Karva Chauth is perhaps the most romanticized of all Indian festivals, and is celebrated by the North Indian community like the Punjabis and UP-ites. But while many festivals that are particular to a community seem alien to those outside the community, almost all of us Indians have some basic knowledge of Karva Chauth, thanks to the extensive appearance of this festival in romantic Hindi films like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.
Karva Chauth is so named as it is celebrated on the 'chauthva' or fourth day of the Kartik month every year.
Women traditionally apply mehendi (henna) to their hands in preparation for this festival. They either get it done by a professional mehendi walla, or apply a little mehendi on their hands by themselves as they may not have the time to get it done, but do want to observe all the rituals.
Married women wake up before sunrise, at around four in the morning, and eat food called the Sargi. Sargi is gifted by the mother in law, or is bought from the money sent by the mother in law, and often consists of pheni kheer and matthis in addition to other foods like parathas, almonds, coconut and so on. They finish their meal by drinking sufficient water. The fast begins at sunrise. Women now cannot eat or drink anything including water until the moon rises at night. However, if the mother in law gives her daughter in law permission, she can drink a glass of water after the 'puja'. Pregnant and nursing women however eat fruit and drink milk or juice through the day.
A puja (prayer) is generally held at around four in the evening. Women dress up in red or various shades of red, and carry with them a well decorated, generally silver 'thali' (tray), on which sits an urn or glass of water with the auspicious thread or 'mauli' tied around. There is also fruit, an idol of Goddess Parvati and a 'diya' made from wheat, which is lit for the prayer. If it is a woman's first Karva Chauth, she will wear her wedding outfit to the puja.
At the puja, women listen to the 'Karva Chauth Katha' or the story of Karva Chauth. Punjabi women form a circle, and during certain breaks in the 'katha', they pass their 'thalis' around. Certain other northern communities may not observe the 'thali pherna' ritual.
After the puja, women go back home and wait for the moon to come out, often calling up friends and relatives to find out if anyone has seen the moon. When it finally rises, the wives see it either reflected on water or through a sieve, and offer their prayers. They then see their husbands face again reflected in the water or through the sieve with the moon, and pray for his long life. The husband then breaks her fast by giving her a sip of water and places something sweet in her mouth.
These days many loving husbands of their own accord observe a fast as well, to give their wives company. After all, if the wives can stay hungry and thirsty all day and pray for the long life of their husbands, surely husbands too can do the same! Many unmarried girls too keep this fast along with their mothers and other friends, often to pray for a good husband or just to give their married friends and relatives company and participate in the festival. Unmarried women break their fast when they see a star, and don't have to wait for the moon to rise.
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- The Indiaparenting Team