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Karva Chauth

Karva Chauth (करवाचौथ)

Karva is another word for 'pot' (a small earthen pot of water) and chauth means 'fourth' in Hindi (a reference to the fact that the festival falls on the fourth day of the dark-fortnight, or krishna paksh, of the month of Kartik).

Karva Chauth  is a one-day festival celebrated by Hindu women in North India in which married women fast from sunrise to moonrise for the safety and longevity of their husbands. The fast is traditionally observed in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, parts of Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, and Punjab. The festival falls on the fourth day after the full moon, in the Hindu lunisolar calendar month of Kartik. Sometimes, unmarried women observe the fast for their fiancés or desired husbands. Karva Chauth (Hindi: करवाचौथ) is a one-day festival celebrated by Hindu women in North India in which married women fast from sunrise to moonrise for the safety and longevity of their husbands. The fast is traditionally observed in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, parts of Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, and Punjab. The festival falls on the fourth day after the full moon, in the Hindu lunisolar calendar month of Kartik. Sometimes, unmarried women observe the fast for their fiancés or desired husbands.

The festival originated and came to be celebrated only in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent. The hypothesis is that military campaigns were often conducted by Hindus who were defending India against Mughal invaders, they would often leave their wives and children to go off to war. Their wives would often pray and observe a day of socialising, with other women, by preparing special meals, and dressing up in their finest regalia, and having what would today be deemed as a romantic evening with their husband before he went off to war.

Women whose husbands had already gone off to war, observed the fast to pray for the safety of their husbands at this time as they ventured away from home to defend India.The festival coincides with the wheat-sowing time (i.e., the beginning of the Rabi crop cycle). Big earthen pots in which wheat is stored are sometimes called Karvas, so the fast may have begun as a prayer for a good harvest in this predominantly wheat-eating region.

There is another story about the origin of this festival. Earlier, girls sometimes barely teenagers used to get married, go and live with their in-laws in very remote villages. Everyone would be a stranger there for the new bride. In case she had any problems with her husband or in-laws, she would have no one to talk to or seek support from. Her own parents and relatives would be quite far and unreachable. Telephones, buses and trains were not heard of in those days. People had to walk almost a whole day to go from one place to other. Once the girl left her parent's home for in-laws, she might not be back before long. Thus the custom started that, at the time of marriage, when bride would reach her in-laws, she would befriend another woman there who would be her friend (kangan-saheli) or sister (dharam-behn) for life. It would be similar to god-friends or god-sisters.

Their friendship would be sanctified through a small Hindu ceremony right during the marriage. The bride's friend would usually be of the same age (or slightly older), married into the same village (so that she would not go away) and not directly related to her in-laws (so there was no conflict of interest later).

Emotionally and psychologically, it would be very healthy and comforting for the bride to have her own 'relative' near her.Once the bride and this woman had become god-friends or god-sisters, they would recognize their relation as such. They would treat each other like real sisters. During any issues later in life, involving even the husband or in-laws, these women would be able to confidently talk or seek help from each other. Moreover, the bride's parents would treat her friend just like their own daughter. Thus Karva Chauth started as a festival to celebrate this special bond of friendship between the brides and their god-friends. A few days before Karva Chauth, married women would buy new karvas (spherical clay pots) -- 7"-9" in diameter and 2-3 litres capacity—and paint them on the outside with beautiful designs. Inside they would put bangles and ribbons, home-made candy and sweets, make-up items, and small clothes. The women would then visit each other on the day of Karva Chauth and exchange these karvas.

RITUAL

Women begin preparing for Karva Chauth a few days in advance, by buying cosmetics (shringar), traditional adornments or jewelry, and puja items, such as the Karva lamps, matthi, henna and the decorated puja thali (plate). Local bazaars take on a festive look as shopkeepers put their Karva Chauth related products on display. On the day of the fast, women from Punjab awake to eat and drink just before sunrise. 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. In Punjab, sargi (ਸਰਗੀ) is an important part of this pre-dawn meal and always includes fenia. It is traditional for the sargi to be sent or given to the woman by her mother-in-law. If the mother-in-law lives with the woman, the pre-dawn meal is prepared by the mother-in-law.

The fast begins with dawn. Fasting women do not eat during the day. In traditional observances of the fast, the fasting woman does no housework. Women apply henna and other cosmetics to themselves and each other. The day passes in meeting friends and relatives. In some regions, it is customary to give and exchange painted clay pots filled with put bangles, ribbons, home-made candy, cosmetics and small cloth items (e.g., handkerchiefs). Since Karva Chauth follows soon after the Kharif crop harvest in the rural areas, it is a good time for community festivities and gift exchanges. Parents often send gifts to their married daughters and their children.

In the evening, a community women-only ceremony is held. Participants dress in fine clothing and wear jewellery and henna, and (in some regions) dress in the complete finery of their wedding dresses. The dresses (saris or shalwars) are frequently red, gold or orange, which are considered auspicious colors. In Uttar Pradesh, women wear saris or lehangas. The fasters sit in a circle with their puja thalis. Depending on region and community, a version of the story of Karva Chauth is narrated, with regular pauses. The storyteller is usually an older woman or a priest, if one is present. In the pauses, the Karva Chauth puja song is sung collectively the singers perform the feris (passing their thalis around in the circle).

 

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