Karva Chauth: A Festival of Many Stories

Published: 11th October 2014 06:04 AM  |   Last Updated: 11th October 2014 06:04 AM   |  A+A-

Karva Chauth is an annual one ­day religious festival observed by Hindu married ladies. It is a fast that married women keep from sunrise till moonrise on the fourth day after the full moon in Kartik month of the Hindu calendar (falling generally in October or November)following the Autumnal Equinox, for the long life, good health, and general well­being of their husbands.

festival.jpgThis festival finds its earliest mention in the Hindu epic Mahabharata. Once when Arjuna went off to the Nilgiri Mountains in order to pray to the gods and perform penance, and did not return for several days, his wife Draupadi sought out Lord Krishna’s assistance in desperation. He advised her to observe the fast of Karva Chauth for her husband’s well- being, and also revealed that on an earlier occasion, when goddess Parvati had faced a similar situation, she had pleaded with god Shiva for help. Shiva counseled that married women ought to fast on the fourth day of the dark ­fortnight of the Kartika month to keep such problems and worries at bay. After hearing this account, Draupadi also kept the fast observing all its rituals carefully and soon Arjuna returned home.

Another popular story that is often recounted at the time of the evening worship rites, or puja, of Karva Chauth is the legend of queen Veeravati. According to this tale, a beautiful queen called Veervati was the only sister of seven loving brothers. She spent her first Karva Chauth as a married woman at her parents’ house. She began a strict fast after sunrise but, by evening, was desperately waiting for the moonrise as she suffered severe thirst and hunger. Her seven brothers couldn’t bear to see their sister in such distress and created a mirror in a pipal tree that made it look as though the moon had risen. In a variant of this story, the brothers build a massive fire behind a mountain instead and trick their sister by convincing her that the glow is themoon. The sister mistook it for the moon and broke her fast. The moment she ate, wordarrived that her husband, the king, was severely ill. Heartbroken, she rushed to her husband’s house and was intercepted by goddess Parvati on the way. The goddess revealed her brothers’ trickery to Veeravati and blessed that her husband would not die but would, however, continue to remain sick until Veeravati performed the complete fast fulfilling all the rituals next year. When Veeravati reached her husband’s palace, she found his body pierced by thousands of small needles. She kept carefully extracting these needles for the rest of the year and by the next Karva Chauth, Veeravati had pulled out all the needles; she observed the fast with full rituals and her husband was restored once more to perfect health.

It is also said that Karva Chauth actually originated as a very sweet and noble concept. In olden days girls were married at a very early age and had to go live with their in­laws in other, and often very remote, villages. Everyone would be a stranger there for the new bride. If she had any problems with her husband or in­laws, she would have no one to talk to or seek support from. Thus the custom started that after the bride would reach her in­laws, she would befriend another woman (generally of similar age) there who would be her friend for life. During any difficulty later in life, involving even the husband or in­laws, these women would be able to confidently talk or seek help from each other. Thus Karva Chauth started as a festival to celebrate this relationship between these god­friends or god­sisters. It evolved into praying and fasting for the sake of husband’s longevity and health later.

But have we ever really considered the true meaning of this festival? Like all other fasts, this fast too has at its heart a spiritual significance. Spirituality, in one way or another, courses through each and every part of our nation. Our festivals, rituals, fasts, etc. were all conceived with the inherent purpose of self­upliftment and as an onward step towards self­ and God­realization. But with the passage of time we forgot their real purpose and became entangled in only the outer rites and rituals.

In truth, the practice of Karva Chauth, in which we begin our fast before the sun rises and end it after seeing the moon at night, is an outer symbol of the inner spiritual journey that we have to complete in order to achieve the merger of our soul with God; a journey that involves reaching and going beyond inner spiritual skies, stars,moon, and sun.

History stands witness to the fact that every religion speaks of one such day or night that each living being is said to spend remembering God. The glorious inner moon can be seen daily, any time of night or day, whenever we invert our attention and focus within. That is the real moon, and it is only by seeing it that we can truly benefit from the fast of Karva Chauth.

This fast can thus be considered fulfilled only when we see inner stars in the morning, spend the whole day in sweet remembrance of the Lord, devote time for our meditation practices, and see the inner moon in the evening. With steady progress through the spiritual regions, we can also see the inner sun and the radiant form of our spiritual Master, who is the true magnificent moon of our hearts and souls. This is the mostaccurate and best way to celebrate Karva Chauth.

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