The Hindu Karwa Chauth festival is one of love, longevity, and well-being.

In the Hindu tradition, there is a celebration dedicated to married women seeking the health, safety, and longevity of their husbands called Karwa Chauth or Karva Chauth. In addition to bringing goodwill to their husbands, the observance is done to build a stronger relationship between a wife and her in-laws.

The festivity falls on the fourth day after the full moon of the Hindu month of Kartik. In the modern Gregorian calendar, it falls between the month of October and November. In 2016, it will be celebrated on October 19. Traditionally, it’s only the married women who can participate in the festival’s activities. However, throughout the years unmarried women have participated in the fast too.

Origin and significance of the festivity

The tradition behind Karwa Chauth is linked to three possible stories or origins. First, the observance falls at the beginning of the wheat planting season. Big “karwas” or earthen pots are used to store wheat grains. The fasting activity is often linked to the early Hindus’ prayer for a bountiful harvest ahead. Second, Karwa Chauth may be a product of the Mughal raids of India during the 12th to 16th century. Wives of Hindu soldiers back then often gathered to socialize, fast, and mainly to pray for the safety of their husbands on duty or for those about to be sent to war.

The third story behind the festivity revolves around the creation of good family relationships between a newlywed wife and her in-laws. When wives eventually move to their new home with their husband’s family, they often feel the challenge to gain the approval of their in-laws to be on good terms with their new community. Karwa Chauth is a social celebration wherein the newlywed wife seeks new relatives in the form of god-friends or god-sisters (whether it’s from her husband’s family or from neighbors in her new community).

Main activities during the festival

Karwa Chauth is a popular celebration in the northern and western regions of India. The most prominent activities during this day include fasting, wearing lavish garments, singing and praying, exchanging gifts, and the wearing of henna tattoos.

The most important ritual for the holiday is the fasting done by married women. It starts exactly from sunrise and ends when the moon starts to shine at night. It’s a very strict form of fasting meaning no food and drinks is taken including water. As a consideration, all women fasting on this day don’t do household chores. The entire day is dedicated to praying, singing songs, telling stories and socializing with all other women.

A ritual is performed to properly end the fasting. Women will view the reflection of the moon in a water-filled vessel or perhaps, through a sieve. Water is then offered to the moon. Then turn toward their husband and gaze upon his face.

During the festivity, there’s a tradition of exchanging gifts. The customary way is to exchange colorfully designed karwas or pots filled with various treats or cooked meals. Wives expect to receive lavish gifts from their husbands as well at the end of the day.

Women try to be as extravagant when it comes to costumes during this special day. And aside from wearing the best clothes, they also flaunt their jewelry and their bodies particularly their hands and feet are elaborately designed with henna tattoos. For Hindus, such tattoos symbolize good luck and fortune.

Resources

Follow the Conversation on Twitter