Karva chauth is an annual Hindu festival celebrated by Hindu and Sikh women where ladies who are married fast from sunrise to sunset. Karva is a word for an earthen pot used to keep water cool and that is also used in the ritual of the ceremony and chauth comes from the fact that it is celebrated on the 4th day after the full moon in the month of Kartik (Diwali is also celebrated in this month).
The earliest reference to Karva chauth is found in the Mahabharata when Draupadi, while her husband Arjuna was on a pilgrimage to the Nilgiri hills, was struck with many problems. Fearing that her husband would not return, Draupadi invoked the Lord Krishna for advice. Krishna reminded her of Parvati, who in a similar situation sought Lord Shiva’s guidance and was instructed to fast on Karva Chauth. Once she followed his instruction and observed all the necessary rituals, the Pandavas seemed to overcome the problems they were facing.
Before India formalised the legal age of marriage, women were made to marry at a very young age. Communication took a long time and distances were vast, and a young newly-wed would find herself in her husband’s home with no female companionship. Therefore, a young bride would ceremoniously befriend a woman who belonged to her husband’s house. The bride would maintain this sanctified bond throughout her life and the two would consider each other sisters. Karva chauth is said to be a celebration of these bonds that women have within the traditional Hindu family structure. The tradition where a woman offers the intention of her fast to the health of her husband is a secondary but logical progression of the bond between that two women began on the wedding day. By incorporating the husband into the ritual they are celebrating the reason that brought the two women together in the first place.
It is unclear as to why Karva chauth is predominantly a north-eastern ritual. The most important ritual is the fast where the married women of the house rise before dawn to share a communal meal. If a woman lives with her mother-in-law or other married women of her family, it is tradition for the eldest woman to prepare the meal for all the ladies of the house.
Typically, women do not do any household duties during the day. They instead dress in their finest and exchange gifts. Most of their time is spent engaging in activities that strengthen the bonds between them such as applying mehendi, or sing traditional songs. They also offer prayers to the goddess Gauri, an incarnation of Parvati and the protector of women.
In the evening, the lady of the house narrates the story of karva chauth and the women then give thanks and pray for the well-being of their husbands. They only break their fast once they sight the moon, and their first morsel and sip of water is fed to them by their husbands.
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