Some days back my mother in law handed over to me an envelope and asked me to open it. A warm smile surrounded her lips. As I unfolded the envelope, she watched me with child-like excitement to see my reaction. The envelope contained money, more than she usually gives us as gift.
“This is too much Maa, what is this for?”, I asked, confused.
“Batao, you give money to this girl and instead of being happy, she asks the reason. Stupid, this is your Karva Chauth gift. Go buy something for yourself”, she said twisting her lips.
To undo the disappointment caused by my question earlier, I jumped out of bed and hugged her. “Arre waah……such a heavy gift. Wow, you made my day. Thank you Maa”, I said all chirpy. I could see her smile widen.
As I drove through the roads of South-Ex market, I could see the inviting hoardings, advertisements, and offers on clothes, gifts, accessories, make-up, jewelry, and even restaurants to celebrate the occasion of Karva Chauth. It is indeed a huge market, I thought. But why? This year will be my fourth Karva Chauth, but surprisingly my first that is well thought of and researched. I took a U-turn and went straight to my laptop. I wanted to know all about Karva Chauth….why it started? Is it a tradition, a ritual, or a superstition?
Yes, Karva Chauth is a tradition.
It has been handed over to us by previous generations and its origin can be traced back to various stories. One story says that it started as wives prayed for the safety of their husbands who were stuck at wars. The other story says this day celebrates the special bond between two women who would be made god-sisters at the time of their marriage. The stories explain the linkage to Karva and Chauth but they do not make it conclusive as to why the festival is called Karva Chauth. So I moved on further.
Yes, Karva Chauth is a ritual.
There is a sequence of activities and rites that is followed in a particular manner on this day. The women observe a severe food-less and water-less fasting, wear heavy clothes, put sindoor and bindi on their foreheads, deck up in fine jewelry, perform evening puja, cook delicious meals for the whole family, and open their fast by offering their prayers to the moon and their husband.
Moving on, is Karva Chauth a superstition?
This was a heavy word and I thought I would rather stay away from taking a stand. Karva Chauth is significant because it is supposed to add years to the life of one’s partner. A woman keeps this fast for a healthy and long life of her husband or husband to be. However, there is no evidence that staying hungry and thirsty would make anyone live longer. Hence, in technical terms, Karva Chauth is a superstition. Oh no! What have I written? In the eyes of many women, I have betrayed, by definition, the essence of a true Indian Wife.
I carried on with my research, thinking maybe I will find one logical explanation behind it. But, I could not. Even when there is a dedicated website on Karva Chauth (eyes open wide). It had been simpler if Karva Chauth were just a ritual, a tradition, or a superstition. That way I would have either embraced it or dismissed it.
The truth is, Karva Chauth is all three and beyond. This fast has become so obvious and a routine for our mothers, aunts, and neighbouring ladies that deep down we all believe there might be a reason, a logic so strong behind it that this Vrat can’t go unattended. When we see teachers in schools, lecturers in colleges, and our female colleagues and bosses in offices practising this fast, it never occurs to us that this fast might be a superstition because, Hello! The educated class is keeping it too. When your mother in law sends you sargi, when working women take half day, and when neighbouring ladies invite you for Puja, this fast becomes a tradition, a ritual, a practice that we happily follow. When our markets, bollywood movies and television serials glamourize and romanticize it, we tend to believe that yes indeed, I will play dress-up and pray for the longevity of my husband. However, seeing today’s scenario, some women do it more for showing off their clothes, jewelry, and even decked up thalis, karvas, and chhannis (Why O Woman! Why?).
Anyhow, as I reached the culmination of my research, I could only understand that this fast might have been started as a tradition to pray for the husbands at war, for their safety and for their long life. And we never know, back in the day women must have sacrificed their one day of meals thinking that their husbands might or might not have eaten properly at war or may be the women wanted to stay focused in their prayers so they practised restraint on eating. Or, maybe this day was seen as a day of socializing and sympathizing with fellow women as they were lonely and the husbands were at war. We never know.
But times have changed. Husbands are not at war anymore. If the issue is of safety, then men and women both, whether they go out to work or stay at home, have equal chances of being unsafe. However, given the crimes against women, I believe the tables need to be turned.
Karva Chauth needs to be evolved.
And hasn’t it already? Don’t we see many ladies taking refreshments after the evening puja or opening their fasts after seeing the pole star rather than the moon? Don’t we see pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers customizing the fast by having meals and water all day (I did that too)? Don’t we see many men these days keeping Karva Chauth for their wives (See here if you don’t believe me)? What happens to the husbands of such wives? Instead of 10, may be their husbands just get 5 additional years to their lives (a joke worth pondering). I have seen many women eating their heart out as well as in a restrictive manner on this day. However, by their eating habits I could not judge their love for their husbands. So I believe, more than evolving of the Karva Chauth Vrat, we need evolving of our reasoning behind it.
Whether a woman or man chooses to keep or not keep Karva Chauth, can we try and not judge her and him? Can we allow couples to find their own reasons for embracing or dismissing Karva Chauth? Can we let the partners in a relationship decide whether and how they want to continue the tradition of Karva Chauth?
This will be my fourth Karva Chauth and I will keep it. I will celebrate it because I celebrate Valentine’s day, birthdays, mother’s day, father’s day, daughter’s day, Diwali, and for God’s sake all other days and festivals with equal élan. Celebrating all such days fulfill one and only one objective for me-Each occasion holds a special motive, a unique lesson and it adds memories to my life. I love my mother each day and every day but celebrating it on Mother’s day makes me tell her in a special way and acts as a reminder to her. And, isn’t it true when there are so many people in the society celebrating the same love on a single day, the happiness of the celebration just multiplies?
Similarly, I love my husband if not every day, then almost on all days and hence making it special for each other on Karva Chauth sounds like a good tradition to me. People don’t mind if I celebrate Valentine’s day (raises an eyebrow). For me it is more about romancing and celebrating of our bond. It creates harmonious and loving memories in our minds as well as home where we would like to grow old. My husband has never fasted for me and neither I expect him to do it. It is my way of expression and he has his own ways. There are plenty of other lovey-dovey gestures that we do for each other, which are not necessarily same.
I might choose to stay hungry or not stay hungry this day. But if I do, it’s for the benefit of fasting and also because I stay more focused in prayers if I avoid food. I eat almost every two hours and by fasting, I am reminded every two hours that today I am praying for my husband and our bond. So you see, all day my mind prays for him and wishes positive for him (which is almost difficult for any wife to do (winks)). Yes, for now, I doubt that staying hungry will add years to my husband’s life but my prayers for my his safety are always there.