Growing up in a staunch north Indian household, I am well aware of the obsession around Karwa Chauth. A festival I would usually associate with a school holiday, meethi matthi, feniya, decked up aunties at a kitty party and most importantly “thank God, my mum cannot wake me up this morning” (it is a ritual that fasting women should not wake up a sleeping person), it is not going to be the same anymore.
With my first Karwa Chauth round the corner, I am secretly contemplating if I should be torturing my stomach to magically lengthen my husband’s life.
Interestingly enough, as per a research by the United Nations, men with the longest life expectancy are from Japan, followed by Switzerland. You get my point, right? Nonetheless, it is the most loved and largely celebrated festival amongst married woman, thanks to Karan Johar and his loving NRI audience.
In a country where the good old fasting can be a solution for anything, Karwa Chauth seems to make complete sense when you put the practice of Sati in perspective. However, in contemporary times the celebration of this festival is perceived as a symbol of love and affection between the couple. Married females are meant to fast and abstain from the consumption of food or water from sunrise to moonrise for the safety, prosperity and well-being of their husbands. As per the rituals, women eat food (also known as sargi) before sunrise in order to be able to fast for the whole day. They adorn traditional clothes, ornaments, heena, vermilion and visit their friends and family. Later in the evening, they gather at a common place to perform special prayers for goddess Parvati and lord Ganesha after which they wait for a vague moonrise to complete the fast.
The significance of this festival is shrouded in mystery but the one largely believed is the renowned story of Veeravati who was tricked by her brothers. Queen Veeravati was spending her first Karwa Chauth at her parents' place. She put herself through a strict fast and anticipated for the moonrise. Veeravati’s brothers were unable to see their beloved sister strive through thirst and hunger. They created a mirror like image on a peepal tree (sacred fig), which looked like the moon had risen. As Veeravati completed her fast, she received the news of her husband’s demise. Heartbroken, she cried, prayed and explained that she was duped by her brothers, which enforced Yama—the lord of death—to restore her husband’s life.
Like other festivals, this too has been highly commercialised. Thanks to the rapidly emerging, gift-giving upper and middle class who do not miss an opportunity to stretch their thick wallets.
Do not believe me? Picture this—Mrs Chopra is excited as she is going to experience her first Karwa Chauth. Based in Moti Nagar, New Delhi, it is more than just a festive affair for her. She has to look her best for the day, which includes a diamond facial and a body spa. Her latest designer outfits are ready to be worn for the day. She has also booked a henna designer who charges somewhere close to $100NZD for a customised design. To top it all, she has been gifted a Swarovski crystal-studded sieve typically used as a part of rituals on the day.
Do not be surprised! Numerous elites like Mrs Chopra are wooed and showered with luxurious presents in return for staying hungry.
The young and liberated females largely oppose the festival and consider it misogynistic since it does apply to the great Indian men, while many others would still follow the ritual out of love for their husbands. In more recent times, it has been observed that men reciprocate the love by fasting along and recognise gender equality.
The beauty of India is that people are happy to follow customs and traditions blindly as long as it is not personally jeopardising and keeps our elders happy. Perhaps this is why we are able to keep our large families intact by respecting various views and aspects of life. Cheerio to all the ladies who are going to fast this Karwa Chauth and double that if you are the loving fasting husband. But bear in mind with daylight saving and long spring days, the moon rise in New Zealand could be an arduous wait. While I continue to wonder if I could sustain the torturous hungry state, here is wishing you all happy fasting.