This week, the Punjabi tradition of Karva Chauth will see women fasting from sunrise to moonrise in order to bless their husbands. But it doesn’t have to be as patriarchal as it sounds, as Uma Nayer, host of the Girl Chaat podcast, explains…
On Thursday morning I’ll be waking up at 4am and throwing on my sparkly red wedding shawl (over my active wear) in order to eat aloo gobi and parathas with my mum and my aunt. After that I’ll make a ceremonial doll made of dough – and hope that my limited artistic talents can make her look human.
It may sound like one epic party, but actually it’s all part of the Indian festival of Karva Chauth. Karva means pot and Chauth means fourth, as each year the day is held on the fourth day after the full moon.
Karva Chauth is a Punjabi tradition where married women fast from sunrise to moonrise, abstaining from food and drink until they see the moon out of a sieve (more on that later). The idea behind the fast is to bless our husbands with a long and healthy life. The tradition is based on several mythological stories, including that of Queen Veervati, who is said to have observed the fast in order to bring her dead husband back to life.
It might sound too patriarchal for any self-respecting feminist to take part in, but my pasta drainer is at the ready – and I’m excited for the day to begin.
Every year I’m surprised by how much food I can eat at 4am, but the crispy parathas, along with the tangy pickles and pomegranates, are all too hard to resist. But more important than the food, is the magical time I get to spend with my mum and aunt. Fast Love, as we call the day, is not just about celebrating marriage, but also the bond with your family.
Once we’ve finished eating, I make sure to get my two liters of water in, and then I’m fueled up for a day of fast fun.
Last year, I was given the job of making the ceremonial doll, which is an idol who represents the Goddess Parvati. We pray and worship Parvati as her marriage to Lord Shiva was #couplegoals. Like Parvati, we want our idol to be strong and beautiful. I made her look beautiful using my favourite beauty brands; she wore YSL eyeliner and a smudge of Nars lip pencil, with a spritz of Jo Malone’s Pomegranate Noir.
After a nap at around 6am to sleep off all those carbs, the day is quite relaxing (when I manage to forget about food, anyway). Traditionally, women are not supposed to do housework on Karva Chauth. Usually my dad will spend time in the kitchen, putting the finishing touches to the feast we will eat once we’ve broken the fast.
In our family, we will usually spend some time getting dressed up in our best saris and jewellery. Then, at around 4pm, the women gather together at someone’s house, and sit in a circle. The idol of Goddess Parvati sits in the middle, surrounded by flowers. We rotate our thalis (silver plates), which contain symbolic candles made from ghee. You might not think it, but the art of rotating the plate takes some practice, as we need to make sure the candles don’t catch fire to our highly flammable saris! We then recite the story of Karva Chauth, reading from the handwritten notes my grandmother made years ago.
While we’re doing this, the husbands and partners will gather together in another part of the house, discreetly eating samosas. Like lots of the men, my husband tells me every year that he doesn’t think I should fast for his sake. But I remind him that it’s my choice. (I also remind him that lots of husbands will fast with their wives on Karva Chauth now, to which he replies that it’s his choice not to!)
Once we’ve finished the ceremony, we’re already to have one drink, and I always opt for the same thing – a milky coffee. Feeling rejuvenated, we have henna applied to our hands, before taking time to sit and gossip. This is my favourite part of the day, as I love spending time with my female family and friends. It’s like a night out with the girls, minus the prosecco.
As moonrise approaches, my Whatsapp is usually full of messages: “Have you seen the moon”? “We’ve seen it in Edinburgh!”. We will start searching for the moon through the clouds and rain (classic weather for autumn in the UK) but my dad and husband will usually jump in the car to find it for us.
Standing in the moonlight, we will use a sieve to view the moon (yes, really!). It’s believed that these filtered rays of the moon strengthen the bond of marriage. Once I’ve prayed to the moon, I turn to look at my husband, who feeds me my first bite of food to officially break the fast. The glow of the moon is captivating, and there’s something romantic about this moment: we always kiss.
When I think about why I participate in a tradition that some might call outdated, I think about this moment specifically.
Uma Nayer is the host of Girl Chaat, a podcast which celebrates life from a British South Asian female perspective.
Images: Uma Nayer, YourCreation