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A time for bonding

Thursday, November 01, 2018

How relevant is the concept of a woman fasting for her husband’s long life in today’s times? Smita Rao speaks to a few Mumbaikars

It was celebration time for married women on October 27, when they got together for Karva Chauth, a day when women fast from sunrise to moonrise for the safety and longevity of their husbands. This is primarily a Northern Indian festival celebrated in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi, Punjab, and under the name of Atla Tadde in Andhra Pradesh. Mumbai, however, being a melting pot of all customs and traditions, sees its fair share of Karva Chauth festivities, as a quick glance in the Ladies compartment on Monday testified—several women in the trains had fresh mehndi on their hands.

Some might wonder about the relevance of a tradition that involves women fasting for their husband’s lives; how come the reverse is never true? How is it that men are never expected to fast for their women, and that even educated women have rarely questioned it, and they whole-heartedly participate?

Speaking to a few people in Mumbai, we discovered that, in fact, many see it as a way of bonding with their husbands and simply having a good time with women friends. This is when they take their wedding saris out of the recesses of their cupboards, decorate their hands and pamper themselves with beauty treatments. In olden times, when girls aged barely 10 to 13 were married and cut off from their parental homes, it was a way for older women to befriend them as ‘God-sisters’, or ‘God-friends’. They gave each other gifts of bangles and sindoor to remind themselves they were not alone.

Here’s what some Mumbaikars have to say about what Karva Chauth means to them today.

Smita Bahuguna Agarwal
Director, Centre for Women's Studies, University of Allahabad (excerpted from a Facebook post and reproduced with permission)

Director of Women's Studies? Fasting for Karva Chauth? I'm asked. "Smashing stereotype", I wink and reply. Why is it presumed that if you're heading a feminist unit and you're fasting on Karva Chauth you're a traitor to the cause, you're embracing false values propped up by patriarchy, in any case, you're terribly confused and you should step down!

Gentleperson, judging me, kindly consider: the decision is my choice. Please allow me to exercise my choice… I'm a strong independent woman, soon to be sixty. Can anyone imagine in their wildest dreams that I've been coerced, threatened, beaten up to do so? Or, I'm illiterate, half-witted and blindly following the herd? None of that for me!...

The boy I married 37 years ago was, and remains, my best friend. In our journey together, many a time we have been so angry with each other, murder and divorce have been distinct possibilities, but, we've forgiven and forgotten and continued to respect and care for each other. My husband is pretty glad to keep the fast alongside me!

Mine is not the Karva Chauth where I starve and dehydrate myself. I drink water, I eat bananas, I keep off salt, grains and solids. It's a day to detoxify and revive romance! All through the day, whenever we run into each other, if it's a working day, we joke about having attained that flat stomach and thin waist! Karva Chauth is about getting together again, renewing those bonds of camaraderie we had put on the back burner.

Mehndi time with friends is a vibrant social time, most of us recalling and retelling in endless mirth, our naive, early married life. Waiting for the moon to rise and shine and reveal itself revs up the anticipation of the annual feast of kootu ki pooris, sighaarey ki sabzi, aloo parval ka rasa in sendha namak and makhaaney ki kheer. Karva Chauth can be a thoroughly enjoyable cultural event that in no way impinges upon or damages my core beliefs of creating a gender just environment!

If fasting is not imposed and a woman wishes to enjoy a cultural moment just for the heck of it, why, oh why, must she justify?              

Khati Anand-Puthran
Former Advertising Professional

I know my husband is not going to live longer because I have not had water all day. I observe Karva Chauth because it's something I was fascinated with while growing up in my Punjabi home. It was a very special day; my mom and aunts decked up, did a pooja in the evening, my father came home early and we ate yummy rajma-chawal at night.  So in my head it's just a romantic gesture and honestly I will have major FOMO ‘(Fear of Missing Out’) if I don't do it, with everyone I know observing it.

This year was the hardest. I have a baby less than a year old and so far Karva Chauth meant a day of manicures; watching films and chilling to conserve energy, But any mom of a small baby will tell you. It's impossible to do so with a baby! I had a very hard evening.  But all was well as the moon came early this year.

Ranju Singh
Teacher

On Karva Chauth day women keep a fast, taking neither food nor water for the well-being and long life of their husbands and break the fast only after seeing the moon. Women get ready in their traditional dress and jewellery. They worship the moon and in the same manner follow the rituals for their husbands. After this, they drink the water and eat sweets at the hands of their husbands. This festival is one way to bring two loving hearts together and make their bond stronger.

Neha Soni, Education Professional

In Rajasthan it is a celebration of two days. On the first day, the women of the family come together and apply mehndi on their hands and legs and on the second day they keep a fast and celebrate with dance, gaana and masti. In Mumbai it is quite short because of nuclear families. We just go out to apply mehndi... do all the house chores the next day and pooja in the evening. The craze of Karva Chauth is more in Rajasthan as compared to Mumbai.

Abhishek Soni, Senior VP, IIFL Group

Karva Chauth is a festival celebrating strong bonding between a wife and husband. A wife fasting and praying selflessly for the husband is the most beautiful expression of love. Must say that it's very hard to narrate.

Sheetal Ajay Sharma, Housewife

Karva Chauth is a day-long fast observed by married women for the welfare and longevity of their husbands. On this day, women apply henna on their hands. They wear their best clothes and traditional jewellery. At night pooja is performed with the karva (spherical clay pot) and sugar in it. Women break their fast at night with the arrival of the moon. They drink water at their husband’s hands, and give the karva to their mothers-in-law and take their blessings.

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