Karva Chauth is a very significant festival for the women of North Indian. Traditionally the Indian woman was expected to uphold family honour and repute. And in order to do that, she was compared to myriad goddesses and heroines in Hindu mythology whose personal and spiritual achievements thus set the way of life for every Indian woman who, in turn, was expected to emulate them. As a child she submitted to the dictates of the paterfamilias – the father, and after marriage to those of the husband. Her failure to do so supposedly brought doom and dishonor upon the concerned families and their genealogical ramifications.
The notion of female chastity, respectability, tolerance and demureness slowly but surely seeped into every layer of the Hindu society and literature, and great care was taken to glorify the woman, while the reigns of social control were firmly held by the mikado of morality – the male. In such a social construct, the woman’s identity hinged first on that of her father, and later and more importantly on that of her husband. Therefore, in certain pockets of India, a widow was expected to immolate herself on the funeral pyre of her departed husband – an act hailed by many that guaranteed her the status of an ‘exalted woman’, a devi (roughly translated as a demigoddess). Hence, not only was her status, but even the mere survival of the woman was dependant on that of the man. The corollary was that the woman did everything within her means to ensure the well being of her patiparmeshwar, or ‘husbandalmighty’.
Today, however, the festival of Karva Chauth is not only a day when women pray to God for the long and prosperous lives of their husbands, but is also symbolic of their unflagging loyalty towards their spouses. The festival is celebrated nine days before Diwali, or the festival of lights, on the fourth day of the waning moon in the Hindu month of Kartik, around October-November. Married women, old and young, begin their fast on the day of Karva Chauth well before sunrise (around 4 a.m.), and eventually partake of food and water only after spotting the moon, which generally rises at about 8.30 p.m. But this is not to say that it is a solemn day solely symbolic of privation, as a good measure of festivity, rituals and merriment complement its more serious implications. In fact many women do not adhere very strictly to the guidelines laid down for the fast, and while they choose to abstain from food, they drink water, tea and coffee.