Karva Chauth falls on the fourth day of the Hindu month of Kartik in the lunisolar calendar. Traditionally, married women and those reaching the marriageable observe the day by fasting rigorously from sunrise and breaking the fast when the moon rises. The one-day festival is mainly observed in Indian states like Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan and parts of Uttar Pradesh.
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Here’s everything you need to know about the festival.
What is Karva Chauth?
Hindu women everywhere fast and pray from sunrise and break the fast at seeing the moon. Using a sieve, they first look at the moon, following which they look at their husband’s face before eating anything. Women pray for the longevity and safety of their husbands, fiancés or even desired husbands.
According to Mahabharata’s Vana Parva, Karva Chauth can be traced back to the time when Savitri begged the god of death, Lord Yama, for her husband’s soul. Other stories say how women, whose husbands left them for long periods to fight in wars, observed day-long fasts praying for their husbands’ safety. They dressed up in their finest attire and prepared elaborate meals afterwards.
Others say that earlier, little girls were married off to distant lands, with no relatives or close ones around. Thus the custom started that at the time of the marriage, when the bride reached her in-laws’ place, she would become friends with another girl in the family, of her same age or slightly older and their friendship will be sanctioned through a religious ceremony, which is now celebrated as Karva Chauth.
According to another episode in Mahabharata, the rest of the Pandavas and Draupadi were left without assistance when Arjuna went to the Nilgiris to pray and meditate and did not return for several days. When Draupadi sought for Lord Krishna’s help, he advised her to fast for Arjuna’s well-being and reminded her how goddess Parvati did the same for Shiva’s safety. Draupadi adhered to the fast, observing all its rituals carefully and soon Arjuna returned home.
The festival is also associated with wheat-sowing time or the beginning of the rabi crop-cycle. People are believed to have started observing the day praying for a good-harvest season, which is probably why Karva Chauth is observed in most agriculture-dependent regions like Maharashtra, Rajasthan, western UP, etc.
Why is it called Karva Chauth?
‘Karva’ means earthen pots used to store wheat and ‘chauth’ means the fourth day. Celebrated on the fourth day (chaturthi) of Krishna Paksh in the Hindu month Kartik, a few days before the festival, women buy these spherical, earthen pots, paint beautiful designs on them and put bangles and ribbons, sweets, make-up items, and small clothes inside them. They would then visit other women and exchange the karvas.
Why do women look at their husband through a sieve?
Most women break their fast at the end of the day by first looking at the moon through a sieve and then immediately looking at their husband. This is because according to religious text, the moon on this day is said to be representative of Lord Shiva or Lord Ganesha, both gods held in great respect. So, since the women are decked up as brides, and new brides are not supposed to look at the elders in a family directly, the sieve is that symbolic purdah or veil that keeps that ritual intact.
How is Karva Chauth celebrated?
In addition to the meticulous fasting, women partake in pujas and prayers for their husbands’ long life and prosperity. They don’t even drink a glass of water throughout the day. After the puja, women wait for the moon to rise, which they look at through a sieve, while offering their prayers to the moon. People believe that it is considered essential for the women to cover their faces in front of the elders. So it is an act of respect to look at the moon through a sieve.
Mostly, the men are expected to feed their wives their first bite of food on this day.
Women get intricate mehendi designs applied and dress up beautifully mostly in bridal colours while observing the fast.
In some regions, women drink milk during the preparations the evening before the festival and women usually eat a dish called ‘fenia’, made of milk, vermicelli and dry fruits on the eve of the festival. Fenia is known to help the women not feel weak during the fast.