Sunday, 20 October 2013

Karwa Chauth -- Our Romantic Festival


Karwa Chauth (Hindi: करवा चौथ) is the  annual one-day festival celebrated by  Hindu women in North India  whether living  in India or abroad . It is also celebrated in many parts of Pakistan.  Karwa Chauth is also known as Karak   Chaturthi.
Karwa Chauth coincides with Sankashti Chaturthi, a fasting day observed for Lord Ganesha. The married women who are observing the fast worship  Lord Ganesh , Lord Shiva , Goddess Parvati  and their son Kartikeya.
The word Karwa means earthen pot  and Chauth means fourth in Hindi. Thus, the festival falls on the fourth day after the full moon during Krishna Paksha Chaturth in the Hindu month of Kartik and the Karwa is used in the worship rituals. Karwa symbolizes happiness and prosperity.
In modern North Indian society, Karwa Chauth is considered to be a romantic festival, symbolizing the love between a husband and wife. It has been celebrated in Bollywood movies such as Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Kabhi  Khushi Kabhi Ghum, Biwi no1 ,Baghban and many more. Similar to Valentine's Day, the lack of  romantic partner is  acutely  felt.
The festival is used extensively in advertising campaigns , for instance in a Chevrolet TV spot in which a man demonstrates his  love for his wife by buying a car with a sunroof so he can drive her around on Karwa Chauth night until she spots the moon through it.
The festival has been criticized as being inherently sexist , "anti-women" and to "perpetuate the notion of women's dependence on men." Karwa chauth has been cited as a symbol of cultural repression of women by some Indian feminists, such as Madhu Kishwar who has put it in the same class as "Khomeinivad" (i.e., pushing women into position of subservience to their husbands, similar to the family structure allegedly favored by Ayatollah Khomeini).
Other feminists, however, have called the festival empowering for women because Karwa Chauth  is an occasion when the women are at the centre of celebrations and are gifted special food, which essentially contains goodies, milk, fruits and dry fruit and enables them to rest and quit housework completely for the day . This is further reinforced by application of heena on both hands and  feet. Women  get time for themselves  going through the  beauty regimes  and dressing-up which are a significant part of the day . NO mother-in-law  or  husband would  obstruct observance of the fast ! 
And with the changing times many husbands are known to fast along with their wife.
On this day married women fast  from sunrise till the moonrise. The fast  is  observed  for the safety, prosperity, love and the  long life  of their husbands . The first fast after marriage has great importance.
Many  unmarried women  whose marriage has been fixed  or who have been engaged observe the fast for their fiancés. Even young girls are seen to fast for their future husbands although traditionally it is forbidden.
It is uncertain how the festival originated and how it came to be celebrated only in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent. One hypothesis is that military campaigns and long-distance travel usually resumed around the time of the festival, as the area dried and numerous rivers of the region subsided from the effects of the monsoon. Women observed the fast to pray for the safety & success of their husbands at this time as they ventured away from home.
Another view is that the festival coincides with the wheat-sowing time (i.e., the beginning of the Rabi crop cycle). Big earthen pots in which wheat is stored are sometimes called karwas, so the fast may have begun as a prayer for prosperity  through good harvest in this predominantly wheat-eating region.
Whatever the reason it is the festival  of love and romance, which binds the couples.
(To be continued )

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