The Fast of Karva Chauth

Karva Chauth is a day-long festival celebrated by women in North India. Women fast from sunrise to moonrise to pray for their husbands. 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 immediately after Dusshera and 9 days before Diwali.

The Matronalia was a Roman celebration celebrated in honor of Juno Lucina. It got reserved for women who had contributed to the end of the war. Only married women participated. It was a cheerful and cozy party celebrated with the family. So the unmarried girls got excluded.

Women made vows for the glory of their husbands. They wear the costumes gifted by the men or the mother-in-law on this occasion. It was, in fact, a revision of the wedding ceremony, in which the bridegroom made gifts to the bride. This celebration was then repeated at the beginning of the new year. The cult of Juno Lucina transformed the feast into the celebration of births.

The actual rites got committed only by married women in a sacred grove in front of the city. Presumably, these were fertility riddles. The feast day got followed by a fasting time that lasted until the Cerealia.

Karva Chauth was a day to enjoy the company of friends and family. Later, many mythological legends have got added to give a religious touch. There are several hypotheses about the origin of this celebration. In prehistoric times military campaigns generally ended before the winter set in. Women would keep fast to pray for safe return of their husbands from the wars.

During the day, the women dress in their finery, adorned with a bindi, and colorful bracelets. They put vermillion, paint their hands and feet with henna and wear their best jewels. The newlywed would wear their wedding dress on this auspicious occasion. They usually pink or orange ghagra choli, lehenga choli or red banarasi sarees. They complement them with gold, diamonds, and rubies.

In the evening the women gather in a common place like a temple or a garden. They 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. From that moment the fast ends. The first sip of water and the first bite of food get offered by the husband. It gets followed by a sumptuous dinner. The ceremony ends when they touch the feet of their husbands to show their love.

Karva Chauth is unique in the northern region and the festival is popular in the state of Rajasthan. It is also common in parts of Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, and Punjab. Women begin preparations for the celebrations a few days in advance. They 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, women eat sutarfeni, the traditional milk-based dish. 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 gets prepared by the mother-in-law.

Women take part 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 meet in a place like someone's home to perform the rituals associated. Together, they pray for the welfare and longevity of their husbands. They exchange a gift basket with products such as almonds, jewelry, and other things.

Husbands shower their wives with gifts and sweets after the fasting and prayers. This festival also serves as a reminder of the eternal bond between husband and wife.

In Punjab, the markets get flooded with accessories and decorative objects. It includes bangles, bracelets, saris, beautiful embroidery suits, candy stalls, and other foodstuffs. Artists from 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 get celebrated. In other regions, Teej gets celebrated. Karva Chauth has also inspired Bollywood.

Sindoor Khela is a Bengali female ritual. On the 10th day of the Navratri or Durga Puja, women gather to adorn Maa Durga with sindoor. The women apply each other with the sindoor. The profound meaning of Sindoor Khela is in favor of the longevity of spouses. Women attending the rite pray for the peace and prosperity of their families. Before immersion, married women apply the sindoor on the forehead of their goddess.

Folk tradition later extended the use of the sindoor function in a profane sense. It gets used by Indian women to report their status as brides in the North of the country. In Aryan society, it was customary for the groom, to draw a sign with his own blood on the forehead of his future wife. It was a symbol of marital commitment. Today, at the Hindu wedding ceremony, the groom puts sindoor on to symbolize conjugal life.

The custom has survived, to the point that a widowed woman has to stop bearing the mark. The probable tribal tradition was later absorbed by religion. It symbolizes the ancient practice of offering blood sacrifices to please the Gods. Over time, communities have put an end to these sacrifices but the red color has remained.

Thus, the application of the sindoor is also a change of married wife status. So the sindoor also plays the role of a silent symbol of communication. If there is a mourning in the family, the women do not wear the sindoor. During menstruation, some women refrain from wearing sindoor.

In the past, women used this little sign on her husband's forehead. It was to bring him luck on the battlefield or to welcome him home. Bindi and Kumkum bring with it a wealth of meaning and linked to a very ancient tradition.