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Karwa Chauth

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Karwa Chauth
Observed by Hindu women of North India
Type Spring festival
Begins chaturthi tithi after the full Moon. (Fourth day of the waning moon)
Date October/November
Celebrations 1 day
Observances Fasting by married women
Related to Dussehra and Diwali

Karwa Chauth is a traditional Hindu and Barelvi festival of married women, and is celebrated in India and some parts of Pakistan.

Married women fast one whole day without food or water for the long life of their husbands. The ritual signifies extreme love and devotion to the husband, as evidenced by the wife's willingness to sacrifice for his well being.[1]

The Ritual

It is celebrated on the fourth day (chaturthi tithi) after the full moon in the month of kartik in the Hindu calendar following the Autumnal Equinox. According to the religious scriptures like Dharma sindhu, Nirnay sindhu and other shastra that governs rules of when to observe festival says, [2]“Karwa Chauth to be observed at moonrise (chandrodaya vyapini) and poorvaviddha, best if its tritiya viddha. If visible during both days take the first one, if not visible on both days then take the second one”.

Karwa means clay pot and chauth means fourth night after the full moon. It has great social and cultural significance and is mostly practiced in northern India.

Married women start their fast at night just after the appearance of the moon, within sight of their husbands. They then wait until the next night's moon to begin the fast breaking ceremonies, without consuming any food or drink. In the evening women dress in their best clothing, and adorn themselves with jewellery and henna. On sighting the moon, they look and offer prayers and worship to it, and then receive their first bite of food and water from their husbands. Thereafter, women consume their special meal prepared for the occasion.

Worshipping the moon involves filling up the karwa with specially prepared food and jewellery and offering it to the god. Karwas are also exchanged with other women after that. Further practices involve telling and listening to stories regarding origin of Karwa Chauth.

There are variations within regions, groups, and communities in India about rituals of starting and breaking the fast, and worshipping the moon. In Punjab, for example, women start their fast by consuming food called sergi sent or given by her mother-in-law before the dawn. The fast breaking ceremony involves looking at the moon through a sieve, and then looking at her husband's face. They often close their eyes in the process and do not see anyone but their husbands just after seeing the moon. In other parts of India, there is no provision of sergi.

The Traditional Tales

There are various legends associated with Karva Chauth

The Story of Queen Veeravati

A long long time ago, there lived a beautiful girl by the name of Veeravati. She was the only sister of her seven loving brothers, who was married to a king. On the occasion of the first Karva Chauth after her marriage, she went to her parents' house. After sunrise, she observed a strict fast. However, the queen couldn't stand the rigors of fasting and was desperately waiting for the moon to rise. The seven brothers who loved her dearly, were very disturbed watching the distress of their sister and decided to end her fast by deceiving her. Then the brothers reflected a mirror through Pipal tree leaves. The sister, taken it as moon rise, broke the fast and took food. However, the moment the queen ate her dinner, she received the news that her husband, the king, was dead. She wept the whole night. Then suddenly Goddess appeared and asked her reason of weeping. She explained the whole story. Goddess told her the truth that how her 7 brothers cheated her. She prayed Goddess to get back her husband. Goddess convinced her to repeat the fast again on Karwa Chaut with full dedication and devotion. She did the same and got her husband back alive.

The Legend of Mahabharata

The belief in this fast and its associated rituals goes back to the pre-Mahabharata times. Draupadi, too, is said to have observed this fast. Once Arjun went to the Nilgiris for penance and the rest of the Pandavas faced many problems in his absence. Draupadi, out of desperation, remembered Lord Krishna and asked for help. Lord Krishna reminded her that on an earlier occasion, when Goddess Parvati had sought Lord Shiva's guidance under similar circumstances, she had been advised to observe the fast of Karva Chauth. Draupadi followed the instructions and observed the fast with all its rituals. Consequently, the Pandavas were able to overcome their problems. On this day, fasting women listen to Karva Chauth legends with rapt attention.

The Legend of Karva

A well known story about a woman named Karva, who was deeply devoted to her husband. While bathing her husband was caught by a crocodile. Karva bound the crocodile with a cotton yarn and asked Yama, the god of death in Hindu mythology to send the crocodile to hell. Yama refused. Karva threatened to curse Yama. Yama, afraid of being cursed by Pati-vrat (devoted) wife, sent the crocodile to hell and blessed Karva's husband with long life. Karva and her husband enjoyed many years of wedded bliss. To this day, Karva Chauth is celebrated with great faith and belief.

The Story of Satyavan and Savitri

When Lord Yama, came to procure Satyavan's soul, Savitri begged him to grant him life. When he refused, she stopped eating and drinking and followed Yama who carried away her dead husband. Yama said that she could ask for any other boon except for the life of her husband. Savitri asked that she be blessed with children. Yama agreed. Being a Pati-Vrat wife, Savitri would never let any other man be the father of her children. Yama was left with no other choice but to restore Savitri's husband to life...

The Story of Karwa Chauth

When the Muslims invaded India, they were forcing Hindus to convert into Muslims. Either by sheer force or raping, killing the wives of Hindu men. In order to prevent the widows of India from the Muslim attacks, Hindus created a tradition called Sati Pratha, which means once the husband, the protector of the family, dies, the wife must also sacrifice herself in the cremation. This resulted in women praying for a long life in their husbands because they did not want to sacrifice themselves when their husband died.

Contemporary India

Karva Chauth Day

Hindus have always believed in worshiping the Male and Female aspect of God together and that Sri Ram was a staunch devoted husband. Not only that, one says "Seeta Ram and Radha Krishna" giving the female name the precedence. As the name signifies, Karva meaning a clay pot and chauth corresponding to the fourth, this festival is commemorated on the fourth day after the Full Moon in Kartik month of Hindu calendar. The fast of Karwa Chauth is kept 9 days before Diwali.

The festival is glorified and widely solemnized by many Hindus all over the world. On this day it is customary for the wife to fast the whole day. She does not drink water either. She paints her hands and feet with henna, dresses generally in red apparel and on her hair parting she smears vermilion powder. It is believed that a Pati-Vrat woman has the power to confront the God of Death, Yama. This Karva Chauth fast is undertaken by the wife for the husband's long and prosperous life.

A few days before Karva Chauth, married women buy new karvas, the spherical clay pots and paint them on the outside with beautiful designs. Inside the pot, they put bangles and ribbons, home-made candy and sweets, make-up items and small clothes e.g. handkerchief. The women then visit each other on the day of Karva Chauth or immediately afterward, and exchange these karvas. Season-wise, soon after the harvest, it is an excellent time to enjoy festivities, meet one another and exchange gifts. During the time of Karva Chauth, parents send gifts to married daughters and their children.

The Ritual

They are not supposed to eat or even drink water during the day. In the evening the ladies listen to the Karwa Chauth Katha (the legend). The fast is over after the moonrise. As the karva chauth

The Puja Process

The puja preparations start a day in advance. Married women buy the shringar or the traditional adornments and the other puja items the karwa, matthi, henna etc.

In Punjab women get up early in the morning, before sunrise and eat food prepared by their mother-in-law. The morning passes by in other festive activities like decorating hand and feet with henna decorating the puja thali and meeting friends and relatives.

The essentials of this gathering and listening of the karwa chauth story a special mud pot, that is considered a symbol of lord Ganesha, a metal urn filled with water, flowers, idols of Ambika Gaur Mata, Goddess Parwati and some fruits, mathi and food grains. A part of this is offered to the deities and the storyteller. They sit in a circle, and many such circles are made depending on the number of devotees attending the function as it is easy that the thalis are passed in a circle (fera) amongst themselves. Here is the puja song sung by Punjabi women, while they exchange thalis seven times. They place 'Bayen' in the thali....

Veero Kudiye Karwada,
Sarv Suhagan Karwada,
Aye Katti Naya Teri Naa, 
Kumbh Chrakhra Feri Naa,
Aar Pair payeen Naa, 
Ruthda maniyen Naa,
Suthra Jagayeen Naa,
Ve Veero Kuriye Karwara,
Ve Sarv Suhagan Karwara....... (6 times)

This Stanza is sung 6 times i.e. It keeps on repeating till the time Thalis have been exchanged and all women have their own thalis... it goes on six times, 6 feras / circles. The seventh fera or circle or exchanging goes like this...

Veero Kudiye Karwada,
Sarv Suhagan Karwada,
Aye Katti Naya Teri Nee, 
Kumbh Chrakhra Feri Bhee,
Aar Pair payeen Bhee, 
Ruthda maniyen Bhee,
Suthra Jagayeen Bhee,
Ve Veero Kuriye Karwara,
Ve Sarv Suhagan Karwara.......

In places like Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, the women exchange Karwas seven times between themselves. In Rajasthan before offering water seven times the person is asked ' Dhai ?' and the women responds ' Suhaag na Dhai'. In Rajasthan the stories are told by older women in the family which include the stories of Karwa Chauth, Shiv-Parvati and Ganesh.

Earlier an idol of Gaur Mata was made using earth and cowdung. Now just an idol of Goddess Parwati is kept. Every one lights an earthen lamp in their thalis while listening to the Karwa story. Sindoor, incense sticks and rice are also kept in the thali.

At this time the women wear heavy sari or chunries in red, pink or other bridal colors, and adorn themselves with all other symbols of a married women like, nose pin, tika, bindi, bangles, earrings etc.

Once the moon rises, the women see its reflection in a thali of water, or through a dupatta or a sieve. They offer water to the moon and seek its blessings. And then they turn to their husbands who are near them and touch their feet. They pray for the safety, prosperity and long life of their husbands. This marks the end of the day long fast. In Rajasthan the women say ' Like the gold necklace and the pearl bracelet, just like the moon may my suhaag always shine brightly'.

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