Karva stands for an earthen pot and Chauth is the fourth day of the full moon, a day when married women fast the whole day for the well-being, prosperity and long life of their husbands, leading to a happy married life and also gaining the title of a ‘Saubhagyavati’, the most joyous and coveted state of womanhood.
Karva Chauth is a festival that dates back to the times when a woman, be she a daughter, sister, wife or a mother, was always dependent on the man of her life. There is many a myth of Karva Chauth, but before that, let’s look at the genesis of this festival and how it has changed over time, thus giving it a new and a different meaning altogether.
In olden days, girls were married off at a very tender age and sometimes were very far off from her parents, friends, etc. In large families of her in-laws, she was often lonely. Husbands were accessible only at night and often the age-difference made it quite difficult to converse, leave alone confide. To keep her company and also to lend her a shoulder during times of distress, she would befriend another girl/woman at her in-laws. They would then be god-sisters/god-friends for life and this relationship was sometimes sanctified right at the time of the marriage through a small ceremony.
Karva Chauth was a festival to celebrate this bonding and new friendship. Fasting and praying for the husband came much later as an addition to the original festival. The aspect of the husband was quite obvious, since the new bonding was through the husband. But how original reason of the festival was lost, could be a matter of debate. In due course of time, this festival became a festival to pray for the well-being and the prosperity and long-life of the husband and a number of myths were woven as part of the traditional katha which became the ritual de rigueur.
First, let us understand the concept of worshiping the moon. The whole aspect of the moon-worship had to do with the worship of Shiva-Parvati, as they were considered to be a couple with eternal marital bliss, and Parvati had been blessed with Shiva as her spouse in every life of hers – an honour for many a woman as seen in our society. The moon is symbolically seen as an adornment of Shiva’s locks and also derives his strength from Shiva during its waning phase. In some myths, the Moon is also seen as the god of medicines, and thus brings in the aspect of good health and better life for the spouses. Also, in the absence of the husband being physically present, the moon came as a good substitute!
The most common myth of Karva Chauth is that of the woman named Karva who used to live with her husband near a river. Once when the husband was having a bath in the river, a crocodile attacked him. Soon Karva came there, and tied a cotton thread around the crocodile and went to meet Yama, the god of death, to demand punishment (in the form of banishment to hell) for the crocodile. When Yama refused to give in to her demand, she threatened to curse him, and herein lies the message – that a devoted wife could even risk cursing a god for her husband. Yama did not want to earn the wrath of such a woman and gave in to her wishes and blessed her husband with a long life. This myth is similar to that of Savitri-Satyavan, where Savitri goes to extremes to get her husband back to life from death and the god of death was left with no choice. The myth of Queen Veeravati is another important myth which is recited during the katha (which I will take up tomorrow on Karva Chauth).
Over a period of time, and thanks to numerous Bollywood portrayals, this has become an important festival. Though this might not seem to be a relevant custom from the time it originated, but somehow it still manages to hold sway with the people. Some do it for the original reasons; some do it for the glamour attached to it while some do it from the plain reason to appease-the-in-laws. Irrespective of what modernists feel and how chauvinist it all seems to a few in the Society, this festival is here to stay and prosper and as some say, helps to bond amongst the womenfolk.
So how long will this one-sided demonstration of love and bonding for the ultimate marital-bliss work? Your guess is as good as mine.