Significance of Karva Chauth

via V.N. Gopalakrishnan published on October 9, 2009

The festival of Karva Chauth is glorified and solemnized by the Hindus and Sikhs. It is widely celebrated in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Gujarat, and Delhi. Many mythological legends have given it a religious fervour. Karva means a clay pot and Chauth corresponds to four. Hence the festival is commemorated on the fourth day of Krishna Paksha in the Kartik month. This year, the festival is celebrated on October 10.

The festival and the fast are synonymous with Karva Chauth and are considered auspicious for married women. They celebrate this day by observing a fast and praying for the longevity, well-being and prosperity of their husbands. According to Hindu scriptures, fasting helps create an attachment with the God by establishing a harmonious relationship between the body and the soul. The Karva Chauth fast begins before sunrise and ends only after offering prayers and worshipping the moon at night. The fast has all the trappings of festivity and the women dress up in their best finery, with henna-decked hands, bindis, colorful bangles and jewelry.

A few days before Karva Chauth, married women buy new Karvas, the spherical clay pots and paint them on the outside with beautiful designs. Inside the pot, they put bangles and ribbons, home-made candy and sweets, make-up items and small clothes. The women then visit each other on the day of Karva Chauth or immediately afterwards, and exchange these Karvas. During the time of Karva Chauth, parents send gifts to married daughters and their children.

Baya is a gift given to a daughter’s mother-in-law on the occasion of Karva Chauth. It usually consists of salted mathris, dry-fruits and some gifts. Mothers of newly wedded daughters bring gifts for her family. Elaborate preparations are made for the Karva Chauth Puja. Married female relatives are invited to participate in the puja. The newly married woman often wears her bridal lehanga or a heavy saree and adorns herself with lot of jewelry and make up. After the puja ceremony, she seeks blessings for the elderly women.

The earliest reference of a Karva Chauth is found in Mahabharata. As per the epic, Arjun, one of the Pandavas, went to the Nilgiri Hills to offer his prayers and worship the gods. Draupadi, wife of the Pandavas, was accompanying him. On the way, Draupadi was struck with fear believing that she was alone in the forest with no one to protect her. Then she invoked Lord Krishna and sought his help. Lord Krishna advised Draupadi to undertake a fast on Kartik Krishna Chaturthi as a remedy similar to the one undertaken by Goddess Parvati at the behest of Lord Shiva.

The story of Satyavan and Savitri is similar. When Yamaraja, the Lord of Death came to procure Satyavan’s soul, Savitri pleaded to grant him life. When he refused, she started vigorous fasting. Finally, Yamraja relented and granted her, Sathyavan’s life.

According to another legend, a woman named Karva was deeply devoted to her husband. One day while bathing, he was caught by a crocodile. Karva came running and bound the crocodile with a cotton yarn. She then went to Yamaraja and requested him to send the crocodile to hell. When Yamaraja refused, she threatened to curse him. Afraid of the power of a devoted wife, Yamaraja readily accepted her request and sent the crocodile to hell and blessed Karva’s husband.

In ancient time, girls used to get married at a very early age, and had to live with their in-laws in far away villages. After marriage, if she faces any problem with her in-laws or husband, she would have no one to talk to or seek support from. Her own parents and relatives would be quite far and unreachable. Thus the custom started that when the bride would reach her in-laws, she would befriend with another woman who would be her friend or sister for life. Thus, Karva Chauth was started as a festival to celebrate this relationship between the brides and their friends.

There is another story of Veeravati behind Karva Chauth. Beautiful Veervati  was the only sister to her seven loving brothers and was married to a king. On the occasion of the first Karva Chauth, she went to her parents’ house. After sunrise, she observed a strict fast but could not stand the rigors of fasting. The brothers were very disturbed and decided to end her fast by deceiving her. The brothers reflected a mirror through pipal tree leaves. The sister, taken it as moon rise, broke the fast and took food. However, the moment she finished her dinner, she received the news that her husband was seriously ill. Veervati rushed to her husband’s palace and on the way, she met Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Parvati informed her that the king had died because Veervati had broken her fast by watching a false moon. However, when Veervati asked her forgiveness, Parvati granted her the boon that the king would be revived if she undertook Karva Chauth fast under strict rituals. Thus, by strictly following all the rituals, Veeravati relivened her husband.

Apart from the religious fervour, Karva Chauth is very much a social and seasonal festival. It is celebrated mostly among the North Indian community settled either in India and other parts of the world. The fast is unique because nowhere in the world does a wife goes without food or water just to pray for the longevity and well-being of her husband.

(The author is a social activist and Director, Indo-Gulf Consulting. He can be contacted on

[email protected]

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