Karwa Chauth: The Case Of Spouse Vs Moon

My karwa chauth story goes back to when I was three weeks into my marriage. An October wedding, the same month KC (a.k.a. karwa chauth) had appeared on the horizon that year. Coming from a typical North Indian family and marrying into the same, I saw KC being observed with equal enthusiasm and fervor on both sides. In fact, it was the one fast I saw my mother always keep. So, it wasn’t even a question when my turn came. In spite of being a rather non-ritualistic person who maintains that faith is in one’s heart and deeds rather than in rituals and customs – why then didn’t I question this ritual? My answer is, conditioning.

It so happened that my first karwa chauth was at my in-laws’ home. I went through the expected rituals: waking up at 4 a.m. to eat sargi (vermicelli); going without water all day; dressing up for the evening puja where I passed my thali while listening to the katha (story). That done, I began waiting for the moon to be sighted. As the proverb goes, a watched pot never boils. Feeling dehydrated and quite hungry, i waited for what seemed to be an eternity before the moon appeared finally. And through the jaali with a precariously balanced diya, I saw the moon and the spouse, drank the water and ate. KC done and dusted, I thought.

It carried on like this for a couple of more years, until the time of the fourth KC. That’s when I got thinking about the sheer logic of the fast, or to my mind, the sheer lack of it. It was actually pretty simple – I loved my husband and obviously wished him a long life every day and not just once a year. How was keeping a fast one day in a year more important than what I wished for him through all the 365 days? The part that the moon played, troubled me as well. I mean, how could the moon have a starring role in this when I knew quite well what it’s about thanks to the footprints left behind by Mr. Armstrong?

Over and above all, if my faith was so strong that I didn’t need to express it in performing any rituals, then why this one? I questioned myself and the societal conditioning that comes with following rituals. Is it the fear of the unknown and concern for our loved ones that stops us from questioning customs that have lost their meaning, having moved away from their essence?

While there’s no denying Bollywood’s hand in making KC hugely popular, it hasn’t stayed true to its origins. They can be traced to the times when karwa chauth was a celebration of the perfect social system to reinforce and renew the bonds of friendship between soul sisters. In the olden times when girls were married off at a very young age, the bride on reaching her in-laws home would befriend another woman who would then be like her soul sister, a kangan-saheli or dharam-behn, for life and their friendship would be solemnised in a ritual.

It was a mutually and immensely beneficial bond of emotional and moral support to young girls in a time when communicating with their parents and friends was difficult and it meant that they had each other’s support in times of hardship. Both girls would be more or less the same age, married in the same village and the friendship was celebrated each year in the form of karwa chauth on the fourth day of the ‘Karthik’ month according to the Hindu calendar. ‘Karwa’ means earthen pot, which symbolised peace and prosperity and ‘chauth’ refers to the ‘fourth day’.

Another theory, prevalent in the northern and western parts of India, is that karwa chauth was observed at the time of the year when people customarily undertook long-distance journeys and left for military assignments. So, the women in the Sapth Sindhu region kept the fast for the well-being and prolonged life of their husbands who were away from home.

A different theory states that since it was the sowing time at the onset of the Rabi crop season, the concept of fasting might have started as a wish for reaping a good harvest in the wheat sowing regions and the name came from the big earthen clay pots known as ‘karva’ in which people stored the wheat.

Over a period of time, the festival drifted away from its original meaning and many legendary tales became associated with it. The earliest reference of karwa chauth can be found in the Mahabharata. As per the story, Arjun went to the Nilgiri Hills to offer his prayers, accompanied by his wife Draupadi. On the way, Draupadi was overcome by great fear of being alone in the forest and invoked Lord Krishna to help her out of the grave situation. He appeared before her and cited the example of Goddess Parvati who in a similar situation had asked Lord Shiva’s help and was advised to observe a fast on Kartik Krishna Chaturthi to ward off evil. Krishna advised Draupadi to do the same and assured her it would also ensure the victory of the Pandavas.

As it happens often, with the passage of time, customs and rituals evolve into an unrecognisable form of their genesis. From being a celebration of the perfect social support system for women that reinforced and renewed the bonds of friendship with feasting, today Karwa Chauth is observed as a day of fasting for married women for the long lives of their husbands. I’m not sure if this modern-day avatar of being a day dedicated to the well-being of the significant other half involving starvation and dehydration has its heart in the right place though.

As for my part in the moon story, you can ask the spouse, even without keeping KC, we both wish health and happiness to each other 365 days of the year. To quote the wise Shohrat Bukhari – “Ham-safar ho to koi apna-sa, chand ke saath chaloge kab tak.”



Read more by Rashmi B. Nayar


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Photo by mohammad reza razmpour on Unsplash and Google

25 thoughts on “Karwa Chauth: The Case Of Spouse Vs Moon”

  1. That’s a wonderful and very intresting read Rashmi .Not sure if a whole lot of us understand the significance of this beautiful tradition and the story behind it. I am more informed about it than I was before.

    An excellent piece of writing that I am going to share within my group of Aussie friends who always wanted to know more about the tradition. Tanks a lot , stay blessed and a very happy Karwa Chauth.

    1. Thank you so much for the lovely feedback Maj Datta. To be honest, some of the info regarding karwa chauth came as a surprise to me when I doing research. It made me realise that one should go into the origins of rituals and traditions to know their true meaning. Thanks a lot for sharing the write up with your friends. The more people know facts, the more they will understand.

  2. Brilliant… Really wisend on the topic of KC.. Don’t know about the rituals… For me it was to do with love.

    1. Thank you so much Neeraa. To be honest, I got to know quite a bit myself while researching for this write up. As far as the reason for doing it – no reason is better than love 🙂

  3. A brilliant write up ! A very interesting read that goes deep into making it clear that customs and traditions are to be followed but not without understanding the real reason behind it. I came to know so many things about the much hyped Karwa Chauth festival.

    1. Thank you so much for the excellent feedback. You have summarised it perfectly – understand before following anything blindly. To be honest, some of this was a surprise even for me when I was researching the piece. Thanks again for writing.

    1. Thank you so much Priyanka for the lovely feedback. I’m so glad that you noticed the picture below – it made so much sense to display it with this write up. Thanks again.

  4. A very well researched and articulated piece on KC. I have seen my grandmother, my mother , my wife and now my daughter keeping this fast. Even on requesting my wife to stop this ritual, I notice that some of the ladies love to follow this tradition. Don’t understand why since I put across the same logic of wishing well for the spouse throughout the year and not only on KC. I guess some things don’t change so fast.
    I learnt some new facts about this tradition from your article. Thank you Rashmi.

    1. Thank you so much for the excellent feedback Col Bawa. You are right, mostly women themselves like to follow a lot of traditions, incl this one – conditioning can really be hard to break. I think at the end of the day, it’s ok to do or not do things if it comes from taking an informed decision. Thanks so much for writing.

  5. It’s a beautiful well described words on most of the facts on which we are unaware about.
    It’s a belief of mainly the strong sentiments which we have seen our ancestors doing and we following it . infact it’s not that we don’t love our husband or we don’t have to particularly tell him everyday but it’s gives a sense of immense satisfaction and lot of affection by keeping this fast .
    It’s like how we celebrate every festival on a particular day similarly we do this karwa also ..but yes each one has a different take and feeling in this ..this was mine ..my loads of love and good luck to you Rashmi for giving us more amd more interesting information

    1. Thank you so much for your feedback and you appreciation Charu. The thing is. following traditions is fine but doing so blindly and without understanding them is the problem. As for days being allocated for expressing love – that is happening pretty much everywhere now – Mother’s day, Father’s day, etc. so that’s not an issue either. The issue here is – look at the meaning with which the festival began and look at what it’s become. From a celebration of friendship to wishing for a good harvest and the safe return of the men from war – it’s present form has strayed so far from its origin. Thanks again for the encouragement and for writing 🙂

  6. Interesting … though I have to say …I still love the whole tradition of it !!! Conditioning etc .. all aside …I love the whole thing of our Indian festivities .. though I do it in a simple manner .. but I just feel so rooted with our culture .. when I follow these age old traditions .. and like all of them .. maybe the real meanings got lost down the ages .. but we shouldn’t lose our spirit !!!! Enjoy the charm of all of them like we would Holi or Diwali or janam ashtami or Navratri !! If nothing else .. great opportunityto practise self restraint !! Without food is ok .. but without water 🤦‍♀️😂….😂🥰🙏🏻👍🏻🤩😉

    1. Thank you so much for writing in Dipali 🙂 Totally agree with you about enjoying the spirit of the festival…like you rightly said, it keeps us rooted. It is going into the root of our traditions and rituals is what I’ve tried to highlight. Perhaps knowing the essence of our traditions and rituals will help us celebrate their essence. Thanks a lot again for your feedback 🙂

  7. Very well written Rashmi… Got to to know so much more about it … Most go thru the rituals as something which generations have done in the past….n yes also believe it’s all about being there for each other 24/7 than that one day…

    1. Thank you so much Mona 🙂 The origin of this festival was quite a revelation for me as well when I was researching for this write up. Though the “men” came into the story much later, they sure are center-stage now! I guess that’s the outcome of following rituals blindly without understanding them. Yup, this one day in a year day is so like Mother’s day, Father’s day, Valentine’s day, etc.etc. Thank you for writing in :))

  8. It was a well explained history of a ritual, which is observed with so much fanfare. I share the same feelings as the writer, so naturally agreement comes easily. It’s good to sacrifice for someone’s well being but I believe that should be spontaneous & full of reverence for the other half. There should be no conditions attached to it. Those who celebrate it &those who don’t, I respect them both.

    1. Thank you so much for the wonderful feedback Rajya shree. You’ve summarised it well – it should be done spontaneously and it’s ok to keep the fast and ok not to… thank you for writing 🙂

  9. Thanks for sharing the historical context and various theories around this festival. My story is pretty similar to yours that I followed it for about 2-3 years initially. As a 22year old bride I just wanted to be “in it”. Frankly, married to a Himachali, it was never observed there, so I decided to drop it. Quite honestly, I cannot stay hungry for more than 2 hours. Get a terrible migraine. While each to himself rather herself, I realise I was so cranky and irritable when hungry that all the “love” I felt that day just vanished. As you aptly and very interestingly expressed my love for my spouse is not contingent on the this one day. I feel happy seeing ladies in my family all dolled up and fasting for their husbands. God bless them. And God bless all non fasting women and their husbands too. Rashmi keep writing and enlightening us.

    1. Thank you so much for the wonderful feedback Sonia. I’m so glad there are more of our tribe too :)) Agree with you – it’s absolutely fine to keep the fast or not to. The important thing is it should be a choice and not a compulsion. That’s where knowing the origin – why something is done – is important to be able to make that choice comes in. Thank you again for writing in 🙂

  10. Any ritual performed with love and understanding adds charm and enthusiasm to it! Thank you Rashmi,
    I knew only one of the reasons of this ritual but there is more to it!

    1. Thank you for writing in Sejal. Agree with you that understanding something and doing it voluntarily is a key element to most things. It was a surprise for me as well to learn about the genesis of this festival during my research…what it started out as and what it is now. Thank you again for your feedback 🙂

  11. Thats a lot of research Rashmi! Sheds light on one of the traditions that just seems to be gaining momentum year by year. I feel that particularly regarding this festival its evolved into a matter of faith and that itself has added a touch of sanctity to the festival. Faith works miracles,and everyone needs something to believe in. Its what adds the magic. Having said that, I’m with you and don’t believe my fasting is going to add to my love and wishes for my precious other half.
    I wait for your articles, they are so witty,well written and thought provoking. Keep em coming!

    1. Thank you so much for your wonderful feedback Preeti. To be honest, I was surprised myself to learn about the origins of this now popular ritual. It’s a good example of how over a period of time, things evolve and take a form of something entirely different. Knowing why we do what we do surely helps in understanding. Without a doubt, Faith can move mountains and so it should. Thank you again for writing.

  12. We blindly follow rituals without knowing the logic or the reason behind it.

    Great article that has made me aware of a ritual that one has seen all these years but knew nothing about.

    Unlock more such rituals for us in the upcoming editions Ma’am.

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