Karwa Chauth - the festival of married women.

Karwa Chauth


Introduction (about the festival, meaning etc.) :
Karwa Chauth is a ritual that the married women follow to seek prosperity, longevity and good health of their husbands. "Chauth" means the fourth day and "Karwa" is an earthen pot with a spout. The pot symbolises peace and prosperity and is necessary for the rituals that are followed on this festival. On Karwa Chauth, the married women keep a fast without drinking even a drop of water throughout the day. The festival is celebrated 9 days prior to Diwali, on the fourth day of the Hindu calendar month Kartik. Karwa Chauth is an extremely popular festival in the northern and western parts of India.

Significance of the festival of Karwa Chauth:
In the ancient times, it was a tradition to get the girls married at a very young age and send them to their in-laws place right after the marriage. Moreover, these young married women often didn't have any friends or relatives in their spouse's families to share their grievances and joys with. Besides, their own families lived far away and communication channels were not as fast and smooth as they are today. This situation led to the formation of a ritual, wherein the bride would befriend another woman near her spouse's residence at the time of marriage, and she would be her friend for life. Their friendship would be sanctified right during the wedding ceremony. Once the ritual is done these two women would be called god-sisters/ god-friends, and would stand by each other through thick and thin. The festival of Karwa Chauth was initiated to celebrate the bond the women, thus shared. The tradition to keep a fast for the husband was added later on, probably to enhance the significance of this festival, because 'husband' was the primary reason why these two women had bonded as friends.

The modern day significance of this festival:
The festival of Karwa Chauth is celebrated to renew the bond, the married women and their god-friends share. However, today the purpose of celebrating this festival is predominantly focused on the well-being and prosperity of the respective husbands. Moreover, it provides an opportunity to the married women to get closer to their husband's family and their clique. In the northern and western parts of India, this festival has a remarkable social and cultural significance.

Preparations for the Puja (things, precautions etc.)
The preparations for Karwa Chauth start a few days in advance. Married women buy jewellery, make-up and other ornamental/ dressing items. On Karwa Chauth, they wear attractive and colourful saris or chunries, particularly in red, pink or other bridal colours. Also, they adorn themselves with all other symbols of a married women such as, nose pin, tika, bindi, chonp, bangles, earrings etc.

Karwa Chauth Food Items
Since the women have to observe a fast from the sunrise to the moonrise, food items are prepared and eaten before the sunrise.
  • Sargi, which includes pheni (a sweet made by using milk and semolina), parantha, and various types of fruits and sweets is a traditional meal, raw material for which is essentailly given to the bride (woman) by her mother-in-law
  • Ten matthis with an equal number of puas (a sweet made of jaggery) are also added to Sargi
  • Delicous halwa

Items needed to perform the Karwa Chauth puja:
  • Idol of Goddess Gauri (Parvati)
  • Karwa (pitcher) filled with water
  • A diya (earthen lamp)
  • A beautifully decorated chalni (sieve)
  • Flowers
  • A handful of fruits and food grains.
  • A puja thaali (dish) made of brass or stainless steel.
  • Incense sticks, kumkum (vermilion), chawal (rice).
  • Lota (container) filled with water.
  • A fancy tissue veil to cover the thali.
Karwa Chauth rituals:
During the day, women put henna/mehndi on their palms, decorate puja thali (dish) and visit friends and relatives. Later in the afternoon, women go to a temple or to someone's place who has organised the puja, in a circle with their puja thalis and an elderly lady or a pujarin narrates the legend/story of Karwa Chauth. While the story is being narrated, the women pass their thalis in the circle. Depending on the region and community, there are some variations in the rituals.

In Punjabi communities, the Karwa Chauth song is sung seven times, the first six of which describe some of the activities that are taboo during the fast and the seventh describes the lifting of those restrictions with the conclusion of the fast. The forbidden activities include weaving cloth (kumbh chrakhra feri naa), pleading with or attempting to please anyone (ruthda maniyen naa), and awakening anyone who is asleep (suthra jagayeen naa). In Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, the women exchange Karwas seven times between themselves. In Rajasthan, before offering water seven times the fasting woman is asked "Dhai?", to which she responds, "Suhaag na Dhai". In Rajasthan, stories are told by older women in the family, including narratives of Karwa Chauth, Shiv, Parvati, and Ganesh. In earlier times, an idol of Gaur Mata was made using earth and cow dung, which has now been replaced with an idol of Parvati. Each fasting woman lights an earthen lamp in her thali while listening to the Karva story. Kumkum, incense sticks and rice are also kept in the thali.

In Uttar Pradesh, a priest or an elderly woman of the family narrates the story of beejabeti or Veervati. Women make Gauri, Ganesh and Shankar idols with mud and decorate them with colourful and bright clothes and jewellery.

The Karwa Chauth song:
"Veero Kudiye Karwada,
Sarv Suhagan Karwada,
Aye Katti Naa Teri Naa,
Kumbh Chrakhra Feri Naa,
Gwand Pair payeen Naa,
Sui Cha Dhaga Payi Naa,
Ruthda maniyen Naa,
Suthra Jagayeen Naa,
Bahaein Pyari Veera,
Chan Chadde te Pani Peena,
Lay Veero Kuriye Karwara,
Lay Sarv Suhagan Karwara."

The Karwa Chauth story
"A long long time ago, there lived a beautiful princess by the name of Veeravati. When she was of the marriageable age, Veeravati was married to a king. On the occasion of the first Karva Chauth after her marriage, she went to her parents' house."

"After sunrise, she observed a strict fast. However, the queen was too delicate and couldn't stand the rigours of fasting. By evening, Veeravati was too weak, and fainted. Now, the queen had seven brothers who loved her dearly. They couldn't stand the plight of their sister and decided to end her fast by deceiving her. They made a fire at the nearby hill and asked their sister to see the glow. They assured her that it was the moonlight and since the moon had risen, she could break her fast."

"However, the moment the gullible queen ate her dinner, she received the news that her husband, the king, was dead. The queen was heartbroken and rushed to her husband's palace. On the way, she met Lord Shiva and his consort, Goddess Parvati. Parvati informed her that the king had died because the queen had broken her fast by watching a false moon. However, when the queen asked her for forgiveness, the goddess granted her the boon that the king would be revived but would be ill."

"When the queen reached the palace, she found the king lying unconscious with hundreds of needles inserted in his body. Each day, the queen managed to remove one needle from the king's body. Next year, on the day of Karva Chauth, only one needle remained embedded in the body of the unconscious king."

"The queen observed a strict fast that day and when she went to the market to buy the karva for the puja , her maid removed the remaining needle from the king's body. The king regained consciousness, and mistook the maid for his queen. When the real queen returned to the palace, she was made to serve as a maid."

"However, Veeravati was true to her faith and religiously observed the Karva Chauth vrat . Once when the king was going to some other kingdom, he asked the real queen (now turned maid) if she wanted anything. The queen asked for a pair of identical dolls. The king obliged and the queen kept singing a song " Roli ki Goli ho gayi... Goli ki Roli ho gayi " (the queen has turned into a maid and the maid has turned into a queen)."

"On being asked by the king as to why did she keep repeating that song, Veeravati narrated the entire story. The king repented and restored the queen to her royal status. It was only the queen's devotion and her faith that won her husband's affection and the blessings of Goddess Parvati."

Once these rituals are completed, the women wait for the moon to rise. When the moon rises, the women see its reflection in thali of water, or through a dupatta (veil) or chalani. They offer water to the moon and seek divine blessing. Then, they turn to their husbands and see their faces in the same manner and pray for the safety, prosperity, and well-being of their husbands. After that, they are given a piece of sweet and a sip of water by their husbands. This marks the end of the day long fast.