It is heartening to know that Hindus have always believed in worshiping the Male and Female aspect of God together and that Sri Ram was a staunch devoted husband. Not only that, one says Seeta Ram and Radha Krishna and as one can see the female name gets precedence. As the name signifies, Karva meaning a clay pot and chauth corresponding to the fourth, this festival is commemorated on the fourth day after the Full Moon in Kartik month of Hindu calendar. The fast of Karva Chauth is kept 9 days before Diwali. In the olden days, a woman was dependent on a man, whether he was her father, brother, husband or Guru. Without a man she was considered incomplete. Today that may not be the case. But it is still refreshing to see a loving wife or a loving husband.
The festival of Karva Chauth was earlier emerged as a day to celebrate the season of autumn and enjoy the company of friends and relatives. But later on, many mythological legends were added to give it a religious touch. This festival is glorified and widely solemnized by the Hindus all over the world. On this day it is customary for the wife to fast the whole day. She does not drink water either. She paints her hands and feet with henna, dresses generally in red apparel and on her hair parting she smears vermilion powder. It is believed that a Pati-Vrat woman has the power to confront the God of Death, Yama. This Karva Chauth fast is undertaken by the wife, so that the husband enjoys a long and prosperous life.
The story of Karva is well known. Her husband was caught by a crocodile. Karva bound the crocodile with a cotton yarn. She then asked Yama to send the crocodile to hell. Yama refused. Karva threatened to curse Yama. Yama, afraid of being cursed by Pati-vrat (devoted) wife, sent the crocodile to hell. Karva and her husband enjoyed many years of wedded bliss. The fact that Yama was afraid of being cursed by a devoted wife showed the power a good faithful woman!
Maybe you have heard the story of Savitri. The latter followed Yama, who carried away her dead husband. Yama said that she could ask for any other boon except for the life of her husband. Savitri asked that she be blessed with children. Yama agreed. Being a Pati-Vrat wife, Savitri would never any other man, be the father of her children. Yama was left with no other choice but to restore Savitri's husband to life.
A few days before Karva Chauth, married women buy new karvas, the spherical clay pots and paint them on the outside with beautiful designs. Inside the pot, they put bangles and ribbons, home-made candy and sweets, make-up items and small clothes e.g. handkerchief. The women then visit each other on the day of Karva Chauth or immediately afterward, and exchange these karvas. Season-wise, soon after the harvest, it is an excellent time to enjoy festivities, meet one another and exchange gifts. During the time of Karva Chauth, parents send gifts to married daughters and their children.
They are not supposed to eat or even drink water during the day. In the evening the ladies listen to the Karva Chauth Katha (the legend). The fast is over after the moonrise.
The puja process
The puja preparations start a day in advance. Married women buy the shringar or the traditional adornments and the other pooja items the karva, matthi, heena etc.
Early in the morning they prepare food and have it before sunrise. The morning passes by in other festive activities like decorating hand and feet with heena decorating the pooja thali and meeting friends and relatives. On this special day, women wear heavy saris or chunries in red, pink or other bridal colors, and adorn themselves with all other symbols of a married women like, nose pin, tika, bindi, bangles, earrings, etc.
Once the moon rises, the women see its reflection in a thali of water, or through a dupatta or a sieve. They offer water to the moon and seek blessings. And then they turn to their husbands and touch his feet. They pray for the safety, prosperity and long life of their husbands. This marks the end of the day long fast and beginning of an endless journey of love.
Observance of the first Karwa by the newly-wed is a special occasion. A newly married woman is given utmost importance by her relatives and immediate family members when she observes the fast for the long life of her husband. She is showered with blessings of blissful married life and loads of Karva Chauth gifts. As this festival is considered very important for married women, all the symbols that reflects the marriage status of a woman is in high demand such as jewelery, bangles, henna, sarees, lehnga choli and many other traditional gifts.
Mother-in-law prepares an elaborate Sargi (the pre-dawn Karva Chauth meal) when her daughter-in-law observes her first fast. She wakes up early to prepare a sumptuous and lavish meal inclusive of sweets and other delicacies for daughter-in-law. She blesses her daughter-in-law saying 'Sada Suhagan Raho' which means, 'may you always enjoy a blissful married life' when the latter touches her feet with reverence. She also presents her daughter-in-law with gifts, which may be a piece of jewelry or a saree on the first Karva Chauth.
Baya is a gift given to a daughter's mother-in-law on the occasion of Karva Chauth. Mothers of newly wed daughters bring gifts for all her family members. Some utensils are also included in the baya which are to be distributed amongst women who join the newly-wed on her first Karva Chauth Puja.