There’s never a lack of celebrations in India. Today is Karva Chauth, a day that married women fast for continuing marital bliss and the health and longevity of their husbands. This is celebrated by Hindu and Sikh women, especially in Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat. Both the women of my house are observing the fast, and I expect that most of the other women in the village are, too.
It’s not an easy fast, as many others are. The women wake up before sunrise to have a meal of sargi, a sweet kheer or pudding made with vermicelli, milk and sugar, which has to sustain them until after moonrise. During the day, they aren’t supposed to eat or drink anything, even water.
In the evening they will adorn themselves in wedding finery. Then they’ll gather together to listen to a narration of the Karva Chauth katha, which tells the legends behind the celebration, and to perform a puja. Widows can also join in for the katha. After the moon has risen, a woman looks at her husband through a special sieve (no idea why!) before looking at the moon. After performing arti and receiving blessings, she is given water and food by her husband, and then there is a big feast.
They say that the first observance of this fast is considered to be particularly important by the family as it indicates a woman’s devotion to her husband, and the bride is showered with gifts and blessings for a happy marriage. It’s a big occasion for exchanging gifts anyway, though not so much as Dipavali, which is coming up on the 26th.
The women visit each other and exchange gifts consisting of karvas (clay pots) that they have decorated with beautiful designs and filled with sweets, bangles, cosmetics, etc. Apart from the religious significance, it’s a big social event. For some women, it’s also an occasion for indulgence in expensive spa treatments, etc. That’s certainly not the tradition around here—but there are no spas or fancy beauty salons to go to anyway. The local women are more likely to paint mehndi (henna) designs on each other and do each other’s hair and makeup.