Indira S. Somani, journalist, PhD

Karwa Chauth among the ladies of “Palm Meadows”

I had the pleasure of filming Karwa Chauth this Saturday (Oct. 15) in Palm Meadows.  This is the exclusive neighborhood of Whitefield (a suburb of Bangalore) where much of the ex-pat community lives or Indians, who have lived abroad and returned to India at a higher socio-economic position, live.  It’s a day long fast performed by married women for the good health and prosperity of their husbands.  It’s mostly performed by North Indian women.  As Bangalore is in the south, I was thankful to be invited to film this major festival among women who celebrate the tradition.  It was kind of unusual to be filming this in Palm Meadows, a highly developed westernized housing division as described in an earlier blog.  The irony was that in this modern community the Indian women kept an old and perhaps even archaic tradition alive.  The women dressed in fancy saris, lehengas or salwar suits with ornate jewelry.  Some of the women had mehndi (henna), which is considered a symbol of good fortune for married women in the Indian culture.  Some believe the darker the henna color, the more they are deeply loved by their husbands.  Typically during Karwa Chauth women also receive expensive gifts from their husbands and relatives.

The Meaning
Traditionally women used to marry at a young age and then live with their in-laws or husband in other villages, leaving their parents and relatives.  This was during a time of no cellphones, buses, trains, etc.  By living in these new surroundings women would have no support network.  As a result, when a bride reached her in-laws after marriage, she would befriend another woman, who would be her friend for life.  Thus Karwa Chauth was started as a festival to celebrate the sisterhood formed among new brides. The fast to honor the husband started because this female friendship started after marriage.  Hence, the festival of Karwa Chauth was to renew and celebrate the relationship between female friends.   It used to be a grand social occasion when the world did not have email, cellphones or list-serves women could use to support each other.

The Puja Process
The fast of Karwa Chauth is kept nine days before Diwali. It falls on the fourth day of the Kartik month by the Hindu calendar.  At 4:30pm, the women of Palm Meadows gathered in a neighbor’s home, who had arranged the puja. One of the women in the circle narrated the legend of Karwa Chauth reading from her iPhone. 

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Items used for the puja included: a special mud pot symbolizing Lord Ganesha, a metal urn filled with water, flowers, idols of Ambika Gaur Mata, Goddess Parvati and some fruits and food grains.  A part of this is offered to the deities and the storyteller.   Everyone lit a diya (cotton wick dipped in ghee) in their thalis while listening to the Karwa story. Sindoor, incense sticks and rice are also kept in the thali.  In the evening, once the moon rose, the women looked for its reflection in a thali of water, or through a dupatta or a sieve.  They offered water to the moon and sought blessings.  They prayed for the safety, prosperity and long life of their husbands. This marks the end of the day long fast.