(Contributed by Mr. C.I. Sivasubramanian)
In the Indian society women have been accorded the pride of place, as daughters, mothers, mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law. To imply their significance, quite a few rituals and festivals are celebrated. Indian Women usually wish that they should live and die as ‘sumangalis’ i.e, they wish to pre-decease their husbands. Hence they pray to Gods in a number of ways to bestow long life to their husbands and observe “Vraths” for that reason. One such “Vrath” is Karva Chauth.
“Vrath”, or sacred vow, is one of the most commonly used words in the Hindu religious and ritualistic literature. It signifies a set of laws and regulation to which one voluntarily adheres to over a particular period of time, for the duration of which he/she carries out certain rituals in order to propitiate the deity and secure from it what he prays for. The entire procedure must be carried out with a ‘sankalpa’ or steadfastness, on days prescribed in the Hindu religious almanac.
The fast of Karva Chauth is observed around nine days prior to Deepavali. It falls on the fourth day of the Kartik month (not to be confused with the Tamil ‘Karthigai” which comes later) by the Hindu calendar (fourth day of Krishna Paksham or the waning moon or the dark fortnight). This year the ‘“Vrath”’ falls on the 15th October.
Karva Chauth is considered one of the most important fasts observed by the married Hindu women, principally in North India. On this day the women pray for the wellbeing and longevity of their husbands. It is the most significant and difficult fast observed by married Hindu women. It commences prior to dawn and concludes only after prayers are offered to the moon at night. The “Vrath” is of special importance to the newly-wed women.
There are quite a lot of legends associated to this festival:
Veeravati was a beautiful girl who lived a long time ago. She was married to a King. She had seven loving brothers. All her brothers showered their love and affection on her because she was their only sister. On the occurrence of the first Karva Chauth subsequent to her wedding ceremony, she went to her parents’ house. At dawn she observed the fast. However, she could not withstand the severity of fasting and was anxiously waiting for the moon to rise. The seven brothers, who loved her very much, were extremely concerned watching the suffering of their sister and made a decision to conclude her fast by deceiving her. Then the brothers using a mirror created an illusion of moon appearing through Pipal tree leaves. Queen Veeravati, thinking that the moon has risen, ended the fast and took food. However, the instant she had her dinner, news of her husband being seriously ill reached her. Meanwhile, Queen Veeravati also came to know the trick played by her brothers to end her fast. She thought that the King’s illness was because she did not actually observe the fastas it should be. Queen Veeravati pleaded forgiveness to the Goddess. Goddess Parvati pardoned her and granted recovery and good health of her husband on the condition that she completes her fast as per the strict conventions. The queen observed the fast and hence revived the life of her husband.
Another story. Once Yamraj – the God of Death came to take Satyavan’s life. Savitri, the dedicated wife of Satyavan appealed for her husband’s life which Yamraj declined. Savitri went on a fast and refused to eat or drink. Looking at her commitment, Yamraj felt obligated to bring Satyavan back to life. Ever since then women started observing fast for their husband’s longevity.
Yet another one. Draupadi, too, is said to have observed this fast. On one occasion Arjun went to the hills for penance and the rest of the Pandavas faced a lot of difficulty in his absence. Draupadi, out of extreme worry & anxiety, prayed to Lord Krishna and requested for help. Lord Krishna reminded her that on a previous instance, when Goddess Parvati had required Lord Siva’s help under similar circumstances, she had been advised to observe the fast of Karva Chauth. As advised, Draupadi observed the fast with all its rituals. As a result, the Pandavas were able to conquer their problems. On this day, fasting women totally engrossed when they listen to Karva Chauth legends.
The Karva Chauth Rituals and Festivities:
The pooja arrangements begin a day ahead. There is enormous enthusiasm a day ahead of the festival as women make detailed preparations to dress up gracefully for the festival. They buy bangles, bindis, apply mehndi on their hand and feet.
Early in the morning, on the day of Karva Chauth, they cook and eat prior to sunrise. The morning passes by in other celebratory activities like beautifying the pooja thali and meeting friends and relatives. In the evening, women are attired in special clothes, generally a red or pink sari or ‘lehenga-choli’ with gold woven ‘zari’ designs. New brides often wear their wedding attire. All deck up in jewelry. Decorative ‘bindis’ on the forehead are a must for all women taking part in this celebration. Fasting women from all over the locality congregate in a group and narrate the story of Karva Chauth that emphasizes the importance of this festival. They sing the Karva Chauth song while rotating the thalis (plates) containing Baya (special food prepared on the occasion).
Once the moon rises, the women have a glimpse of the moon’s reflection in a plate of water, or through a dupatta or a sieve. They offer water to the moon and ask for blessings. They pray for the wellbeing, prosperity and longevity of their husbands and sing a Karva Chauth song. The women are then given a piece of sweet and a sip of water by their husbands. They then hand over the Baya to the mother-in-law or any elderly lady of the family and take their blessings. The end of a day long fast is marked by a sumptuous dinner.
“Vraths” similar to this are observed by other communities, on different occasions. For instance inBengalthe same “Vrath” is known as Savithri Chathurthasi and is observed on Jyeshta Krishna Chathurthasi day, approximately the same day as Jyeshta Purnima day (May-June of the year). It is said that once started the “Vrath” has to be observed for 14 years!
In the south, the equivalent “Vrath” is observed as ‘Karadaiyan Nonmbu’ but in the month of ‘Masi’, corresponding to ‘Pahalguna’ in the North Indian calendar (February-March of the year). Women worship Goddess Gowri and pray for longevity and wellbeing of their husbands. Through this festival women endeavor to emulate Savithri, whose dedication and her love for her husband, Satyavan are legendary. Her bakhti to Goddess Gowri gave her the power and intelligence to prevail over Yama and bring back her husband to life. On this day, the husbands tie yet another Mangal sutra on their spouses and bless them.