Karva Chauth is a day long festival traditionally celebrated by Hindu women in North India from sunrise to moonrise to pray for their husbands and sometimes boyfriends or fiances. Karva means clay jug, while Chauth means four. On the fourth day married women fast for the wellbeing and a long life for their husbands. Karwa Chauth is celebrated immediately after Dusshera, in the dark fortnight of Ashwin in the month of Kartik (October November) and 9 days before Diwali.
Originally it was a day to enjoy the company of friends and family but later, many mythological legends have been added to give a religious touch. Although there are several hypotheses about the origin of this celebration, some widely accepted notions are that in prehistoric times military campaigns generally ended in October or November before the winter set in. Women would keep fast to pray for safe return of their husbands and, sometimes, their boyfriends from the wars.
During the celebrations, the women dress in their finery, adorned with bindi, colorful bracelets, vermillion, paint their hands and feet with henna and use their best jewels. Newlywed would wear their wedding dress on this auspicious occasion, usually pink or orange Ghagra choli, lehenga choli or red Banarsi sarees, preferably embroidered with gold and complement them with gold, diamonds, and rubies.
In the evening the women gather in a common place like a temple or a garden or house and pray for the husbands until the moon appears. Each woman lights a lamp and puts mud with sindoor, incense sticks and rice in their thalis. Once the moon rises, women see their reflection in a thali with water, or through a dupatta or a sieve and offers it water. From that moment the fast ends and the first sip of water and the first bite of food is offered by the husband and is followed by a sumptuous dinner. The ceremony ends when they touch the feet of their husbands to show their love.
Similar festivals are held all over India, but Karva Chauth is unique in the northern region and the festival is held mainly in the states of Rajasthan, parts of Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, and Punjab. Women begin preparations for the celebrations a few days in advance and buy makeup and cosmetics or shringar, ornaments, jewelry, Karva, lamps, and plates. Local shops and bazaars decorate their shops with festive products for Karva Chauth.
Women wake up before sunrise on the day of Karva Chauth and have something to eat and drink. In Uttar Pradesh, partakers will eat soot feni, traditional garbanzo beans and milk dish and milk in sugar during the night before the festival. The Sargi in Punjab is an important part of this meal before sunrise. If mother-in-law lives in the same house, the pre-dawn meal is prepared by the mother-in-law.
Women participate in community activities during the fast. In the morning, they spend time with the other women in the community and paint henna on hands and feet. Before sunset, they will meet in a place which can be someone's home to perform the rituals associated with the puja. Together, they will pray for the welfare and longevity of their husbands and exchange a gift basket with products such as almonds, jewelry, and other things.
Husbands traditionally bathe their wives with gifts and sweets in compensation for the hard fasting and prayers. This festival also serves as a reminder of the eternal bond between husband and wife.
In Punjab few days before this auspicious fasting, all Punjab markets are flooded with accessories and decorative objects, including bangles, bracelets, saris, beautiful embroidery suits, candy stalls, and other foodstuffs. Many artists from different cities like Agra, Jaipur and Delhi gather here for special mehndi henna tattoos.
Among women of Rajasthan, women make themselves the karvas with mud and fill it with rice and wheat. In Uttar Pradesh, married women decorate the walls of her house with pictures of the moon and the sun. They also make karva with mud and perform puja at night with earthen lamps. Before looking at the moon, women pray at their doorstep.
In Maharashtra, a similar one called Vat Savitri is celebrated, while in other regions is known as Teej. Karva Chauth has also inspired Bollywood as could be seen in the films Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi film Gham pictured with Shahrukh Khan and Kajol.