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Karwa Chauth: Celebration of matrimony

Karwa Chauth: Celebration of matrimony
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Around this time of the year, the festival season is in the full swing. Durga Puja, Dusshera and Diwali is interspersed with another important festivity – Karwa Chauth, an annual ritual observed by married women to seek blessings for long-life of their husbands. The one-day festival is celebrated mostly in the Hindi speaking states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. The festival falls on the fourth day after the full moon, in the Hindu lunisolar calendar month of Kartik. In some cases, unmarried women too observe the fast for their fiancés.

The word Karwa means pot (a small earthen pot of water) and Chauth means ‘fourth’ in Hindi (a reference to the fact that the festival falls on the fourth day of the dark-fortnight, or krishna paksh, of the month of Kartik). The ritual of celebrating Karwa Chauth begins with observing fast after sunrise and ending it with the appearance of moon.

The history of Karwa Chauth dates back to ancient times. Its cultural significance being that it gave opportunity to the women of the household of the huge joint families to fast, pray and feast together. It bears special significance for the newly married as it gives her the opportunity enter the community of the family’s womenfolk. Over the years it has come to acquire a lot of pomp and show specially with womenfolk specially dressing themselves for the occasion.

There are many legends attached to this festival. The tradition of observing fast for one’s husband finds mention in the legend of Mahabharata, the tale of queen Veervati, the legend of Karva and tale of Satyavan and Savitri. In all these tales, wives were able to change the destiny of their respective husbands by observing fast with devotion. Seeing the immense merits and boon of redeeming the life of a husband in these legendary tales, the tradition of Karwa Chauth is observed. Whatever the legend behind this festival, the significance of this festival is that the herculean fast observed by the wife shows the love and devotion towards her husband and this selfless act definitely has a positive effect on the marital relationship.

There some legends behind celebrations of Karwa Chauth. The first legend has it that queen Veervati, the only sister of seven brothers, came to her parent’s house to celebrate her first Karwa Chauth. She followed the ritual of observing fast after sunrise and was keenly awaiting the appearance of moon. In mid-way, she developed strong craving for food and water. Seeing her anguish, her brothers placed a mirror in a peepal tree that made it look like a moon. Queen Veervati mistook the mirror for moon and ended her fast. Soon after this, a message arrived that her husband had died. Inconsolable, queen rushed back to her husband’s house. Along the way, Lord Shiva and his consort, Parvati appeared before her and told her that she had been deceived by her brothers. Queen then pleaded for forgiveness. Shiva and Parvati assured queen that her husband would be brought back to life only when she observes strict fast ritual. This time queen followed the ritual strictly and was able to redeem her husband’s life from death.

The second legend entails the story of a strong-willed woman Savitri, who fought with destiny to bring her husband back to life. Lord Yama came to the door of Savitri looking for Satyavan’s soul, as he completed his time on earth. Savitri pleaded for her husband’s life. When Yama begged off the request, Savitri ceased to take any food and water. Yama then pledged to grant her any wish except the life of her husband. Savitri then requested Yama to bless her with children. Since Savitri was a devoted wife who would never allow any other man to be the father of her children, Yama had no other option but to bring back the life of her husband.

The third legend is from Mahabharata. It goes as at one time Arjuna had left for Nilgiris and in his absence, Pandava brothers faced lot of troubles. Draupadi sought help from Lord Krishna where he advised her to observe Karwa Chauth citing tales of Shiva and Parvati. Draupadi followed the instructions of Lord Krishna by observing Karwa Chauth. Finally, Pandavas were able to get rid of the problems.
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