Women fast for their men on Karva chauth, but why?

November 4, 2012

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author. They are not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters)

Nov. 2 was Karva chauth. I wouldn’t have known it if it weren’t for the special discounts at stores, the diamond and sari advertisements, and articles wondering whether newlywed actress Kareena Kapoor would fast.

I wouldn’t know about the festival were it not for films like Dilwale Dulhaniya le Jayenge or other Yash Chopra and Karan Johar productions.

Karva chauth, a primarily northern Indian festival in which women fast for the men they love, looks like a glamorous affair and the ultimate selfless, romantic gesture. There is little space for discourse on how it perpetuates the notion that women should be dependent on men.

In India, there is nothing that a good old fast cannot cure. But this one is particularly interesting. Women fast the whole day, without a drop of water, until the moon appears. Though the idea of men fasting for their sweethearts is not unheard of, they are not expected to do it.

As I write this, there are millions of Indian women who have followed the same routine. I wonder why women in a modern society engage in such traditions.  Foreign readers, don’t be fooled.

This is not some rural tradition forgotten by India’s emancipated urban women with university degrees and independent lives. Like many holidays, it’s good for moving product, with special discounts and an air of romance that might bring Valentine’s Day to mind in people from other countries.

Even the tools of the ritual have become opportunities for gift-giving as the newly middle class and upper middle class flex their newly thick wallets. Consider the Swarovski crystal-studded channis, the sieve traditionally used to look at the moon before breaking the day’s fast are available in the market.

There are many such traditions that women follow in Hinduism. Married women wear vermilion along the parting of their hair, and the mangalsutra, a beaded necklace  around their necks. Men don’t have to do such things.

The age-old notion of “pati parmeshwar“, the idea that a husband should be worshipped as a god, a lord, a master or an owner is reinforced time and again.

Some feminists have cited Karva chauth as a symbol of cultural repression of women. Some say that the holiday is an instrument of social control.

Others argue that there is no coercion, and women fast because it’s their choice. Still, social and cultural pressure from parents and, frankly, the eyes of all the people around you, are always there.

Many women whom I know fasted. Some think it’s romantic. Some of their husbands will fast with them. Some do it because they do not know another way. Regardless, I find it difficult to make my peace with it.

(A woman selects bangles as her hand is decorated with henna on the eve of Karva Chauth festival in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh in October 2009. Reuters photo: Ajay Verma)


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I believe that the point that you make is a fair one, and all these superstitions add up to nothing. However, there is an angle to such debates that I always seem to see, what would be your perspective if both of them were fasting, husband and wife? For fasting does have its benefits, it improves digestion, self control and a bazillion other things. My 2 cents.

Posted by SANIBH | Report as abusive

As a female, I love the concept of Karva Chauth and Savitri Brada. Its exemplifies our distinct and extraordinary culture and religion and its something we should all be proud of. Our culture in a whole, is what defines us and points us out from other cultures all over the world. We need to continue our traditions and not lose it due to Western influences.

For that reason, maintaining our beliefs is crucial for sustaining our ancient and valuble culture. I encourage all married women to pray for their husband’s long life via fasting and/or rituals, such as Karva Chauth. It will not make us less uneducated, instead it will help us to become devoted wives.

“Why don’t men fast for us?” – Because back in the time when this tradition began, most men were required to do back breaking work to support their familes, thus fasting would not be right for men, because if the men did not have energy to work, the children may starve to death. Instead the men give gifts such as churiyan and sari to their wives for fasting, thus its mutually beneficial.

I hope this answered your title question, Arnika.

BTW, Pati Parmeshwar Hai.

Posted by Brishti | Report as abusive

Brishti’s comments makes me wonder what kind of readership is Reuters drawing… Did a Grihashobha reader or India TV viewer accidentally wander into the Reuters website. The writer is right women celebrating such degrading traditions in this century are out of their minds.

Posted by Bob2013 | Report as abusive

Some women say it is the way to show commitment, dedication and support for their men. I do not believe that this brings long life or health to their men. As long as wife do with self-interest and her husband recognize and return it with respect and love to his wife, I do not criticize it. This can build the relationship stronger and that can improve their health. This must be the main reason for doing it.

Posted by Shrihara | Report as abusive