Karwa Chauth: The Story Nobody Tells You

My karwa chauth story goes back to when I was three weeks into my marriage. An October wedding, KC (a.k.a. karwa chauth) appeared on the horizon in the same month that year. And since both families were typically North Indian – it was a foregone conclusion that I would keep the fast in spite of me being a rather non-ritualistic person who maintains faith is in one’s heart and deeds rather than in rituals and customs. So, why didn’t I question this ritual? My answer is – conditioning.

As it so happened, my first karwa chauth was at my in-laws’ home and it went along expected lines –

  • Wake up at 4 a.m. to eat sargi (vermicelli). This presented a challenge as I wasn’t even a breakfast person let alone a crack of dawn one!
  • Go without water all day. This was a psych war as just knowing that I couldn’t, made me want to even more!
  • Dress up or rather deck up in all your bridal finery. Not an easy task when you are still reeling under your trousseau wear!
  • Keep up with the katha (story) at the evening puja (prayer) while keeping track of the passing thali (plate). This was fun, like playing passing the parcel, except that it needed dexterity as well as mindfulness.
  • Wait for the moon sighting. As the proverb goes – a watched pot never boils. And so, I waited for what seemed to be an eternity. Finally, dehydrated and hungry, I looked at the moon and the spouse through the jaali (sieve) with a precariously balanced diya (candlelight). Then gulped down the water and ate the food. KC done and dusted – I had survived.

It carried on in a similar fashion until the time of the fourth KC. That’s when I got thinking about the logic to the fast – or to my mind, the sheer lack of it.

It was actually quite simple I thought. I wished a long and happy life for my husband every day and not just once a year. So, how was keeping a fast one day in a year more important than what I wished through all the 365 days?

The moon bit troubled me as well. I mean, how can the moon have a starring role in this when we know exactly what it is all about thanks to all the footprints left behind by the many lunar missions?

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 diving deep into the genesis of customs and rituals, their essence and meaning?

While popular cinema and folklore have played a big role in turning KC into a festival, they have been remiss in telling the complete story about the significance of karwa chauth.

It is believed that 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. Both girls would be more or less the same age, married in the same village and their friendship would be solemnised in a ritual – the karwa chauth, which would be celebrated every year.

Celebrated on the fourth day of the ‘Karthik’ month, 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. It meant that they had each other’s support in times of hardship.

Another theory states that since it was 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. The name came from the big earthen clay pots known as ‘karva’ in which people stored 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 prayers, accompanied by his wife Draupadi. On the way, Draupadi was overcome by the fear of being alone in the forest, so she invoked Lord Krishna’s help. He appeared before her and cited the example of Goddess Parvati who had asked for Lord Shiva’s help in a similar situation. She was advised her to observe a fast on Kartik Krishna Chaturthi to ward off evil. Lord Krishna advised Draupadi to do the same and assured her it would also ensure the victory of the Pandavas.

With the passage of time, as is common, customs and rituals evolve into an unrecognisable form of their genesis. Thus, from being a celebration of the perfect social support system for women that reinforced and renewed the bonds of friendship with feasting – KC is now a day dedicated to the well-being of the significant other (the man), with the involvement of starvation and dehydration by the other (the woman).

This modern day avatar, I’m not convinced has its heart in the right place. Even though some men are now keeping the fast to “give company” to their wives, it doesn’t change the basic fact that it’s the women who are expected to fast for the men – be it husbands, sons, brothers, et al. Think about it for a moment – doesn’t it make more sense for both the partners to wish health and happiness to each other 365 days of the year (or somewhere close to that number :)) instead of pinning it all on the one night of moon sighting?

To quote the wise words of Shohrat Bukhari – “Ham-safar ho to koi apna-sa, chand ke saath chaloge kab tak.” (Roughly translated: It is better to rely on the person who is always by your side – instead of relying on a moon that comes and goes whenever it wants to shine elsewhere.)

Read more by Rashmi B. Nayar


Photo by mohammad reza razmpour on Unsplash and Google

32 thoughts on “Karwa Chauth: The Story Nobody Tells You”

  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.

    1. Thanks a lot for the encouraging words Amol. Like you rightly said, traditions need to be examined to be understood better. Thank you again for writing in.

  13. Hi Rashmi. Read your lucid, witty piece on Karwa Chauth. That bit about the soul sister was rather enlightening…and heartwarming. Thanks to your piece, I have been able to piece together some hazy bits about the origins of KC. I’m pretty new to keeping the fast, and it was done purely as an expression of love for the significant other. I don’t necessarily follow the rituals attached…other than the ones that suit me :)). Sure, one feels that the essence is lost somewhat beneath all the ‘shosha’ and brouhaha…but what the hell….to each her own!
    All said and done…accha likhti hai yaar. Much love 😘

  14. I wish the zillions of women I saw in the market yesterday getting their mehndi done and discussing their dinner plans with expectations of lavish gifts would read this !

  15. Very very interesting! Didn’t know these stories!
    Very beautifully articulated too
    We may or may not believe in the significance of KC, but it sure is heartening to know that the origin was for the right reasons!

  16. This is exactly my thoughts about karwa. And i have requested my life partner not to observe it. The mindlessness of this overrated festival is placed well here RBN. KUDOS

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