Dear Ladies, Here’s Why Your Husband Should Fast Too This Karwa Chauth!
Every year, on the full moon night after Dussehra, many women in parts of India starve themselves from sunrise to moonrise. Yes, I’m talking about the famous tradition of Karwa Chauth. The day is spent banding together with other women of the family and the neighbourhood, dressed in saris and sringaar, passing puja ki thali as a part of the ritual. Ceremoniously, the women wait eagerly for the moon to rise, so they can break the fast. The reason for the fast: The safety and longevity of their husbands.
Karwa Chauth originated during the Mughal invasion, when soldiers went to war against the invaders. Their wives would fast a whole day and pray for the safety of their husbands.
Today, the reason for the fast is also where the irony of this age-old tradition that has survived the changing times and tides lies. The one to whom the day is dedicated is often missing in action. The sargi, that is the last meal that the wife eats before sunrise is traditionally prepared by the mother-in-law. The rituals that fill the day are all in the company of other women. The husband finally presents himself at the end of the long, tiring day of no drinking and no eating, when it’s time to break the fast. He enjoys his third meal of the day, which is often a lavish preparation, and the wife’s first. If you’ve missed the irony, let me state it clearly: Karwa Chauth is a day of celebration by the women, for the men, but the man’s routine is not altered by it.
In an ideal scenario, keeping the fast should be a matter of choice. But, in our family-oriented culture, it is often something one just does to maintain the decorum. That’s also a choice, which is absolutely fine. That said, maybe it’s time to change the way we celebrate the day to make it more inclusive and less sexist, and to hold the men accountable?
Folklore says that the rituals of the day were designed the way they were so that the women had an opportunity to bond with each other. It is a noble thought, but in today’s day and age, women don’t need sisterhood to be orchestrated. We have come to value each other, and seek each other’s support without an excuse or an explanation. This banding of sisters may have been liberating at a time when women were restricted to their wifely duties once married. But, now, the young, modern Indian women has kitty parties and girls’ nights out to catch a break from her domestic responsibilities.
If Karwa Chauth is meant as an opportunity to connect with other women, then we celebrate it a lot more than just once a year. We are free to choose the women we want to seek support from and form friendships with. So, enforcing a circle of married women upon us just because we are related to them by blood or kin, is in fact regressive, given the present ethos. Its original intent is lost on us.
What we need today, where marriages are becoming more egalitarian is to find ways and cultivate rituals that involve both men and women. Segregation is antithetical to the modern day marriage where increasingly fewer women are happy with being financially dependent on their husbands, where car loans and home loans are often shared, and both the husband and the wife have jobs to go to. But, does this mean that we banish the festival altogether? Not necessarily.
The modern Indian family is a curious mix of values. In many ways, we are finding the balance between the traditional and the progressive. Take, for example, how we party. For our parents’ generation, sharing drinks with the family was a taboo. Now, when occasions arise, all members of the family get together to raise a toast. Our parents did not, or could not, discuss their love lives with their parents. We, however, can tell our folks when we head out for a date. Back in the day, parents introducing the groom and the bride in case of marriage was the norm. Now, this is fast changing to young couples who want to get married, hosting introduction dinners for their families.
Yet somehow, we haven’t even adequately tried to strive for this balance when it comes to festivals such as Karwa Chauth. We reduce it to a simple choice between whether you want to keep the fast or not. But, societies are complex, and transformations, even more so. Perhaps a good middle ground to explore would be to try to make it customary for the husband to keep the fast, too? After all, women now, too, step out of their houses for work, travel to places by themselves, and are, indubitably at risk when it comes to safety!
Instead of banishing the tradition altogether, maybe it’s time to make it a bit more… umm… “modern”?
Images via Youtube