A look into the festival of Karva Chauth, as parts of the country gear up to celebrate it tonight. Changing times means revisiting and scrutinizing the relevance of such customs.
Karva Chauth, a ritualistic fast observed by married women primarily in order to ensure prosperity and longevity of their husbands, is being celebrated in India today. Although widely celebrated in northern India by certain Hindu sects, women in other parts of the country will also be observing this festival.
With a majority of women not even consuming a glass of water until the moon is visible, which is when the fast is broken, the fast is meant to be strictly adhered to. With the husband, nearby, the woman views the reflection of the moon in a vessel filled with water, through a sieve, or cloth, after which the moon or lunar god is offered water for the blessings. The face of the husband is then looked at after which he takes water from the vessel to offer that to his wife along with the first morsel of food for the day.
Business woman Jayshree Sarda, who provides decoration for events says, “I put on henna and new clothes in vibrant colours for the occasion. The day also marks a form of worshipping of the moon.” However, the times are changing and these customs find a blurry line between tradition and personal choices. “For me Karva Chauth is a family tradition and something that I have seen since my childhood. Apart from the traditional reasons to observe this day, for me, the feeling of attachment and bonding that it brings gives me a lot of joy,” says Jayshree. Manisha Singh, a student of Comparative Literature, has grown up watching her mother observe the fast and she believes that Karva Chauth is observed in today’s India beyond its religious relevance. “Fasting gives the woman some sort of satisfaction that she is spiritually aiding her husband. It comes down to our belief system, and I think it thus becomes a personal choice.”
An evolution in time
Changing times means there is an evolution in the observance of this festival. While some have chosen to modify certain rituals, others are completely abandoning this festival they view as establishing gender hierarchy.
Jayshree adds, “Some of the original practices like complete fasting without even water is something that I think must change. I prefer my husband to serve me a glass of water after sunset just to bring us closer as the day goes on. Even the earlier tradition where elders would share stories of couples and the historical observance of the festival is slowly eroding due to nuclear family structures. We now get books or CDs, even information on the internet to complete this part of the festival.”
Critical of the patriarchal nature of this festival, Manisha said, “The whole idea of fasting for the husband while making sure he is well-fed throughout the day is perpetuation of a hierarchy. Even early in the afternoon my mother begins feeling sick but she continues fasting.”
Netizens voice their opinions
Many shared a similar view on social media, with notable personalities asking the husbands to join in the fast. Some questioned the relevance of the festival itself, deeming it an unnecessary patriarchal institution imposed by societal and familial pressures.
Senior journalist Barkha Dutt argues about the inherent nature of this practice.
I know its all about ‘Choice’ but no power has yet been able to convince me that #karvachauth is not inherently regressive & patriarchal!
— barkha dutt (@BDUTT) October 30, 2015
Suhel Seth joked about keeping a fast for women.
In the interests of gender equality, I will be observing KARVA CHAUTH today to help single (and keen) women find the man of their dreams.
— SUHEL SETH (@suhelseth) October 19, 2016
Another netizen questioned the need for the observation of fast at all.
Someone intelligent came up with “You also fast for her if she is fasting for you” instead of “How about neither of you fast?” #KarwaChauth
— Pranav (@pranavsapra) October 19, 2016
The country remains divided on following a tradition and modifying it to fit modern day needs as opposed to the inherent nature of the festival itself.