Karva Chauth- a traditional celebration dedicated to married women seeking the health, safety, and longevity of their husbands called Karwa Chauth or Karva Chauth. In addition to bringing goodwill to their husbands, the observance is done to build a stronger relationship between a wife and her in-laws.
Now who hasn’t heard of “ Karva Chauth”, even before you underenstand the rime and logic behind the occasion we all have seen our mothers following the ritual diligently. Just like you I too saw my mother dressing up in her red bridal finery, decorating her hands with henna and observing the fast of Karwa Chauth.year after year she would refrain from drinking a single drop of water and a single morsel of food till the moon shone through the sapphire sky. Sometimes the moon would rise early. Sometimes its appearance would be blighted for hours by the clouds. Yet fast, she would. Her lips untouched with food in order to pray for my father’s long life.
However, watching these rituals transpiring as a young girl I always wondered why my father’s life was more important than my mother’s. I loved them both equally. Upon asking my mother would always shut me down with “that’s how it is”. Owing to traditionally patriarchal societal norms she would explain me the importance and significance of the occasion
And here’s what I understood and remember…
Princess Veeravati kept the fast for her husband’s long life. Seeing her delicate health, she was tricked by her brothers into breaking the fast. Soon she heard the news that her husband died in battle. Very emotional, she ran to the battlefield and found his body. She decided to preserve it until next year’s Karwa Chauth. At that time, she prayed fervently and fasted diligently. She was blessed with her husband returning to life. Two other stories associated with the ritual of Karwa Chauth are that of Savitiri and Karwa. The protagonists of both stories were women who successfully confronted and defeated ‘Yama’ (the Indian God of death) to win back their husbands’ lives. Karwa’s husband was devoured by a crocodile. So she tied it with a yarn and told Yama to return her husband and send the crocodile to hell. Yama refused so she threatened to curse him. Afraid of a ‘pati-vrata’ (a devotional wife’s) curse, Yama relented. He gave her husband back and sent the crocodile to hell. Similarly, Savitiri, was a princess married to a prince in exile called Satyavan, whose husband was doomed to die young. When he died, she followed Yama and was able to trick him into granting her a series of wishes, including her husband’s life.
Even though these stories and rituals are way too imparactical to believe and follow yet I always believed that vthe meaning of myths in legends is often contained in an over-all message. It is thought provoking that the story of Savitiri also unveils her resilient, quick and brainy nature in tricked the God of death. Similarly, Veeravati and Karwa represented very courageous and fierce women who confronted war and fought a crocodile and God of death respectively. However, rather than focus on these latter characteristics, our society have more often than not preferred to idolize these women for their devotion and subservient nature.
Over the years, As with many other rituals, I believe the ritual has slowly drifted away from its original meaning and its interpretation further bastardized to suit the views of a traditionally patriarchal society. Karwa Chauth slowly came to be seen as a practice that encourages sisterhood over a common cause – their husband’s long life and welfare! The observance of Karwa Chauth highlighted the traditional ‘dependency’ of women on men. Consequently, it be seen as another way to reinforce a hierarchical relationship between a man and his wife. It isn’t a surprise that the states where Karwa Chauth was (and is) most practiced are notorious for the worst treatment of women. The states of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh top the list of number of domestic abuse and cruelty to women. These are also the very states where women are the least empowered and least educated. A mere coincidence or food for thought?
One would believe that with the advent of modern India, the practice of Karwa Chauth – a festival that can encourage gender inequality – would have faded. However, Karwa Chauth, remains firmly entrenched in modern India with fervid passion. Adoption of this practice by youth role models such as Kareena Kapoor, Suzanne Roshan, Twinkle Khanna, and Aishwarya Rai has led to significant popularity of this ritual. Commercialization of the ritual and its romanticised portrayal in dramas and Bollywood movies (DDLJ, Kabhi Khushie Kabhi Gum, and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam to name a few) have further fuelled this practice. Thanks to Bollywood, the practice of Karwa Chauth has come to symbolise un-daunting love and romance. Indian media lends supports the false moral universe of Indian cinema where social duties and pativrata-ness of women far outweighs their individualism. So too does the notion that man’s life is worth more than a woman’s. It is appalling that in n the 21st century, a ritual that perpetuates the idea of ‘Pati-parmeshwar’ -husband as lord, master and God has been fervently rising in popularity.
Equally there are many women who have chosen not to participate in this ritual either because they have decided to break away from tradition and selected this route to make their stand for equality known or because it is not part of their culture. In either case, I think it is a matter of personal choice. As long as it is not forced upon the woman, I believe she should do exactly as she pleases.