Karva stands for an earthen pot and Chauth is the fourth day of the full moon, a day when married women fast the whole day for the well-being, prosperity and long life of their husbands, leading to a happy married life and also gaining the title of a ‘Saubhagyavati’, the most joyous and coveted state of womanhood.
Karva Chauth is a festival that dates back to the times when a woman, be she a daughter, sister, wife or a mother, was always dependent on the man of her life. There is many a myth of Karva Chauth, but before that, let’s look at the genesis of this festival and how it has changed over time, thus giving it a new and a different meaning altogether.
In olden days, girls were married off at a very tender age and sometimes were very far off from her parents, friends, etc. In large families of her in-laws, she was often lonely. Husbands were accessible only at night and often the age-difference made it quite difficult to converse, leave alone confide. To keep her company and also to lend her a shoulder during times of distress, she would befriend another girl/woman at her in-laws. They would then be god-sisters/god-friends for life and this relationship was sometimes sanctified right at the time of the marriage through a small ceremony.
Karva Chauth was a festival to celebrate this bonding and new friendship. Fasting and praying for the husband came much later as an addition to the original festival. The aspect of the husband was quite obvious, since the new bonding was through the husband. But how original reason of the festival was lost, could be a matter of debate. In due course of time, this festival became a festival to pray for the well-being and the prosperity and long-life of the husband and a number of myths were woven as part of the traditional katha which became the ritual de rigueur.
First, let us understand the concept of worshiping the moon. The whole aspect of the moon-worship had to do with the worship of Shiva-Parvati, as they were considered to be a couple with eternal marital bliss, and Parvati had been blessed with Shiva as her spouse in every life of hers – an honour for many a woman as seen in our society. The moon is symbolically seen as an adornment of Shiva’s locks and also derives his strength from Shiva during its waning phase. In some myths, the Moon is also seen as the god of medicines, and thus brings in the aspect of good health and better life for the spouses. Also, in the absence of the husband being physically present, the moon came as a good substitute!
The most common myth of Karva Chauth is that of the woman named Karva who used to live with her husband near a river. Once when the husband was having a bath in the river, a crocodile attacked him. Soon Karva came there, and tied a cotton thread around the crocodile and went to meet Yama, the god of death, to demand punishment (in the form of banishment to hell) for the crocodile. When Yama refused to give in to her demand, she threatened to curse him, and herein lies the message – that a devoted wife could even risk cursing a god for her husband. Yama did not want to earn the wrath of such a woman and gave in to her wishes and blessed her husband with a long life. This myth is similar to that of Savitri-Satyavan, where Savitri goes to extremes to get her husband back to life from death and the god of death was left with no choice. The myth of Queen Veeravati is another important myth which is recited during the katha .
Over a period of time, and thanks to numerous Bollywood portrayals, this has become an important festival. Though this might not seem to be a relevant custom from the time it originated, but somehow it still manages to hold sway with the people. Some do it for the original reasons; some do it for the glamour attached to it while some do it from the plain reason to appease-the-in-laws. Irrespective of what modernists feel and how chauvinist it all seems to a few in the Society, this festival is here to stay and prosper and as some say, helps to bond amongst the womenfolk.
So how long will this one-sided demonstration of love and bonding for the ultimate marital-bliss work? Your guess is as good as mine.
The myth of Queen Veerawati is an integral part of the Karva Chauth Katha.
Queen Veeravati was a beautiful princess married to a King. She was also the loving sister of seven brothers who doted on her. On the occasion of the first Karva Chauth, Veeravati went to her father’s house and observed her fast. However, she was a very delicate woman and could not withstand the pressures of fasting without food and water for the whole day and fainted in the evening. The brothers could not bear to see the plight of their sister and so created a reflection through the leaves of a tree which seemed like the moon. Having sighted the moon, Veeravati broke her fast and started to have food.
Just when she began to eat her food, she got the news that her husband, the king had died. She immediately left for her husband’s city. On the way, she met Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati who told her that her husband had died because she had broken the fast before time and what she had sighted was not the true moon.
On asking for forgiveness and also the fact that it wasn’t actually her fault, Parvati told her that her husband would not die, but would be ill and it would take time before he recovered completely. On reaching the palace Veeravati found her husband unconscious with hundreds of needles in his body. Each day, Veeravati managed to remove one needle from his body and soon enough it was time for the next Karva Chauth, when the king had only one needle in his body.
That year, Veeravati observed her fast very strictly and broke the fast only on sighting the moon. While she was out, the maid who was kept at the kings chambers to keep vigil, removed the lone needle and the king gained consciousness. On gaining conspicuousness, he saw the maid and mistook her to be her queen. When Veeravati came back, she was made to continue as the maid (nobody seems to have any idea why).
Once when the king was going out, he asked Veeravati (who was serving as the maid) if she wanted anything (quite strange, I would think). Veeravati asked for identical dolls, which the king brought for her. On getting the dolls, Veeravati started singing "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 asking the reason for such a song, Veeravati told the king the whole story and when the king realised his folly, he gave back Veeravati what was rightfully hers, the status of the queen and wife.
Thus ends the story of a dutiful, obedient, serving wife of the king, which is considered to be the central theme of the festival of Karva Chauth.