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Karva Chauth And Its Significance

Dr. Raj Pandit Sharma

For many ladies who have been recently married within the last twelve months, it will be their first Karva Chauth Vrat (fast) this year.  Discrepancies in the date of the fast in countries outside India’s time zone sometimes occurs because most panchangs (almanacs), jantris and calendars are based on Indian time, which differs to our own. The conclusion of the Karva Chauth fast involves the sighting and offering of sanctified water (arghya) to the moon, as it represents Shiva and Parvati. The fast is therefore a ‘chandranakta vrat’, concluding after moonrise, when the moon is visible.  Our Shastras (law books) stipulate that at the time of concluding the fast, the lunar day (tithi) must be prevailing.  In the case of Karva Chauth, the lunar day must be the Chauth (i.e. fourth) at the time and place of concluding the fast and giving ‘arghya‘.

Contrary to popular belief, the fast of Karva Chauth is not restricted only to married women, whose husbands are living (suhagan).  The Padma Puran relates numerous fast days including Karva Chauth, Ahoi Ashtami and Bhishma Panchak, during the sacred month of Kartik, which is a time of spiritual contemplation and cleansing. Married men may observe the fast of the monthly Ganesh Chauth that coincides with Karva Chauth.  This will not only support your partner’s resolve to fast, but ensure that you attain increased merit for your joint endeavours.

In the Kartik Mahatyam from Padma Puran Maharishi Narad states to Prithu Raja:

Paapebhastartukaamastu kaartike Krishnapakshake, chaturthi cha suvikhaataa ghoraapaapa pranaashini

“In order to atone for all indiscretions (paap) one should observe the spiritually cleansing fast of fourth lunar day of the dark fortnight in the month of Kartik (Karva Chauth).”

Avashyam tu narah kuryaad vratam etat sushobhanam, naarinaam chaiva sarvaasaam vratametad avashyakam

Vidhivaabhih kumaaribhir vratametannarottama, kartavyam tu narashreshtha saubhaagyaabhih prithak-prithak, praudhaa balaa athvaa kanya-ashthavarshaadhikaa bhavet, vivaahitaa tu yaa kaachijjahyaana cha vratam shubham.

“All people including men, widows, savitris (suhaagans), unmarried maidens (kumaaris), mature ladies, girls above the age of eight years should not neglect the observance of this auspicious fast.”  (Padma Puran Kartik Mahatyam Ch. X .9-12)

Furthermore, the same Puran relates that if we desire happiness and prosperity, all "kula-vriddha" i.e. the ladies of our family including, one's sister/sister-in-law, mother/mother-in-law, father's sister (bhua) and grandmothers should be respected and honoured at all times.

Should a married lady (suhagan) be keeping the fast for the very first time, it is important that it is done in the correct manner as this sets a precedent for all subsequent Karva Chauth days.  Some newlywed wives keep their first Karva Chauth at their parental home and in this case they should ensure that they receive “sargi” (Indian sweets, fruit, coconut, eatables like pheni, cosmetics including henna, clothes and adornments) or the monetary equivalent from their in-laws a day before the fast.  On the day of the fast it is good to wake up at least a couple of hours before dawn and bathe with water avoiding soaps made from animal fat.  The hair should be washed the day before and it is advisable to eat a hearty meal including some of the treats from the sargi, having first kept aside a portion in the name of the Goddess Gauri.  Consume copious amounts of water or other liquids before the first light of dawn (about 6am on the morning of 17th October 2008).  Take a solemn pledge (sankalp) to undertake the fast before a murti/picture depicting Shiva & Parvati in the home shrine by placing the Karva vessel (kalash, lota etc.) full of water with a little milk, sugar and rice grains.

The first part of the day is spent applying henna to the hands and feet and meeting friends and relatives.  In Sanatan Dharma, married women (pativrata) are considered the personification of the Divine Feminine Form- Shakti; this transformation is thought to be facilitated by the sixteen beautification processes known as Shodash Shringar listed in this link:  http://www.hinducounciluk.org/newsite/circulardet.asp?rec=60.  Moreover a pativrata once energised through the shringar coupled with the resolve from keeping the fast of Karva Chauth is thought to allow her to obtain whatever boon she wishes from the Almighty on this day, including prosperity, longevity and success for her partner and family. It is for this reason that married ladies wear mainly red coloured clothes (usually the wedding outfit) along with jewellery, bangles, tikka pendant, nathani (nose pin) etc.

The fast is most effective if kept nirjala avoiding even drinking water all day, although you may rinse the mouth out with water without swallowing and bathe again to refresh yourself.  Sometime before moonrise usually after 3pm onwards, the Puja process begins with elaborate rituals, including worshipping Shiva and his consort Parvati/Gauri Mata, baayana -presenting clothes, utensils and eatables etc. to one’s mother-in-law; listening to the Karva Chauth Katha (parable), whilst exchanging platters containing lamps with other suhagans.  Once the moon rises and is visible the offering of water (arghya) kept safe in the home shrine is then poured in the direction of the moon representing Shiva and Shakti.  Should the moon be obscured by clouds and not be visible, then about half an hour after moonrise time it is safe to conclude the fast by giving the arghya outside in a north-westerly direction. The whole process is a spectacular affair to behold and spiritually uplifting.  This link to a website gives many details regarding the whole ritual of Karva Chauth including a rendition of the Karva Chauth story in English: http://www.karwachauth.com/

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