A festival celebrating the relationship between… spouses or female friends?
Karwa: A small, earth-based pot for water
Chauth: Fourth, since the holiday falls on the 4th day of the waning moon cycle
Karwa Chauth is traditionally celebrated by married women for the safety and longevity of their husbands. Though these days, some husbands also observe the fast for the same reason.
However, this practice originally did not start in relation to spouses...
The festival was originally meant to help strengthen the bond across newly married women, after they moved away from their parents' homes.
"Back in the day," when women in India were married off really young and made to live with their in-laws, you can imagine the longing from being so far away from loved ones.
The Original "Meet Up"
To help newlywed women feel welcome in their new surroundings, Karwa Chauth was designed to introduce them to other women in in their village... and hopefully spark a friendship.
Women would gift each other bangles, lipsticks, sindoor, etc. to remind each other that there is a familiar face in a foreign place.
Over time, a greater emphasis began being placed on honoring husbands as the true purpose of this festival.
1. Women prayed for their husbands to return home safely from war.
2. Honor the harvest season.
3. Hindu theology also has tales of wives' devotion resulting in their wishes being granted. For example, in the story of Savitri and Satyavan, she was able to bring her husband back from the clutches of death.
Friends That Fast Together...
On this day, women fast -- without food or liquid -- from sunrise until the sighting of the moon that night. They dress up in new (red) clothes, apply mehndi, narrate folk tale, read Karwa Chauth Vrat Katha, sing folk songs, and overall, revel in each other's company (also likely to distract themselves from their hunger).
There is a pre-dawn meal called sargi which is meant to help prepare your body for the fast ahead. The "menu" contains items like lassi, dry fruits, kheer, etc. which boost gut health and energy. When the moon comes out, women keep a diya in a sieve and first, look at the moon and then turn to face their husband. It is believed that the light emanating from lamp drives away all evil eyes.
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