Karva Chauth is a traditional Hindu festival at which married women observe a fast and worship the karva filled with water (or make an offering of a karva filled with sweets). As the name signifies, karva means an earthen pot with a spout, used in prayers. Chauth corresponds to the fourth day leading to the name Karva Chauth. The event falls on chaturthi tithi after the full moon in the Kartik month of the Hindu calendar, about nine days before Diwali. Having great social and cultural significance, it is celebrated in the northern part of India like Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat with enthused exaltation. The festivities of Karva Chauth vary from region to region depending on the culture and traditions of that state.
It is customary for married women to fast the entire day without food or water for the longevity of their husbands’ lives, well-being and prosperity. The ritual reflects dedicated devotion by the wives for their husbands and is of great significance for wedded bliss. A woman who keeps this vrat or fast is acclaimed as Saubhagyavati (a joyous state of wifehood). In the evening they listen to the Karwa Chauth katha or legend. The fast is over after moonrise.
On the day of Karva Chauth married women wake up before dawn. They bathe and invoke the blessings of Goddess Parvati for their husband's long life. Women are then given sargi by their mothers-in-law to eat before sunrise. It is a tough fast, as after this they are not supposed to take any form of food or liquids. During the day, the married woman receives baya from her mother, which is meant for the mother-in-law. During Karva Chauth, parents send gifts to married daughters and their children.
There is fervent excitement on the auspicious day as women make elaborate preparations to dress up grandly for the occasion. Newly weds often wear their bridal costume. Decorative bindis on the forehead are a must. Married women redden their hands and feet with mehndi or henna. In the evening decked in the best of their finery, wearing heavy saris in bridal hues of red or pink, adorning themselves with nose pins, tikas, earrings, bangles, and vermilion powder in their hair parting, symbols of a married woman, they set out for the puja. A few days before Karva Chauth, married women buy new karvas or spherical clay pots and paint them with beautiful designs. Inside the pot, they stuff bangles and ribbons, home-made sweets, make-up accessories and small cloths. The women visit each other on the day of Karva Chauth and exchange these karvas.
Fasting women from all over the neighborhood gather in a group and narrate the story of Karva Chauth, underpinning its significance and sing the Karvachauth song while rotating thalis containing baya. Earlier an idol of Gaur Mata was made of earth and cowdung. Now just an idol of Goddess Parwati is kept. Every one lights a diya or earthen lamp in their thalis while listening to the Karwa legend. Sindoor, incense sticks, fruits, mathi and food grains are mandatory for the evening puja. A portion is offered to the deities and the storyteller.
The women sit in a circle and the thalis are passed in a fera or rotation amongst themselves. The puja song sung by women, while they exchange thalis is as follows:
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)
The seventh fera 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.......
They then wait until moonrise without consuming any food or drink for the fast breaking ceremony. When the moon rises, they look at the moon through a sieve or see its reflection in a platter of water, and then see their husband's face; often closing their eyes in the process they do not sight anyone but their husbands just after looking at the moon. Offering water to the moon, the woman prays for the well being of her husband as she sings a karvachauth ark song. Soon after, the wife receives the first bite of food and a sip of water from the husband. Handing over the baya to the mother-in-law she seeks her blessings. Later on sumptuous dinner is served as a part of the celebration.
The festival of Karva Chauth was earlier celebrated to welcome the season of autumn, soon after the harvest and revel in the company of friends and relatives. But later mythological legends were added to lend a religious touch. It is believed that a pativrata woman has the power to confront the God of Death, Yama.
Legends of Karva Chauth
Hindus have always worshipped the Godheads in male and female form. The goddess as she manifest in the various Vaishnava traditions invariably has a male counterpart. Sita relates to Rama. Lakshmi corresponds to Narayana and Radha has her Krishna. As Krishna is the source of all manifestations of God; Sri Radha, His consort, is the source of all feminine manifestations of cosmic energy. One chants Seeta Ram and Radha Krishna, the female name always getting precedence. Karva Chauth endorses the selfless love of a wife for her husband.
Queen Veeravati - Long time back, there lived a beautiful girl named Veeravati. The only sister of her seven brothers she was married to a king. On the first Karva Chauth after marriage, she went to her parents' house. After sunrise, she observed the ritual but could not stand the austere fast, desperately waiting for the moon to rise. The seven doting brothers were pained at her distressful state and decided to end her fast by deception. They reflected a mirror through the Pipal tree’s leaves. The sister assuming it to be the moon, broke the fast and ate food. Precisely then the queen received the news that her husband was seriously ill. When Veeravati begged forgiveness, Goddess Parvati granted that her husband would recoup only when she completed her fast under strict conditions. The queen did the needful and thus revived the life of her husband.
The story of Karva glorifies the power of a virtuous faithful wife. Her husband was caught by a crocodile. Karva bound the creature with a cotton yarn and asked Yama to send it to hell. Initially Yama refused. However when Karva threatened to curse him, Yama afraid of annoying a pativrata or a dedicatedly devoted wife, followed her instructions. Karva and her husband enjoyed many years of wedded bliss.
Another tale of Savitri pestering Yama who carried away her dead husband is famed. Yama assured that she could ask for any other boon except the life of her husband, Satyavan. Savitri entreated that she be blessed with children and Yama agreed. Being a dedicatedly devoted wife, Savitri would never let any other man, be the father of her children. Yama had no other choice but to restore Savitri's husband to life.
Draupadi, too, is said to have observed this fast. Once Arjuna went to the Nilgiris for penance and the rest of the Pandavas faced many difficulties in his absence. Frantically desperate, Draupadi begged Lord Krishna for help. The Lord reminded her that when Goddess Parvati had sought Lord Shivas guidance under such circumstances, she was advised the fast of Karva Chauth. Draupadi followed the instructions and meticulously observed the fast with its rituals. Consequently, the Pandavas were able to overcome their problems.
Women listen to these legends with rapt attention on Karva Chauth.