Karwa Chauth – The festival of love
India is a land of festivals, rituals and umpteen number of traditions. Some are colorful, others are brighter, some are customary, others seem weird; but there is one thing that is in common in all of them; a story behind the fest. One such festival is Karwa Chauth.
What is Karwa Chauth?
Karwa Chauth is a festival celebrated by the married women who performs fasting for the good health, prosperity and longevity of their husbands. It is another mirror of the rich Indian culture. This tradition is a means of getting the belief of their husband’s long life. By literal meaning, ‘Karwa’ signifies mud pots and ‘Chauth’ represents four or the fourth day. The Chaturthi; or the fourth day of Krishna Paksh in the Hindu month Kartik is reserved for this festival. It is celebrated throughout India with variations inculcated over a period of time in different regions.
The Indian Society traditions:
There are clear demarcations in the Indian society about the roles of the males and females. The husbands are the bread earners of the family while the wives takes care of the household work. To protect the family is the job of the husband while the wife is entrusted with educating and carrying out the rituals and family values forward. Wives are treated as goddesses on this day since they sacrifice their food, or metaphorically their comfort, for the sake of their partners.
Marriage has always played a significant role in the Indian society. Before the Karwa Chauth, a lot of preparation is done by the women. Earthen pots are brought from the local market. The pooja thali is decorated with lamps, colors, incense sticks and sweets. The women paint their hands with beautiful henna designs.
The fasting by the women commences at daybreak and continues till the time the moon comes up. A woman does not engage in her daily household activities throughout the day. A sieve is used thereafter. From that sieve, the women glare at the moon and their husband. Water is offered to the God and then the husband offers her food and water.
It is also said that the sieve acts as a ‘pardah’ so that they cannot look at the moon, representing the Gods, directly as they are dressed as brides. Interesting, ain’t it?
Why is it celebrated? The Story Behind:
As per the legend, Savitri was a very devoted wife of Satyavan. When Lord Yama, the God of Death, came to take the life of her husband away, she begged to spare him. She began fasting till the time Lord Yama intervened to stop her by luring her to ask for any boon. Cleverly, she asked for having children which was only possible if Satyavan was alive. Finally, her husband’s life was spared.
Another story goes from Mahabharata, which illustrated that when Arjuna had gone to Nilgiri Hills, Draupadi was very worried. Lord Krishna had come to help and guide her. Citing the example of Goddess Parvati’s fast for her husband Lord Shiva, he advised her to do a similar fast for Arjuna’s safety. She did and her husband returned home safely.
There is also a story about Queen Veervati who did fasting for the good health of his husband. As the day began to end, her desperation to eat and drink increased. Her brothers could not bear the pain of their sister so they fooled her by creating a dummy moon in the sky using fire. As soon as she broke the fast, her husband perished. She wept uncontrollably till Lord Yama came and realizing her innocence in the matter, decided to revive her husband.
21st Century India?
Given the harshness of the fasting and the pains that come along with it, it is difficult to believe this ritual is still followed. Indeed it is! Married, and also unmarried, ladies do keep this fast for their husbands, or prospective husbands. More than anything else, it is the belief that keeps this tradition going. One does not seek any scientific explanation to this ritual, but it is for the partner to see the sacrifice of her better half for him.
Feminists have however been very critical of it. They are of the opinion that these rituals have played a part in the oppression of women. They are of the view that festival like Karwa Chauth hinders women from exercising their freedom, coming out of the shell, and bars them from breaking the societal shackles. They seek ban on such rituals just like the old Sati tradition in which the women were forcefully put into the pyre of their husband.
Despite the opposition, very little impact has been made on the women in this regard. It is more to do with the voluntary nature of this ritual. Earlier, the practices like Sati, female foeticide, widows not being allowed to remarry were more of a forceful nature. In a turn of events, even the husbands are seen fasting for their wives now which has made a positive impact.
Karwa Chauth is considered a symbol of love, care and solidarity of the married couple. It shows the rich Indian heritage and shows the sacrifice or the tyaag of the wives towards their husbands. It is also made popular by some Bollywood movies also. Interestingly, it is now becoming more and more popular and being practiced by some foreigners also to strengthen their bonding with their partners.