I noticed that something odd was going on. Men in my office needed to leave early, women at my apartment complex were adorned with henna, and the stores were unusually crowded. Turns out it was Karva Chauth, just another, in a long list of festival during the busy fall festival season in India.
Karva Chauth is an auspicious ceremony that is believed to prolong the life of a woman’s husband. Shame on me for wondering what happens in the event that the woman doesn’t like her husband and doesn’t want him to live a long life. Surely in a country where 90% of marriages are arranged, I can’t be the only person wondering this. So the question is, does it promote feminism and love, or the oppression of woman?
Here is the legend that started it all. A young bride named Karva was deeply devoted to her husband. Apparently her intense love and devotion for him gave her some sort of spiritual power. One day, while her husband was bathing in a river, he was brutally attacked by a crocodile. Karva managed to bind the crocodile with cotton yarn (because of her super powers) and asked the god of death (Yama) to curse the crocodile and send him to hell. Yama said no. Karva was pissed and threatened Yama and said she would destroy him. Yama, afraid of being cursed by such a powerful woman, gave in and sent the poor crocodile (that was only acting on instinct) straight to hell in a hand basket. As an added bonus, he blessed Karva’s husband with long life. Karva and her husband enjoyed a happy life of wedded bliss and lived happily ever after.
From my observations, I can tell that Karva Chauth is a big deal in India. It’s a primarily Hindi festival that is celebrated differently depending on the region. In North India women fast (including no water) from sunrise to moon-rise. Then there is a ceremony where the husband presents her with a drink and feeds her some sweets to eat. As the moon rises she looks up at it through a cheese cloth like filter called a dupatta. Often times the families are present, take pictures and feast afterwards. Participants dress up in traditional formal attire and the husband generally give gifts to his wife after the ceremony.
Women sometimes spend days preparing for this ceremony. Stores offer sales on cosmetics and formal clothing. The women buy sweets and decorate themselves in beautiful jewelry and henna tattoos. Parents sometimes send gifts to their married daughters and the women of the family get together to prepare and celebrate. Traditionally it was a time for women to bond together, celebrating in private in the days leading up to the festival, and no housework was to be done during Karva Chauth. But there are those that now feel that it is repressive to women and that it no longer has a place in the modern age of feminism. I suppose they feel that way because it requires the woman to fast and honor her husband, regardless of her current feelings for him. For now, the ancient tradition continues and I suspect it will be practiced and celebrated for decades to come.