Karva Chauth | Celebrating The Holy Union Of A Wife And Husband
ALL ABOUT KARVA CHAUTH (Click to navigate this page)
Introduction | Reasons for celebration of Karva Chauth | Social Origins | Legends associated with Karva Chauth | Rituals & festivities of Karva Chauth | Social Significance | Critiques & a Modern day take on Karva Chauth
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Karva Chauth is a Hindu festival that celebrates the relationship of marriage between a wife and husband. It is a one day festival celebrated annually and is typically scheduled during October or November based on the Lunar Calendar. The primary ritual associated with this festival is the strict fasting by women who consume neither food nor water through the larger part of the day. This fast is broken at night after the observance of certain rituals. It is believed that the observance of Karva Chauth by a married woman helps elongate the life and well-being of her husband.
While it is easy to dismiss Karva Chauth as a sexist festival, modern Hindus have started to give it an innovative take where both the husband and wife fast for each other not only to show their love for each other but also in the spirit of equality of sexes. While the celebration of this festival has traditionally been concentrated in Northern parts of India, its coverage by popular media like movies and TV serials have helped push its popularity across the entire country and beyond.
Reasons for observance of Karva Chauth
Karva Chauth and the fast related to it are celebrated by married or yet-to-be-married Hindu women in the lunar month of Kartik. The fast is held as a symbolic sacrifice by the woman for the well-being and prosperity of her husband or fiancé. Karva Chauth as a festival which symbolizes the love between married or engaged couples. This ceremony, in which women fast from sunrise to moonrise is most commonly observed by North Indian women in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, parts of Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Gujarat. While many rituals are associated with Karva Chauth as a festival, puja or worship is the main part. Women seek the blessings of Goddess Parvati not only for their husbands’ good health but their family’s everlasting prosperity. They also pray for their sons, grandsons and wealth.
Social Origins Of Karva Chauth
Renewal Of Friendship With God-Sister (‘Dharm-Behen’ ) –
Apart from mythological reasons, there are social reasons too which are believed to have caused the origin of Karva Chauth. Back in the days when there transport and communication options were very limited, when a new bride came to her in-laws house after the wedding she didn’t have any friends or relatives to confide in. In a totally new atmosphere she was completely alone and needed someone to talk to and to support her. The elders understood this problem and thus a custom started where, when the bride reached the in-laws house she befriended another women of her age group or older. The two women would then share a sister-like relationship for life and would act as each other’s primary support in times of need. The two women were then identified as ‘dharm-behen’ or ‘God-sisters’. This god-sister would also be her confidante, supporting her in life’s troubles and any difficulties she might face with her husband or in-laws. This concept of “dharm-behen” or ‘God-sisters’ brought about the festival of Karva Chauth which was used to mark the celebration of this friendship.
According to this theory, fasting and praying for husbands was a secondary aspect of Karva Chauth. As time passed this celebration got interlinked with mythical tales. However, as the marriage was the central reason for such a friendship, women found praying and fasting for their husband during Karva Chauth with her god-sister to be a logical extension of the festivities.
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Men Going Off To War –
There’s another hypothesis that attaches the origins of Karva Chauth to the frequency of military campaigns in ancient India which frequently separated husbands and wives for long periods of time. During the Mughal rule in India, military campaigns were frequent and men had to leave their wives and kids to go off to war. On the day of the departure of the soldiers, their wives began to organize prayers for their husbands. This was also marked by large scale festivities which allowed people to socialize. Furthermore, this day was marked as a romantic evening for the couple before the husband went off to war with the threat of death constantly looming over his head.
Women whose husbands had already left for war would also join the festivities and spend the day praying for their husbands’ protection. It is believed that over a period of time, this evolved into an annual practice which is today performed as Karva Chauth.
As A Prayer For Good Harvest –
The festival of Karva Chauth also coincides with the wheat-sowing season (beginning of Rabi or autumn crop cycle). It is also the time during which the summer or Kharif crop is harvested. Some experts opine that Karva Chauth may have originated to mark this change in agricultural cycles. This theory is based on the fact that one of the rituals of Karva Chauth involves earthen pots (known as Karvas) which store wheat. An extension of this theory is that Karva Chauth may have started as a festival to organize prayers for a better harvest specifically in the wheat growing regions of North India.
Legends associated with Karva Chauth
There are a many legends associated with Karva Chauth and its origins. The common theme across these myths is that a wife’s sacrifice can bring her husband back even from the jaws of death. Here we discuss some of the most popular myths surrounding Karva Chauth. One important thing to note is that reading of the mythology of Karva Chauth – often referred to as Karva Chauth Katha (i.e. Story of Karva Chauth) – is an essential ritual during the festival. For the purposes of the reading ritual, we have separately posted the detailed version of Karva Chauth Katha in English and Karva Chauth Katha in Hindi. The stories below are just a summary of different mythologies linked to the festival.
The Story Of Queen Veervati –
Veervati was a beautiful woman who was married to a mighty king in ancient India. She was the only sister of her seven brothers. On her first Karva Chauth after being married to the king, Veervati observed the fast from sunrise at her parents’ house. However, as the day progressed she was unable to stand the strictness of the fast and waited in hunger and thirst for the moon to rise. Her loving brothers couldn’t see their sister in distress but they also realized that they could not force her to break the fast. Unable to identify any other course of action, they decided to fake a moonrise to mark the end of the Karva Chauth fast so that Veervati could finally consume food and water.
In order to do so, they hoisted a mirror in a nearby Peepal tree (Sacred Fig) to make it look as if the moon had risen. Unable to see through the illusion, Veervati assumed the reflection to be the moon itself. She broke her fast right away but as soon as she did so a messenger from her husband’s house brought the news of the king’s death. Heartbroken and teary eyed she rushed to the king’s palace. On her way to the palace she was stopped by Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Veervati asked Goddess Parvati why her husband had lost his life even though she had strictly observed the fasting ritual of Karva Chauth. Responding to Veervati’s question, Goddess Parvati informed her that her husband had lost his life because she had broken her fast before the actual moonrise. Goddess Parvati further described how Veervati’s brothers had faked a moonrise out of concern for her well-being.
Realizing what had happened, Veervati begged Goddess Parvatifor for forgiveness and was granted a boon that if she repeated the fast with complete devotion her husband would be reanimated. Veervati then started the fast once again observing the strict rules of Karva Chauth. As a result of her devotion, Yamaraj (the Hindu God of death) was forced to resurrect the king.
In another version of this myth, the brothers of Veervati light a fire in the mountains and the queen mistakes it for the moon. When she breaks her fast, her husband dies and she is forced to rush to the palace. On the way there, she meets Goddess Parvati who cuts her own little finger to give a few drops of holy blood to the Queen asking her to sprinkle it on the body of the dead king. The Goddess further declares that if Veervati strictly repeated the Karva Chauth fast, her husband would be brought back to life.
The Legend Of Mahabharata –
According to the Mahabharata, Draupadi, too, had observed this fast. At a certain point of time in the Mahabharata, Arjun was forced to go into exile in the Nilgiris to make amends for his wrongdoings. As a consequence of his absence, his brothers – the other four Pandavas had to face many difficulties. Seeing the distress of her husbands, Draupadi prayed to Lord Krishna for help. Responding to her prayers, Lord Krishna reminded her how Lord Shiva had once advised Goddess Parvati to hold the Karva Chauth fast under similar circumstances. Following Lord Krishna’s advice, Draupadi observed Karva Chauth and its strict rituals and was able to help the Pandavas overcome their difficulties.
The Legend Of Karva –
Once upon a time in ancient India, there resided a woman named Karva who was deeply loved her husband. Her devotion towards her husband was so intense that it gave her “shakti” or spiritual powers. One day a crocodile caught her husband and killed him when he was bathing in a river. Angered and devastated by the loss, Karva bound the crocodile in a yarn of cotton and asked Yama (the Hindu God of Death) to send the crocodile to hell and bring her husband back to life. Yama refused but Karva threatened to curse and destroy him. Scared of being cursed by a woman who had gained divine powers through complete devotion towards her husband, Yamaraj agreed to send the crocodile to hell and blessed Karva’s husband with a long life.
The Story Of Satyavan And Savitri –
Yamaraj (the Hindu God of Death) once came down to Earth to take with him the soul of a man named Satyavan. Satyavan was married to a woman by the name Savitri. When Savitri came to know of Yamaraj’s intentions, she begged Yama to spare her husband’s life. Despite her desperate requests, Yamaraj was bound by his duty and refused to spare Satyavan’s life. Unable to cope with the death of her husband, Savitri stopped eating food and drinking water (just like is the case with the Karva Chauth fast) and started to follow Yamaraj as he carried her husband’s soul with him. Seeing Savitri’s unrelenting devotion, Yamaraj turned to her and granted her a boon while also saying that she could not directly ask for her husband’s life. Savitri agreed to yamaraj’s condition but at the same time she used her wisdom and asked Yama that she be blessed with children. She further added that because she was completely devoted to her husband (a ‘Pati-vrata’ woman) she would never have children from any man other than Satyavan. Finally, Yamaraj could see no alternative but to revive Satyavan back to life. Savitri’s willingness to quit food and water for the life of her husband manifests today in the fasting ritual of Karva Chauth.
Rituals And Festivities Associated With Karva Chauth
Karva Chauth is celebrated on the fourth day of the dark fortnight (Krishna paksh) of the Hindu Lunar month of Kartik. “Karva” means pot and “Chauth” means fourth. On the day of the festival, a Karva or pitcher is filled with gifts and it is donated as charity (or “daan”) for the well-being of the household.
Karva Chauth also coincides with “Sankashti Chaturthi” which is observed as a fasting day to worship Lord Ganesh. The central deities on Karva Chauth are Lord Shiva and his family – Goddess Parvati, Lord Ganesh and Lord Kartik. Goddess Parvati also known by the name “Akhand Soubhagyavati” (eternal fortuity) is worshipped first. Women also worship Goddess Gauri and Chauth Mata who are identified as different incarnations of Goddess Parvati.
Prior to the Festival: Before the day of Karva Chauth, women buy fine clothing, jewelry, adornments (“shringar”), henna and other puja items.
The morning of Karva Chauth: In the morning of Karva Chauth women wake up before sunrise, have food, bath and apply henna on their hands and feet. After that they follow a strict fast till moonrise without consuming any food or water.
In the evening: Women dress up in fine traditional clothes – typically sarees or lehangas of red, gold and orange colors, which are regarded as auspicious. They also wear their wedding jewelry and accept gifts or “sargi” (blessings in the form of gifts) from their mother-in-law. The married woman also receives a basket of gifts from her mother, which is meant to be passed on to her mother-in-law and it contains fruits, sweets, sarees etc. Before sundown women gather in groups in someone’s house or temple where the puja is arranged. An elderly woman narrates the “Vrat-katha” of Karva Chauth before the image of Goddess Gauri. This image of Goddess Gauri was made out of cow dung in old days but in the modern context idols of a wide variety of different materials are used.
Women sit in a circle and a pitcher of water is kept at the centre. Each woman has her own thali (plate) filled with offerings to the Goddess such as vermillion, sacred water, dry fruits, flowers, diyas and sweets. They light their diyas while listening to the Vrat-katha. Once the puja rituals is completed they pass their thalis to the elder-most woman in the gathering and seek her blessings as well.
Worshipping the Moon –
Women observing Karva Chauth break the fast after moonrise accompanied by their husbands. The couple usually goes out in the open from where the moon can be spotted directly. The wife observes the moon through a sieve and then symbolically offers water to the moon in a vessel. Immediately after, she looks at the face of her husband through the sieve. Following this, the husband feeds a morsel of food to the wife marking the end of the fast . Finally, the end of the day is marked by a grand meal prepared specially for the festival.
Social Significance Of Karva Chauth
Along with its religious and mythological significance, Karva Chauth has emerged as the celebration of the autumn season. Since the festival closely follows the harvest of Kharif crop (summer crop) in autumn it is a great time for communal festivities and exchange of gifts. It also signifies the sowing of Rabi or autumn crop.
Critiques And A Modern Day Take On Karva Chauth
According to many modern critics, Karva Chauth as a festival is perceived as inherently sexist as there is no reciprocal fast for women by their husbands. Some Indian feminists consider the festival to be a symbol of cultural repression of women. Many call it “anti-women” and there have been protests to modify or eliminate Karva Chauth by groups which think that it preaches the idea of dependence of women on men. Other feminists have stated it to be an “instrument of social control” that leads to the oppression of women.
However, an opposing group of people believe that the festival is uplifting for women as they can skip their household work for a day and expect gifts from their husbands.
These conflicting views aside, Karva Chauth continues to be celebrated by women in large numbers all over the country. An evolving modern trend is the observance of the fast by men as well as mark of respect to their partners. This participation by men is seen as promoting an atmosphere of equality between sexes. In many ways Karva Chauth is being redefined as the Indian version of Valentine’s Day for married and engaged couples. As people have become more open-minded the outlook towards the festival and practices associated with it have also evolved.
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