‘Karwa Chauth’ is a ritual of fasting observed by married Hindu women seeking the long-life, well-being and prosperity of their husbands. The festival and fast of Karwa Chauth is celebrated with much exuberance and fanfare mostly in the states of North and North-West of India. It is considered an important and auspicious day for married women. A married woman celebrates this day with great fervor and dedication. Karwa is another word for clay pot and chauth means ‘fourth’ in Hindi, because this festival is commemorated on the the fourth day after the Full Moon in Kartik month of Hindu calendar.
Karwa Chauth Fast
Married women keep a strict fast and do not take even a drop of water. It is the most important and difficult fast. It begins before sunrise and ends only after offering prayers and worshiping the moon at night. No food or water can be taken after sunrise.
Women begin preparing for Karwa Chauth a few days in advance, by buying cosmetics (shringar), traditional adornments or jewelry, and puja items, such as the Karwa lamps, matthi, henna and the decorated puja thali (plate). Married women get Henna Mehendi applied on their hands. They buy new Karwas and paint them on the outside with beautiful designs. On the day of the fast, women from Punjab awake to eat and drink sargi and fenia as a pre-dawn meal. In Uttar Pradesh, celebrants eat soot feni with milk in sugar on the eve of the festival. It is said that this helps them go without water the next day. The day passes in meeting friends and relatives. In some regions, it is customary to give and exchange painted clay pots filled with bangles, ribbons, home-made candy, cosmetics and small cloth items. Parents often send gifts to their married daughters and their children.
In the evening, a women-only ceremony is held. Participants dress in fine clothing and jewelry . A special mud pot, that is considered a symbol of lord Ganesh, a metal urn filled with water, flowers, idols of Ambika Gaur Mata, Goddess Parwati and some fruits, mathi and food grains are kept. A part of this is offered to the deities and the storyteller. The story of Karwa Chauth is narrated, with regular pauses. Every one lights an earthen lamp in their thalis while listening to the Karwa story. The storyteller is usually an older woman or a priest. In the pauses, the Karwa Chauth puja song is sung collectively and the singers perform the feris, passing their Karwas around 7 times in the circle.
While exchanging Karvas seven times, they sing “Sadaa suhagan karve lo, Pati ki pyari karve lo, Saat bhaiyon ke behen karve lo, Vart karni karve lo, Saas ki pyaari karve lo”.
Thereafter, the fasters offer baayna (halwa, puri, namkeen mathri, meethi mathri) to the idols (Mansana) and hand it over to their mother-in-law or sister-in-law.
The fera ceremony concluded, the women await the rising of the moon. Once the moon is visible, the fasting woman, with her husband nearby, views its reflection in a vessel filled with water, through a sieve, or through the cloth of a dupatta. Water is offered (arka) to the moon (som or chandra, the lunar deity) to secure its blessings. She then turns to her husband and views his face indirectly in the same manner. The husband now takes the water from the thali and gives his wife her first sip and feeds her with the first morsel of the day (usually a sweet). The fast is now broken, and the woman has a complete meal.
After completing all the rituals, in loving admiration of her day long Karwa Chauth fast, a husband presents his wife with gifts. The gift that a woman receives on her first Karwa Chauth is generally grand and becomes a possession for a lifetime. The day of Karwa Chauth develops a special kind of bond between the wife and her husband and deepens her relationship with the mother in law and the rest of the family.