a day praying for the health and well-being of their husbands, so that they can work hard in the fields to bring the same level of prosperity the next year and the years after. It could even be considered as a sort of thanks giving day for the hard work of the men. Karva’ means earthen pots used to store wheat and ‘chauth’ means the fourth day. Karva Chauth is celebrated on the fourth day of Krishna Paksh in the Hindu month Kartik.  Karva chauth is celebrated only in predominantly wheat eating regions of India and the festival also coincides with the wheat-sowing time giving strength to the above said argument.

The rituals

The new generation may question the elaborate rituals involved in celebrating Karva chauth and the significance of it. In Hindu way of life, giving up something, whether it is time, money or personal comfort, indicates the dedication towards the cause.  Those who have experienced the Hindu way of life will definitely understand the sense of satisfaction one derives from making such little sacrifices. A lot of things in life can’t be explained but can only be experienced.

On karva chauth day, women get up before sunrise.  The fasting begins after dawn. So generally women eat and drink just before sunrise. Though Indian woman do household chores 365 days a year – on this day, fasting woman does no housework.  Prior to this day, woman will do everything possible to make themselves look good on the day, by applying henna on hands and keeping ready the jewellery to wear. Newlyweds prefer to wear the wedding saris for the occasion. Women dress up in traditional attire with accessories such bangles, bindi, sindoor and others.

A girl’s Facebook post on how she is preparing for Karwa Chauth

The parents usually gift their married daughter with a basket full of goodies, which include sweets, fruits and clothing. By the evening most woman in a locality gather in one place (house) to prepare a corner for Puja. This Puja corner is beautifully decorated and a small platform is prepared against a wall. A statue of Goddess Parvati is placed usually made of clay or in some cases even out of cow dung.  The Puja starts by evening 4or 5pm.

There are some minor differences in the rituals between the regions.

In Rajasthan, women make earthen pots (karwas) and fill it with rice and wheat. These Karwas then exchanged between the participants seated in a circle seven times. Older women will narrate stories of karwa chauth and stories of Shiv – Parvati.

In Uttar Pradesh, in certain places they worship mother earth, the women will take a bit of soil and then place sindhoor on it after sprinkling water treating it as an idol of mother earth. In the thali, a earthern lamp lighted with incense sticks burning. The idol of Parvathi is also considered as a representation of mother earth. The idols are offered sweets and later the idols are handed over to mother-in-law’s or sister – in-law’s.

After this ceremony is concluded, the women await the rising of the moon. Once the moon is visible, the women accompanied by her husband view the reflection of the moon in a vessel filled with water, through a sieve or through the cloth of a dupatta. The water is offered to the moon to secure its blessing. Then a sip of water is taken from the husband’s hand and the fast ends.

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