Karwa Chauth is a ritual of fasting, followed by married Hindu women without drinking even a drop of water throughout the day to seek prosperity, longevity and good health of their husbands. Unmarried women also keep fasting on this day for their future life partner.
The festival is celebrated 9 days prior to Diwali, on the fourth day of the Hindu calendar month Kartik. It is extremely popular in the north and west parts of India
“Chauth” means => the fourth day
“Karwa” means => an earthen pot with a spout
The pot symbolises peace and prosperity and is necessary for the rituals that are followed on this festival.
In the ancient times, newly married young women at their in-laws place right after marriage didn’t have any friends or relatives in their spouse’s families to share their grievances and joys with. As their own families lived far away and communication channels were not as fast and smooth as they are today. This situation led to the formation of a ritual, wherein the bride would befriend another woman near her spouse’s residence at the time of marriage, and she would be her friend for life. Their friendship would be sanctified right during the wedding ceremony. Once the ritual is done these two women would be called god sisters or friends, and would stand by each other through thick and thin.
It is supposed that the festival of Karwa Chauth was initiated to celebrate the bond the women, thus shared. The tradition to keep a fast for the husband was added later on, probably to enhance the significance of this festival, because ‘husband’ was the primary reason why these two women had bonded as friends.
In the modern times,
Celebration of Karwa Chauth is focused on the well-being longevity and prosperity of the respective husbands. Moreover, it provides an opportunity to the married women to get closer to their husband and husband’s family.
In the northern and western parts of India, this festival has a remarkable social and cultural significance.
How to celebrate:
Married women start preparations in advance for Karwa Chauth. They buy jewellery, make-up and other ornamental/ dressing items for the day Karwa Chauth. They wear attractive and colourful saris or chunries, particularly in red, pink or other bridal colours. Also, they adorn themselves with many ornaments such as, nose pin, tika, bindi, chonp, bangles, earrings etc.
Karwa Chauth Food Items
Since the women have to observe a fast from the sunrise to the moonrise, food items are prepared and eaten before the sunrise.
- Sargi, which includes pheni (a sweet made by using milk and semolina), parantha, and various types of fruits and sweets is a traditional meal, raw material for which is essentailly given to the bride by her mother-in-law
- Matthis with an equal number of puas (a sweet made of jaggery) are also added to Sargi
Items needed to perform the Karwa Chauth puja:
- Idol of Goddess Gauri (Parvati)
- Karwa (pitcher) filled with water
- A diya (earthen lamp)
- A beautifully decorated chalni (sieve)
- A handful of fruits and food grains.
- A puja thaali (dish)
- Incense sticks, kumkum (vermilion), chawal (rice).
- Lota (container) filled with water.
- A fancy cloth to cover the thali.
Karwa Chauth rituals:
During the day, women put henna/mehndi on their palms, decorate puja thali (dish) and visit friends and relatives. Later in the afternoon, women go to a temple or to someone’s place who has organised the puja, in a circle with their puja thalis and an elderly lady or a pujarin narrates the legend/story of Karwa Chauth. While the story is being narrated, the women pass their thalis in the circle. Depending on the region and community, there are some variations in the rituals.
In Punjabi communities, the Karwa Chauth song is sung seven times, the first six of which describe some of the activities that are taboo during the fast and the seventh describes the lifting of those restrictions with the conclusion of the fast.
In Rajasthan, before offering water seven times the fasting woman is asked “Dhai?”, to which she responds, “Suhaag na Dhai”. In Rajasthan, stories are told by older women in the family, including narratives of Karwa Chauth, Shiv, Parvati, and Ganesh. In earlier times, an idol of Gaur Mata was made using earth and cow dung, which has now been replaced with an idol of Parvati. Each fasting woman lights an earthen lamp in her thali while listening to the Karva story. Kumkum, incense sticks and rice are also kept in the thali.
In Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, the women exchange Karwas seven times between themselves. A priest or an elderly woman of the family narrates the story of beejabeti or Veervati. Women make Gauri, Ganesh and Shankar idols with mud and decorate them with colourful and bright clothes and jewellery.
The Karwa Chauth song:
“Veero Kudiye Karwada
Sarv Suhagan Karwada
Aye Katti Naa Teri Naa,
Khumbh Chrakhra Feri Naa,
Gwand Pair payeen Naa
Sui Cha Dhaga Payi Naa
Ruthda maniyen Naa
Suthra Jagayeen Naa
Bahaein Pyari Veera
Chan Chadde te Pani Peena
Lay Veero Kuriye Karwara
Lay Sarv Suhagan Karwara
The Karwa Chauth story
“A long long time ago, there lived a beautiful princess by the name of Veeravati. When she was of the marriageable age, Veeravati was married to a king. On the occasion of the first Karva Chauth after her marriage, she went to her parents’ house.”
“After sunrise, she observed a strict fast. However, the queen was too delicate and couldn’t stansd the rigours of fasting. By evening, Veeravati was too weak, and fainted. Now, the queen had seven brothers who loved her dearly. They couldn’t stand the plight of their sister and decided to end her fast by deceiving her. They made a fire at the nearby hill and asked their sister to see the glow. They assured her that it was the moonlight and since the moon had risen, she could break her fast.”
“However, the moment the gullible queen ate her dinner, she received the news that her husband, the king, was dead. The queen was heartbroken and rushed to her husband’s palace. On the way, she met Lord Shiva and his consort, Goddess Parvati. Parvati informed her that the king had died because the queen had broken her fast by watching a false moon. However, when the queen asked her for forgiveness, the goddess granted her the boon that the king would be revived but would be ill.”
“When the queen reached the palace, she found the king lying unconscious with hundreds of needles inserted in his body. Each day, the queen managed to remove one needle from the king’s body. Next year, on the day of Karva Chauth, only one needle remained embedded in the body of the unconscious king.”
“The queen observed a strict fast that day and when she went to the market to buy the karva for the puja , her maid removed the remaining needle from the king’s body. The king regained consciousness, and mistook the maid for his queen. When the real queen returned to the palace, she was made to serve as a maid.”
“However, Veeravati was true to her faith and religiously observed the Karva Chauth vrat . Once when the king was going to some other kingdom, he asked the real queen (now turned maid) if she wanted anything. The queen asked for a pair of identical dolls. The king obliged and the queen kept singing a song ” Roli ki Goli ho gayi… Goli ki Roli ho gayi ” (the queen has turned into a maid and the maid has turned into a queen).”
“On being asked by the king as to why did she keep repeating that song, Veeravati narrated the entire story. The king repented and restored the queen to her royal status. It was only the queen’s devotion and her faith that won her husband’s affection and the blessings of Goddess Parvati.”
Once these rituals are completed, the women wait for the moon to rise. When the moon rises, the women see its reflection in thali of water, or through a dupatta (veil) or chalani. They offer water to the moon and seek divine blessing. Then, they turn to their husbands and see their faces in the same manner and pray for the safety, prosperity, and well-being of their husbands. After that, they are given a piece of sweet and a sip of water by their husbands. This marks the end of the day long fast.
Customs and Rituals across different states of India
The festival of Karwa Chauth has an extraordinary significance among married women across India. However, the way of celebrating Karwa Chauth varies from one state to other. Let’s have a look on some of the major states and their unique way of celebrating this festival.
Punjab: Karwa Chauth is one of the main festivals for married women in Punjab. On this auspicious occasion, all the markets in Punjab get flooded with various accessories and decorative items including bangles, beautiful sarees, embroidered suits and stalls of sweets. Apart from following the ritual of fasting, women adorn their hands with exquisite mehndi (Hina), especially designed by skilled artists. In some parts of Punjab, even unmarried women fasts in the hope of winning a loving husband.
Uttar Pradesh: In Uttar Pradesh, married women decorate the walls of their home with drawings of Gauri Ma, the Moon and the sun. They also make the karwa with mud and perform the evening pooja with earthen lamps. Before looking at the moon, the women pray to the idols at their doorstep.
Rajasthan: On this festival, the women in Rajasthan make the karwas (earthern pots) with mud and fill them with rice and wheat. As a part of the celebration, they especially embellish themselves in their bridal wear. Interestingly, it is believed here that the woman who fast is not only blessed with well-being of her husband but also wins the same husband for the next seven births.
Sargi: Sargi is a meal prepared by the mother-in-law for her daughter-in-law, to be consumed before the dawn of Karwa Chauth. This meal includes sweets and other delicious eatables. The mother-in-law blesses her to remain happy always and gifts her with traditional jewelry and sarees.
Baya: On Karwa Chauth, the mother-in-law receives gifts from her daughter-in-law’s mother, which is known as Baya. This consists of salted mathris, dry fruits, sarees and utensils.
The Pooja: From the afternoon itself, the women start their preparation for pooja with utmost devotion and zeal. Married ladies embellish themselves with heavy bridal dress, ornaments and cosmetics. After taking blessings from all the elder women in the family, she presents the baya to her mother-in-law.
A glimpse of the moon: Soon after the pooja, the story of Karwa Chauth is narrated by elderly women of the family. The wait for the moon rise begins after sunset and as soon as the moon is sighted, prayers are offered to the moon. Women first observe the moon through a sieve and then break their fast. The first sip of water and the first bite of food are offered by the husband.