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19. 10. 2017
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KARWA CHAUTH

Karwa Chauth is observed by married ladies on the fourth day of the dark half of Kartika (October-November) in order to ensure prosperity, sound health and longevity of their husbands. Widows and unmarried girls do not practice it. The married women keep a strict fast and do not take even a drop of water. They get up early in the morning, perform their ablutions, etc. and wear new and festive raiments.

Shiva, Parvati and their son Kartikeya are worshipped on this day alongwith ten Karwas (the small erathen pots with spouts) filled with sweets. The Karwas are given to the daughters and sisters along with gifts. At night when the moon appears, the women break their fast after offering water to the moon. The story of Karwa Chauth is told and heard among the women. Sometimes a Brahmin priest tells this story and gets gifts in return. The married women receive costly gifts from their husbands, brothers and parents on this occasion. They touch the feet of their mother in-laws and other elderly ladies of the family and seek their blessings.

There are many interesting stories about this celebration. A legend says that once on this day a young married woman observed this fast at her parents house. She was very beautiful and tender. The austerity of the strict fast made her almost lifeless. So, her brother caused to burn a fire on a nearby hill and showed her as the glow of the rising moon. No sooner did she break her fast on seeing the false moon, than she received the evil news of her husband's death at a distant place. She immediately set out for her husband's house. On the way Shiva-Parvati met her and explained to her that the cause of her tragedy was the immature termination of the fast. Parvati gave her some blood from her little finger and asked the lady to sprinkle it on her dead husband. Parvati also advised her to observe complete and strict Karwa Chauth fast in future.

On reaching home, the lady sprinkled the holy blood over her husband's dead body and he was at once revived. Ever since then, she observed Karwa Chauth fast in strict conformity and lead a happy, prosperous and healthy life with her husband and children. There is great festivity on this day, the day preceding it, as the mother-in-law of a newly wed makes much ado about sending the stuff for sargai (eating before sunrise on the day of the fast). Women whose husbands are alive join together and eat before sunrise. The food they take is thirst-quenching and keeps the body liquids in proper shapeŚmilk, fruits like singhara and oranges, sherbet, tea or coffee must be taken and, of course, puri and aloo, cooked fresh in the morning, and pheni dipped in milk and anything else one may fancy. All these items except the liquids, are sent to the girl's house by the mother-in law a day prior to the actual vrat (fast), as the girls spend the night in their mothers' house but come to their in-laws' place during the day.

This is the custom for a newly wed, otherwise both sargai and puja are done in one's own house. On the day of the vrat, the women rise early, have their bath, and dress up in finery, with gota and kinari. Those who have the chunri wear it even for the sargai. The newly married girls wear their lehanga and chunni, which is very much in fashion again. Heavy jewellery can be worn, but one has to be careful these days. On Karva Chouth the young women are not supposed to do any work of the household, or any stitching or knitting either. So, these free young ladies generally crowd around a mehndiwali and a churiwali (bangle-seller), wherever they can find them, getting their palms and feet decorated with henna and filling their arms with bangles. It is fascinating to watch henna coming out of the container and forming the beautiful patterns on the palm, as the mehndiwali decorates it with great artistic precision, quite like icing a cake. Really, one has to see for oneself to believe the variety and the beauty of their designs.

. Buying bangles, bindis and kajal all for oneself, without anyone putting a spoke in the wheel for once, makes the occasion so very enjoyable. It's a day to fuss over oneself. Going to a movie or playing cards is the order of he day and keeps the women busy and happy. Of course, too much jxcitement must be avoided as it leads to one becoming thirsty and maybe a little sick.

The preparation for the puja should be started at about 4 or 5 p.m. Someone older, who is villing, or the housewife herself as the situation demands, prepares a suitable place in the puja room, in case it is a big room which can accommodate all the women who have been invited for the baya; otherwise the best place is a verandah or the open courtyard, since generally the weather is not cold during this season. The puja place is decorated with kharia matti, which has been soaked in water two to three hours earlier, and takes a semi- liquid form. A chowkŚlike in any other pujaŚis decorated on the floor (chowk is described in the glossary).

On top of the chowk, the seep chowk is decorated with aipun. This whole chowk should be placed against a wall on one side, where a similarly decorated patta is kept, on which the Gaur Mata is seated. Since the drawing of the chowk takes some time, it should be done much earlier. The Gaur Mata used to be made with cowdung in the shape of a human figure, just about two inches tall. Nowadays, a picture or an idol of Parvati is placed on the patta. Just about an hour or so before moonrise, those who have observed the vrat, dress up again in their chunris or in red or pink clothes with chonp and bindi on their foreheads. Everyone now gathers around the puja place, where a carpet or durrie is spread over the chowk, leaving space for the puja items. The baya for each individual is kept on a thaali, over the karva, which has a little water and seven pieces of pua in it (seven pieces broken from one big pua).

The karva itself is decorated with kharia, aipun and a little roll. A strand of kalava (red thread) of any thickness is tied around the narrow part of the karva. The top cover is also decorated and the thaali is placed on the cover, but if the cover comes in its way, it should be set aside. The thaali should be small so as to balance on the karva where the ten mathris or puris with ten puas, halwa, and cash are placed. If a set of clothes is to be given, it need not be placed on top of the karva but near it. The women sit facing the gods, and one elder member (there is no taboo on widows) of the family narrates the story and does the chanting for each woman doing the puja. This is known as manasna, which means to give away and nsver take back. First of all, roli teeka is applied on the forehead of Giur Mata before the start of the puja. All the women doing the puja also apply roli teeka on their foreheads and hair parting (known as maang). Everyone does pujan by first dipping the third finger of the right hand in water and sprinkling it with the help of the thumb three times on the deity; the same procedure has to be repeated with aipun and roli and, lastly, the rice is showered.

This depicts the bathing af the deity, decoration with aipun, putting of the teeka with roli and, lastly, worshipping the deity with rice. Then, taking a little rice in the hand everyone sits down to listen to the story, mentioned above. The puja now ends and one of the women takes the puja thaali with a lighted diya (lamp) and a small utensil of water (hopefully the moon has been sighted by now). One by one they perform pujan of the moon. Each woman offers water to the moon by holding the lamp in the left hand and with the right hand pours the water on the ground seven times, also throwing seven pieces of freshly broken puas. She herself chants : 'Char peher ka deevla, char peher ki raat, bale chandrama arak doon, Karva Chouth ki raat'.

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