A highly fascinating festival, Karwa Chauth falls on Karak Chaturthi, the fourth day of the month of Kartik. The Sanskrit word Karak means Karwa, a small pot with a hole in the middle that has a spout. It is an essential part of the evening puja. As a legend goes a lady named Karwa kept fast on this day to save her husband from being eaten up by a crocodile. The pot is also believed to be the symbol of Lord Ganesh by some people.
Preparations for the festival begin well in advance in Udaipur when Kumbhars in Kumharwada, near Mukharji Chowk, begin to make earthen Karwas in large numbers. On the streets are heard the voice of ‘Karwa’ sellers, ‘Karwa Lo‘. Shops that sell ‘pujan samagri’ begin to stack their shops with more and new items.
Gone are the days when ladies wore their bridal dress on this occasion. No wonder, now they are out in the market on a buying spree. Sari shops, sellers of cosmetics and bangles, jewellers and others do brisk business. Not to be left behind, husbands also buy fancy items and things like gadgets, jewellery and even vehicles to please their spouse and may be to compensate for not being able to fast with them. The desire to buy things is fuelled by astrologers who suggest that it is auspicious time for purchasing various things.
To look more charming on this big day, ladies make advance booking with beauty parlors for services ranging from facial, pedicure and manicure to complete make-up. Mehandi, an important item, used to be put by the ladies themselves or their family members. However, now to save labor and to get new designs a large number of ladies avail at home service of outsiders including young students who in turn get some extra money.
There is palpable excitement in the air on this auspicious occasion. However, the day seems to be quite long for ladies who do not take even water throughout the day and pray for the welfare of their husband and family.
To pass time some ladies take a short afternoon nap, while some others go out to watch movies. Some social groups organize interesting programmes for their members. To market their products among women, some commercial houses organize various kinds of events.
Newly – wed ladies celebrating their first Karwa Chauth get a lot of things from their parents including Sargi, some eatables that they take before starting the fast. Ladies make preparations for the elaborate rituals to be performed in the evening. Some time before moonrise a piece of cloth is spread on a wooden ‘patta’ and then sand is spread on it. Then the idols of Shiv, Parvati, Kartikeya and others are placed there. So also a Karwa filled with water. They listen to stories of Karwa Chauth while holding wheat grains in their palms. With deep reverence they offer ‘ardhya’ to the moon when it is visible. Bayana is offered to elder ladies and blessings for prosperity are sought.
A story that is commonly related in Mewar during the ‘Puja’ is about a married sister of seven brothers. She was on fast but as evening came, the affectionate brothers could not bear to see her in a restless condition. Even before the moon rose, they secretly lit a small fire on a hillock and covered it with a sieve. Believing that the moon had risen, she ended her fast, but as a result of not observing the fast properly, her husband died. After one whole year of repentence and penance, he came back to life when the compassionate Chauth Mata sprinkled holy water from her ‘Karwa’ on her husband’s corpse. And since then, the ‘Puja’ has been performed by ladies with great reverence.
In recent years, some feminists have tried to make the celebration of this festival somewhat controversial. They feel that women are as strong as men. So why they should fast for the whole day to beg for protection of men. To others the issue does not seem to be so simple. Fasting for a day for the welfare of husband and family is not tyranny but a generous selfless action for the prosperity of the whole family. Now some men have also started to fast to support their wife.
Unmindful of such controversies, Udaipurites still celebrate the festival with great religious fervour.