Karva Chauth - A Modern View On The Ancient Ritual

October 27, 2010
As I sit facing my PC, my henaed fingers are striking on the key board making my pink coloured glass bangles jingle sweetly.  My pink chiffon saree with floral embroidery, slides off my left arm, as I loosen the strap of my high heeled sandals to concentrate on this post of mine. It is Karva Chauth, the festival hugely glamorised and popularized by Bollywood.  So I am in my traditional best, sharing the customs and rituals associated with it.

I don't hesitate to say that I am, well ehmm (!!), a modern woman who can handle stilletoes and cotton sarees with equal elan.  I, like many of the women internet users here, would read the historial background of this immensly popular fast kept for the well being of one's husband on internet, in English and will be equally attentive while the neighbourhood auntiji will narrate the Vrat Katha during the pooja in the evening, when all the married women of the locality dressed up in bright colours and jewellery would sit in a circle and sing a traditional song rotating the Thalis (plates) containing sweets and fruits for their mother-in-law (MIL).

Also, I don't mind saying that even this occasion will not go without my scurtinizing it nice and proper!  I am traditional enough to dress up and fast the whole day for the long life of my husband but I am very much a woman of this age who would mould the rituals as per her liking and convenience (without affecting the very spirit of the occasion). (Like I skipped the parantha and had bread in sergi)

And above all, I am non-conformist enough to question the very faith, the very mythological tale behind the ritual of this fasting. And later in the post, I want to question why does the Indian husband not fast for his wife?

But, first let me give you a bit of the background.


The fast of Karva Chauth is observed by married women and sometimes by unmarried girls for praying for getting a good groom!

States of India observing this tradition are Delhi, UP, Rajasthan, Gujrat, Himachal Pradesh etc.  Although in different states of India, this kind of fasting exists with various names like - Teej, Vat Savitri Puja, Mahashivaratri, Gangaur Pooja, Varalakshmi Vratham etc.

The rituals of Karva Chauth - Women fast from dawn to dusk without food or water.  Before sunrise, women bathe and dress up (do shringar) and have food, sweets, fruits given by the mother-in-law (it's called Sergi).  In the evening, it's community pooja for many people, and many perform the pooja at home.  But the community ritual is more prominent where, women sit in a circle and rotate the thalis seven times, singing the vrat song.  One elderly woman would sit in the middle of the circle, with some pooja material and a doll  made from dough, and will narrate the story to the women.  Afterwards, after seeing the moon and one's husband (Pati Parmeshwar!), the women would break their fast. (And, this I need not elaborate upon, as this has been shown in the movies so many times!  It's so mushy mushy and romantic na?!)

The idiosyncracies - Mehandi (Hena), glass bangles, jewellery, and bright coloured sarees are a kind of a must for this festival.  Women should not touch a knife or scissors or needles throughout the day.

How it could have started?  Karva Chauth could have started when men would go out fight in battles or work in different place for long and women would worry and pray for their well being.

The Story behind the fasting is a little unclear.  I have heard different narrations of the tale.  So, things are not so fixed that way.  But only thing is common that it was the two mistakes of the woman Veeravati which makes her loose her husband twice - once to death and the second time to another woman, the maid servant!  So, the story is a way to teach women a moral lesson of virtue and tolerance.

The story in brief, this girl Veeravati (veera) goes to her parent's place on her first Karva Chauth (so, if she was also observing this fast, then this tale can't be the origin of the ritual).  Her loving brothers light some fire and show the glow in the sky, saying that it was moon, so that she could break the fast and eat something.  They did it out of affection for their younger sister.  But, because Veeravati breaks the fast, her husband dies. (So, the fear factor put in the fast)

He not just dies, but has hundreds of needs pierced in his body (was he some Bhishma Pitamah?!) The poor girl prays to Shiva and Parvati and goes on taking those needles till it is next Karva Chauth (she kept a corpse at home for one year). But as the last needle is left on her husband's body (who is a king too), she goes to buy Karva (a earthern little pot) for her fast.  And the clever (or was she helping) maid pulls out the last needle.

The king regains conciousness and takes the maid as his wife (he had some memory loss too it seems!).  The poor Veeravati waits and fasts, with a lot of tolerance.

Once, when the king was going out, he asks his wife and maid, what do they want?  The wife (actually the maid) asks for jewellery and the maid (actually the wife) asks for a doll.  Veeravati keeps saying this story of changed roles to the doll (Rani became Goli, Goli became Rani, goli probably was the name of the maid).  When the curious king asks about it, Veera tells the truth.  Now the king realises his mistake (Oh,now!) and accepts Veera as her queen.


Religion and Fear -  If we really see that religion or rather religious practices have been as such which have put physiologial and emotional pressure on women to follow them.  Somewhere women have been given a lower berth.  Women, wanting a good husband would fast, wanting the welfare of husband or children would fast, chant mantras, pray, visit temples.  Women somewhere have been idolized as someone capable of these divine practices or sacrifices,  while men kept themselves away from him humdrum.  I have heard about men performing Yagnas or poojas only as a profession or familial occupation ie., priests or pujaris.

Fasting in Today's context -

In the current context, when rituals, customs, even true spirits of festivals have got subdued or diminished, and when only some symbolic gestures are left, which our generation doesn't even understand or does it just for fun.  How come then, such a rigorous fasting ritual has sustained the test of time, this surprises me!  In fact, it does not.  Our movies have definitely added a certain glamour to it and we should not forget that there is a number of retailing and service sector associated with women, which benefit from this custom. These could have been the factors for making this a popular ritual.

Karva Cchauth is the time for shopping for self and mother-in-law. Gifts include heavy sarees, gold and diamond jewellery.  Then women want their matching sandals, jewellery, glass bangles, bindis, cosmetics, hair accessories and flowers to dress up.  Also, this is a booming time for beauty parlours as they offer special "Karva Chauth packages"!  Skin clinics for hair reduction, skin upliftment, wrinkle corrector shots, specialised facials are the service areas which florish during this festive time.

And if you are not aware of the price tag, let me tell you that the humble Mehandi on both hands costs Rs 800/- on a day before KC, in prominent markets.

Physiological effect - Imagine, a woman on fast cooks for the whole family, feeds them but remains hungry herself.  But, the husband gets some spiritual high of being born a male! When women are working as hard as the men are, then does this ancient ritual, dating back to the time when women were not working outside, needs a relook and some updation with changing times? 

Is there something religious left in it? I doubt.  sometimes love :) but mostly expectation from family or fear of some bad consequence makes women stick to the fasting, only to be left comparing and counting the gold bangles worn by other women are wearing during the pooja!  For the wealthy, it's a show off time also.

The Metrosexual Man still likes to be treated as a semi God - The aarti utarna and touching feet of husband gesture makes me feel disgusted.  How can a man be some kind of God? Or was it something to do with respect? Men being much elder than their wives? Do women really need to treat their men like Parmeshwar, even now?? It defies logic! I feel disgusted by such acts.  But women do it, take the ashirwad (blessings) of their husbands, standing on the roofs, roadsides, parks, surrounded by people! And husband also obliges! hufffff!

I thought love needed reciprocation ?!  If it's about love, why there is no reciprocation? And, by the way, buying jewellery is no reciprocation.  Does it belittle a man's social standing if he admits that he too fasts for his wife??  Does he make himself a butt of ridicule in front of his mother first and then his family and friends by showing his love for his wife?  Why do Indian men don't fast for their wives? Is it not the reflection of a society where they say that it's difficult for a woman to live without a man - be it father, or brother or husband or son? And a man remarries within a few months of his wife's death?

I know what I have written will elicit anger from the men readers or even some women.  They may feel that if this is what this blogger woman feels, then why does she not leave the fasting ritual? Why she has to follow it?  I would say that you think about it with a complete joint family society set up of our's before shooting back.

But I would definitely like to know your views about this.  Tell me how do you feel about it? Especially the feet touching thingy?! And your views about why men don't fast?



RESTLESS




29 comments:

Jack said...

Restless,

WOW! What a post! You have come out with something to my heart. I try to find logic behind our rituals. Many a times I feel it is just blind following. I do believe in God but do not believe in loud show of it. A prayer said in whisper with clear & clean heart is what God listens to. Keeping fast on any day of own choice is fine as this does good to one's internal system but it should not be eating all the fried heavy food. May be just milk and fruit to give much needed rest to our system. One should follow own conscience in matter of faith too. I think I should not go on and on. What is the big idea of keeping this fast for one day and then making life miserable for husband for the rest of the year? I have seen such cases too. A couple needs mutual respect, faith, trust and love much more than such rituals just for show.

Take care

Blasphemous Aesthete said...

I had never known that story before.

And yes, men too should have an occasion to fast for their wives. Times change, and people need to change with them.
Maybe another story from the men's side could get the wheel turning.

Vaish said...

I love KArva Chauth! May be because of the influence of Bollywood cinema! And especially for the act we see the moon and then the husband on this jalli kind of round object!
But in south India it is done differently!
I think some modern age women still continue to do these rituals for the fear!
I do follow all the rituals, but as u say, I modify them according to my convenience, without its flavour being missed. The reason I follow is because I do not want to miss any of the customs/traditions which we are rich in!
I really really don't like falling on other's feet, except my parents! And that too of HD's...I've done that only on my marriage day! Neither does my hubby expects that!
Ha Ha....i've also thought so many times, why do women do all these pooja, prayers and vraths...y not men do it once for their wife!

Jyothi said...

A very Interesting and Informative post. I never knew so much about Karva Chauth. Even though Karva chauth is not celebrated in Kerala, I try and keep just the fast every year. I guess it is belief that keeps us all going.

Anonymous said...

A very well written blog. It echoes my thoughts on the rituals and customs prevalant in our country, the ones we blindly follow, without bothering to find the reason and the logic behind the same. What also baffles me is the fact how a certain custom/ritual is practiced differently across different communities. Why couldn't there be one single way of celebrations? Even a simnple diwali puja is performed differently in different households. Simplicity is the need of the day.

Reema said...

informative post about karvachauth. as for me, it is not celebrated among bengalis..even if it was I would have never done it because I dont believe in the feeling/fear behind it. I find it to be a sexist festival.

KG said...

An interesting post really, very elaborate. I have heard of stories where men have fasted for their wives or girl friends as well.

Neo The Hacker said...

Two days of pre-occupation with something else, and i couldn't give a look-in here. btw, i dont agree with your statement that it is a woman-only thing. actually, these traditions are carried over from earlier periods and such times when Man used to go out for food and the women folk spent time at home rearing the family and looking after it. The periods witnessed wars, dangers, as also man's hunt for food. So as a guard against any mishappenings for the man, the women used to do puja's or fasts so that her man came back home safe and sound. Karva Chauth has to be seen in that light only.


And I think the legend of the tradition comes from the woman called Karva, who was deeply devoted to her husband. Once, while bathing, her husband was caught by a crocodile. Karva bound the crocodile with a cotton yarn and asked Yama to send the crocodile to hell. Yama refused. Karva threatened to curse Yama and destroy him. Yama, afraid of being cursed by a "Pati-vrat" (and thus came the world 'Pativrata' denoting a faithful wife, meaning one who keeps 'vrat' for her pati), sent the crocodile to hell and blessed Karva's husband with long life.

this may be a case of many legends doing rounds in differnt parts of the country, and legend of Viravat may be true.

Neo The Hacker said...

infact.. SH, you have mentioned about the war thing, and wife praying for the safety of her husband, so it's just tradition which has been carried forward for years and still being followed with great devotion and faith.
May be, today, the status of women as a self-earning, independent entity has emerged, but, why do away with tradition and why question as to a man doesnt have to to do fast..? a true guy if he loves his wife or girl-friend would be ever so happy to do anything for her. This is my belief.

A Restless Mind With A Sensitive Heart! said...

Jack,

very well said! can't agree more. I have grown up questioning such things and could never follow anything blindly, even after much pressure from my parents and family.

I will write seperately about it, it's very close to me.

Thanks for the great comment!

tc

RESTLESS

A Restless Mind With A Sensitive Heart! said...

BA ,

You youngsters can make a difference!

and yes, let's hope so.

Vaish,

I know, more of Bollywood thingy! oh, ok good to know about ur expereince!

In my family, girls don't touch the feet of parents or relatives of parents side. Only in-laws and all extended family of the husband's side. And touching feet is some kind of a way of life, and I don't like it one bit. Respect should be in the heart.

RESTLESS

A Restless Mind With A Sensitive Heart! said...

Jyothi,

Welcome! Ah so in Kerala also u observe this fast? Is it known by the same name there too?

glad u liked the post. :)


Anonymous -

Thanks. yeah, agree completely on blindly following traditions.

My thoughts differ slightly here, a festival by different names in different states, still makes it intersting and shows the diversity and yet a common thread binding all. won't it be boring to see everybody doing the pooja same way. Although, I like the idea of common festivals throughout the country, but that's just not possible seeing the (rich) cultural and religious diversity of the country.

Thanks for commenting, would apprecaite, if you let me know about urself.

RESTLESS

A Restless Mind With A Sensitive Heart! said...

Jyothi,

Welcome! Ah so in Kerala also u observe this fast? Is it known by the same name there too?

glad u liked the post. :)


Anonymous -

Thanks. yeah, agree completely on blindly following traditions.

My thoughts differ slightly here, a festival by different names in different states, still makes it intersting and shows the diversity and yet a common thread binding all. won't it be boring to see everybody doing the pooja same way. Although, I like the idea of common festivals throughout the country, but that's just not possible seeing the (rich) cultural and religious diversity of the country.

Thanks for commenting, would apprecaite, if you let me know about urself.

RESTLESS

A Restless Mind With A Sensitive Heart! said...

Reema,

okay! But our customs are passed on with from our families so swiftly that by the time u think of questioning it, u r already neck deep in it!


KG,

Ah, for girl friends they will! Who fasts for wife?!! Just joking!
Thanks.

RESTLESS

A Restless Mind With A Sensitive Heart! said...

Neo,

good to have u back.

Well I heard that crocodile story too... during katha....most of the tales are difficult to digest! The lady narrating said, becoz it was Satyug, so...!

Abt second comment, well yes, it must have started that way.

hmm, later..shows ur SH side...it's true for people in love. But in real life, marriage and all, things are different. As it is men - from traditional families, living in joing family feel, the woman must do it (although they may show, it doesnot matter to them!) It's more of family pressure and social conditioning.

so when this binding factor comes in, it makes women question? why not you then?

We should see the condition of women in totality, as it prevails in our society and not merely by this ritual. then, it would be easier to appreciate my point.

But, of course, u have a right to have ur opinion, and I respect it.

RESTLESS

Varshu said...

Hi...
Thanks for the post. I came to know the history of the tradition. And as you say, these fasting definitely reflects the society where men are treated as better ones.

Bhavana ಭಾವನ Rao said...

Wow.. I read this on Bkhush... you are speaking my mind girl.. :) super post..cheers..
When time permits read my post of mine:
http://bhavana-pen.blogspot.com/2009/08/place-for-individuality.html
this also about some social problems, your views are welcome..

A Restless Mind With A Sensitive Heart! said...

Varshu - glad u liked it. yeah, semi gods, at times!

Bhavana Rao - Welcome to this blog :)

Am glad you too think like me! great to have u here! Surely will see ur post. and thanks for visiting me!

RESTLESS

Mayank said...

Theres very little logic in most of the rituals. Trying to find that proves futile mostly :) . As for the festival, i believe in the spirit. It makes sense if its based on love. Sometimes, one does something for his/her better half out of sheer affection. Eg: In some corner of my mind i would like it if my wife/gf fasts for me. Coz tht wl gv me a chance to fast with her.. make her feel special etc. Ofcourse, tht doesnt mean, If she aint fasting, I would go all over the town sulking etc.

A Restless Mind With A Sensitive Heart! said...

Mayank, good to know ur views on this. Wish all the guys think like you!

Anonymous said...

Also, I was wondering whether you do any private consulting? I'd be interested in hiring someone like yourself.
So do you like this movie Inception? I think it's a masterpiece, aside from the cast… they didn't do a very good job, though they tried.
There once was a time when I blogged about this stuff like crazy. Not many people came to my blogs.
It's not a good idea to make me upset, and when my comments get removed I get really sad.

OS/2? What's that? Half of an Operating System?

Anonymous said...

What a nice post. I really love reading these types or articles. I can?t wait to see what others have to say.

Anonymous said...

As a Newbie, I am always searching online for articles that can help me. Thank you Wow! Thank you! I always wanted to write in my site something like that. Can I take part of your post to my blog?

Anonymous said...

Simple and sweet. I’m thinking of starting another blog or five pretty soon, and I’ll definitely consider this theme. Keep ‘em coming!.

Sophina said...

I absolutely loved your post!  I am not Hindu myself but am married to one and decided that I would partake in Karva Chauth.  My husband does in fact fast for me too (whether this is right or wrong is a personal opinion), but the fact of the matter is this was started by my Father-in-Law who was also of the thinking that why shouldn't men fast for their wives to show them how much they mean to them.

I rate my father-in-Law for taking this brave step for although he was traditional in some respects he was also exceptionally forward thinking (equal rights and all).  I'm just sad that he's no longer with us to join in the fun.

Monty said...

I dont know how I stumbled on your blog.. but every post is more interesting than the next.

I dont know how many Indian Men (modern, yet respecting customs for the elders and family) like me find the Ritual of Karva Chauth a scam of show-off and defiance of a husband's well wishes (like mine below)

Well Being of Husband: If my wife fasts for 10+ hours to eat a bite once the cute moon (if not cloudy that night) shows up with the husbands (mine ofcourse) face behind the fancy wired pan, I feel she just gave pain to her body by not eating. Which for me as a husband does not sit well as it affects her health (head-ache, Nausea, etc) and the mood swings (scary for my wife and some other lady-friends of hers) of the moment because of an empty stomach. I as a husband who cares for my wife does not want her to participate in any custom that will psychologically affect mine, hers and our family (kids) well being. I cant fast for her (First year of marriage I did and she made me promise never to do it) and I had the worst migraine (lasted 2 days) for not eating anything. We even fought on first karva chauth because the darn moon decided to play peek-a-boo, not giving us enough time to do the  rituals and prayers. I put my foot down and said Honey if you love me so much and care for me, then your husband wishes that you do not go through this ordeal again (7 years now and I am bearing it, selfishly for her and whatever more reasons she has..). When a happy moment for someone's well-being results in physical pain, fights, unnecessary comments and anguish for that well-being - WHY do it??!!

I am expressing my frustration here and a wish (which will not come true) that my wife needs to know that my well-being (mental and physical) relies on emotional support, faith, communication and trust between each other for all married life together. Not all customs, rituals and traditions can be followed blindly in this modern world - A fact that all generations should start accepting. I am not asking to forget them.. if you can be a "doer".. be a "watcher" - Aint no harm in that of any sort.

guest said...

for me....there r many ways by which u can show ur love and respect towards ur sweet hubby.this is one of them.well if u dont feel bad while hugging him neither shud u when u touch his feet with respect.this is wat we do to everyone whom we respect-parents,teachers etc.moreover u shud go for a thing if u strongly believe in it otherwise there s no point.first believe in urself andthen go for it

prachi mehta said...

love this post

DC said...

I liked your post. But I need help.
I am a Bengali who has always been skeptical of Karwa Chauth since childhood. I never looked at movies and thought "Wow". My only reaction was "Yeesh!"
And today, I am married to a Punjabi (Fate!) and staring at my 4th Karwa Chauth in the face. The only reason I do it is because my husband loves the day. However, I cant stand the waking up early and eating sweets (I usually have cornflakes) and dressing up the entire day. I hate bangles and their jingling. Nor the fasting. I mean, seriously - no water?!
I wouldve still been OK with the thought, had the story/katha/puja had some logic to it. Veeravati story just gets me bugged :( Its not even a prayer!
The first year my husband kept the fast as well - which resulted in a VErY very angry day! Both if us were quarrelsome! So the next yr onwards we kind of made it a bit relaxed. Plus, he really does not need to keep the fast, its just his whim. Which makes me feel even worse as its the expectation from me.
I seriously dont get the romantic aspect of this day, and all the gifting around is stressful! Plus - what to wear!?! Its too elaborate.
Not drinking water makes me cranky and Im usually in no mood to enjoy the evening.
Every year we decide I wont keep the fast next year, but the story repeats when his mom gets excited about it, and so does he. Past year is forgotten. I like all my family members, and dont want to hurt their sentiments. This is the only aspect of the whole culture that I cannot stand - somewhere I see it as not giving equal respect to women, else why shouldnt there be a fable about men wanting a long life for their wives?

I am looking at when I will be able to stop keeping fast on this day. My husband is my life partner, not some God. I love him, chose him and will want him to have a healthy, long life - but not by keeping a fast which hurts my body physically and everyone around me emotionally!

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