On November 4, 2020, Hindus will be celebrating Karwa Chauth. It is a famous and widely-celebrated festival among Hindu women for the longevity and welfare of their husband. The festival is observed on the fourth day of Krishna Paksh (waning phase of the moon) and this year it will be coinciding with Sankashti Chaturthi. You can read more about Sankashti Chaturthi here.
How it is celebrated
On Karwa Chauth, Hindu women especially from North India observe a day long fast after the sunrise till the moon appears in the sky. The Karwa Chauth fast is one of the toughest ritual as women devotees cannot consume food or water throughout the day. The fast ends only after sighting and supplicating the moon. On this day devotees worship Goddess Parvati, Lord Shiva and Lord Ganesha for the long life of the husband and the welfare of the marriage.
Moreover, it is very common for women to apply henna on their hands. It is believed that if the henna on the hands of the woman gets a dark reddish colour, she is lucky to receive love and care from her husband. Besides, on this day, women also receive expensive gifts from their husband and in-laws as a sign of love and care.
Significance of the festival
The festival is a celebration of the pious bond between a husband and a wife. It is believed that observing this ritual strengthens the bond of the couple and binds them together as husband and wife for the next incarnations also.
In another belief, the fast is observed by women to wish for the longer and prosperous life of their husbands. However, nowadays husbands too observe the fast commemorating their love and care for their wives.
Story behind it
The oldest story in the Hindu mythology behind Karwa Chauth is that of Goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva. It is believed that Goddess Parvati observed Karwa Chauth for the first time to impress Lord Shiva and marry him. The fast was aimed at wishing for a loving and caring husband and Goddess Parvati had found such a companion in Lord Shiva. Since then women have been observing Karwa Chauth for their husbands and to have a happy marriage.
Another popular legend backing this festival is from Mahabharata. According to the legend, Draupadi observed Karwa Chauth fast to pray for the welfare and protection of the Pandavas.
Watching from the feminist lens
If seen from its traditional roots, the festival is patriarchal on so many levels. It reinforces the idea that a woman is the sacrificial being who must prioritise the well-being and longevity of her husband over her own individuality. It reminds yet again that it is the husband who needs to be venerated, have a long life and protected since he is a godly figure and the head of the family. But what role, agency and identity do women have? Why is the love and support towards women manifested in materialistic pleasures like gifts and henna but never in reality?
But it cannot be denied that in today’s world women are reclaiming their agency by choosing whether they want to observe the fast or not.
Unlike the earlier times, women are no longer pressurised to observe the fast and it is okay if they don’t. While women who do observe the fast do it for their personal happiness. After all, the festival is an intimate celebration of love and support between husband and wife. In fact husbands too are now observing the fasts with their wives thus making the festival solely about love and marriage.
It is good that women are changing with evolving times. They feel free to interpret and tweak the religious rituals, which were originally misogynistic, in a way that represents their freedom to choose. So rather than judging women who observe these fasts, we need to question what is their belief behind it. If it is rooted in patriarchal beliefs that women’s lives hold no importance, it should be confronted and changed then and there. But if the belief showcases their freedom and agency, then nothing should stop her. Remember, the original story behind the festival is that of Goddess Parvati wishing to marry a man of her choice, going against her father and her lineage. The fast could be a symbol of a woman’s freedom to love and marry a man of her choice. But it is possible only if we unlearn the misogyny connected with it.
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