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On Karva Chauth day, tens of millions of women keep a fast, taking neither food nor water, for the well being and long life of their husbands. The fast of Karwa Chawth truly sets the merry tone of the fun and frolic, festivity and feasting that come in good measure during Diwali – the biggest festival of the Hindus. Even the ‘hip-hop’ generation now celebrates the ‘My Family’ spirit, with Karva Chauth having become a cool fad among teenagers. For some of these youngsters it’s a trend, for others it’s pure devotion, and there are still others for whom it’s just fun giving company to her mother who observes the fast.

Tradition /Preparations:

Karwa means clay pot and chauth means fourth night after the full moon. It has great social and cultural significance and is mostly practiced in Northern India where wives start their fast at night just after the appearance of the moon, within sight of their husbands. They then wait until the next night’s moonrise to begin the fast breaking ceremonies, without consuming any food or drink.

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.

There are variations within regions, groups, and communities in India about rituals of starting and breaking the fast, and worshipping the moon. In Punjab, for example, women start their fast by consuming food called sergi sent in beautifully wrapped baskets by her mother-in-law before the dawn.

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Women dress up in their best finery, with henna-decked hands, bindis, colorful bangles, vermilion in their hair-parting and the best of jewelry. Often, the newly wed wear their wedding dress on this auspicious occasion, usually the ghagra-choli or Banarsi saris, embellished with the old-new shimmer of gold, diamonds and rubies. After dressing up, she receives gifts from the mother-in-law. The morning passes by in myriad activities like decorating hand and feet with heena, decorating the pooja thali and meeting friends and relatives.

Henna

Henna or Mehndi is considered to be auspicious for married women, and is a necessary part of the Karva Chauth ritual. It is believed that, married woman who get dark color from mehendi will get loads of love and caring from her groom and mother-in-law. It also denotes prosperity and good luck. Women get intricate henna designs applied on their hands before they get down to the actual rituals. Most traditional henna patterns consist of very simple shapes – circles, triangles and lines are the most basic. These shapes can be combined to create a very intricate pattern and a very beautiful henna designs on the palm and feet of women.

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The steps to apply Mehndi / Henna:

  • 1. Make a smooth henna paste by sifting the dry henna powder to remove any debris and adding to it a hot mixture of tea or coffee and mustard oil until it has a mud-like firmness.
  • 2. After the paste is ready take a plastic cone with a very fine key-hole at the end (similar to a cake decorating tube). Pour the paste into the cone and tie the broader end with a rubber band.
  • 3. Hold the cone in the right hand and gently squeeze the paste on the palm and start making patterns. Keep the palm horizontal and let the patterned-paste rest on it till dry.
  • 4. Warm it near the fire and leave it on for as long as it takes to get the stains deeper.
  • 5. When it is almost dry, dab a piece of cotton in sugar and lemon solution and apply lightly on the designs so it further darkens to a reddish-brown hue that can last for weeks.
  • 6. After 2-4 hours wash off the hands with plain water.

Kathaa-Puja / Story:

In the late afternoon women gather at a temple or a garden or someones’ place who has arranged the pooja. A small area is prepared for the ceremony that can be performed in any part of the house as well as in the open. A small square platform is placed against the wall and kharia matti (powdery mud) is used to cleanse, make anew and decorate the puja area. An idol of Gaur Mata or Goddess Parvati, the consort of Shiva (the Destroyer in the Hindu Holy Trinity of Creator-Preserver-Destroyer) is placed on the consecrated spot.

About an hour before moonrise, the women place their bayas over their karvas in a plate and assemble around the puja area to pray. An elderly lady narrates the legend of Karwa Chouth about a young woman who by an unfortunate twist of fate was tricked into breaking her fast. The husband drops dead the very instance his wife breaks the fast. Enraged at the deception that led to her husband’s death the girl implores Gaur Mata to resurrect her husband. The husband finally comes back to life after a period of seven Karva Chauths during which time the young girl neither eats nor drinks. Thus the bride with her unflinching love for her husband and belief in Godess Parvati achieves the ‘impossible’. After the story is read out to everyone, the women exchange their respective karvas till each one gets her own karva back, while chanting the following:

Addey-addey Krishna pakshe var
Tith Karva Chauth
Manse hain apne suhag ke liye
Yeh karva, mattri, halwa, sari, nagdi
Apne suhag ka liye rani ka sa raj dena
Gaur ka sa suhag dena Shri Krishna nimant.

The chant is a prayer for the well being of the husband and for marital bliss. The puja ends with the women showering rice and vermilion on Parvati and seeking her blessings. The younger women touch the feet of the elders, seek their blessings and offer their baya to them.

It is believed that a Pati-Vrat woman has the power to confront the God of Death, Yama. This Karva Chauth fast is undertaken by the wife, so that the husband enjoys a long and prosperous life.

The essentials of this gathering and listening of the Karwa chauth story , a special mud pot, that is considered a symbol of lord Ganesha, a metal urn filled with water, flowers, idols of Ambika Gaur Mata, Goddess Parwati and some fruits, mathi and food grains. A part of this is offered to the deities and the storyteller. Every one lights an earthen lamp in their thalis while listening to the Karwa story. Sindoor, incense sticks and rice are also kept in the thali.

At this time the women wear heavy saris or chunries in red , pink or other bridal colors, and adorn themselves with all other symbols of a married women like, nose pin, tika, bindi, chonp, bangles, earrings etc.

Breaking the fast:

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The fast breaking ceremony involves looking at the moon through a sieve, and then looking at her husband’s face. Water is offered to the moon seven times by each of the fasting women as they all hum a chant. Though the women are allowed to break their fast after they see the moon, it is preferred if they can also see the faces of their husbands before they eat or drink. They often close their eyes in the process and do not see anyone but their husbands just after seeing the moon.

The family then sits down for a grand vegetarian meal that ideally should exclude rice, lentils, garlic and onions, to celebrate the festival of Karva Chauth.

Modern Day:

In modern day, with all the trappings of commercialization attached, Karva Chauth, the big fasting day has turned into a full-fledged event. The Halwais, the Mehendi and Churiwallis have traditionally been busy on this auspicious day. But joining the bandwagon in recent times are the beauty parlour owners, the event management companies and the restaurant owners.

http://www.karwachauth.com/

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