Today is Karwa Chauth….

And I began the morning getting into an uncalled for debate on my twitter timeline about whether Karwa Chauth is backward, regressive, sexist, etc etc. I dont keep the fast. For one, I dont have the will power required. And for another, thankfully there has never been any pressure tactics applied to make me fast on this day, no thumb screws, no nailed coffin box, no elongating bench, ah, well I joke. Fact being I am the world’s worst faster, er, fastee or whatever you call it, maybe person who fasts.

I have however, applied mehndi to my hands. Something I last did when I got married. The child steered clear of me all of last evening, complaining bitterly that my hands smelt bad and he would eat his food on his own, thank you very much rather than risk having fragments of dried mehndi enter his digestive system.

The dried mehndi was scraped off last night, and I woke up this morning to hennaed hands, intricately draped in curlicules and paisleys and florals bursting from across my palms to the tips of my fingers. For today, it looks beautiful and I’m admiring it. Would I fast if I was compelled to? I dont think so. I dont think I would do anything I was compelled to with any good grace.

And I adore the ground my husband walks on. Thankfully the husband is a cool dude. He fasts for navratri, all nine days. He fasts for the entire month of shravan. I sit by the side devouring my chicken tikka biryani with no qualms. Nor does he ever indicate by word or gesture that he expects any solidarity and company for his fasting days.

Tell me again why I love him so.

Anyway, a great many friends I know are fasting today. They have grown up seeing their mothers and the women in their childhood keeping the karwa chauth fast and of course Yash Raj Films has done its fair share to glamourise the fast to a must keep occasion. At around four thirty this evening, all my friends who keep the fast will gather down in the lobby of our building where they will do the katha and pooja, I might go down to watch them, they all look so catch your breath beautiful dressed in their full bridal regalia. Some of them even have their husbands fast with them in solidarity, which of course, I feel is only fair, only the hubbies dont do the look through the chalni at the moon thingies for the wives. I think it is beautiful that these women can stay hungry for an entire day, unresentful, not dreaming of all you can eat buffets spread out in front of them, and do it for their husbands.

The way I see it, women in India historically werent empowered enough, and derived their empowerment from the various fasts they undertook for the men in their lives, husbands, brothers, sons. It made the men beholden to them in some strange way (hold the rotten tomatoes please, this is just a theory!).

Do you fast for Karwa Chauth? If yes, why do you fast? I’m genuinely curious.

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About Kiran Manral

40 and battling flab, wrinkles and grey hair. Fighting a losing battle with the weighing scale. Living with the two loves of my life, my husband and my son. Serial buffet offender and reformed shopaholic.
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55 Responses to Today is Karwa Chauth….

  1. Re-posting comment
    ———————

    Kiran,

    This is what I want to say:

    I hate all this negative stuff going on about the fast. It makes you feel guilty about what you want to celebrate. Since you asked why we do this, I am doing this for the first time (recently married). The husband’s family is Bengali and they have no idea what this is all about so there’s no question of any pressure or expectations. I’m doing this because this is my way of carrying forward a little bit of my culture. It makes me feel like I’m not letting go of simple figments of life as I knew it and celebrated it. Simple? And the husband’s fasting too (of his own will) because it seems fair to him that we both follow each other’s customs (the ones we follow at all). I celebrated Durga Puja the Bong way this time, and he is getting to know more about the importance of Karva Chauth and Diwali (the poker, the ODing on mithai and binges, et al) the way I know it.

    How sick is it then to wake up to these weird tweets and messages that “innocently” ask whether I’m doing this for a gift or if my MIL “forced me to”. Either they are implying that I have no brain of my own, or they are calling me a gold-digger :D So much for calling others regressive and sexist, I say! Secondly, isn’t it funny that the ones not fasting should spare so much time to comment on something they find so “backward”.. I mean I’m yet to hear any of the fasting ones tell someone they should be fasting too, so who’s being regressive here?

    Well, whatever. I’d be damned if I give in to the online world’s pressure on what I should do and why.. so I’m back to staying distracted from food :D

    Good day! :)

    Like

    • Kiran Manral says:

      adarkcomedycalledlife: I think in this day and age, expecting that an urban educated and working woman is fasting because she is being forced to, is rather regressive in itself.

      Like

      • Annu Rao says:

        Further more, here’s a thumbs down even to women who believe they are doing this out of their own free will in the name of carrying forward our ‘culture’. Many moons ago ‘sati’ was part of our ‘culture’. Today we wont hear of it even if someone wants to do it ‘willingly’. Something that is regressive is regressive. Period. No amount of self justification can change that. In a modern India, there are a million saner ways to express love and respect to your partner. Clearly a festival who time is done.

        Like

    • brilliant comment I agree with every word u have said I will damned if I give up because of the negativity of the online world

      i am also a punjabi married to a telugu, it didnt matter to anyone here whether i do keep or dont keep the fast but I keep it because I have seen my mom keeping it all my life and I wanna take the culture forward.

      I know it will make no difference to my husbands health or age by keeping this just as it wont make any difference to the coming year’s wealth if I do lakshmi pooja and play cards on diwali or not, but I and many more still do that and have no objection to that right? than why so much ho halla to this?

      Like

  2. maya says:

    i am a maharashtrian, never been done in the family. no one around me does it. but how i’d love to do it. it sounds so romantic and *serialish* and wonderful. if i had a group of friends where everyone would dress up and meet and discuss their dresses and jewelry – ah, i’d love to do it.

    Like

  3. aparna says:

    No connection with the fast at all, being South Indian. Wouldn’t do it either – the idea of fasting for a man puts me off. Could consider if husband also joined in, but I don’t see any connection between fasting and love. The only pro for this festival acco to me is the reason the first commentor her mentioned – to keep alive parts of one’s culture. Even then, the underlying sexist ideas (woman praying for man’s life, which obv is so much more important than hers) puts me off.

    Like

    • Kiran Manral says:

      Aparna: Hmm. Praying for the man’s long life obviously originated at a time when being a widow was absolutely a fate worse than death. I like the fanfare and fun and dressing up associated with this festival. It is the staying hungry bit that I wouldnt be able to do.

      Like

      • i agree with Aparna. its no longer applicable so like other sexist traditions i prefer to either change it (like get both my kids to tie each other rakhis) or else drop it altogether.

        Like

      • choxbox says:

        Agree. I would not mind staying hungry but the principle of it doe snot make sense to me at all.

        On a tangent, women in my family were expected to cover their heads in front of their FILs till a generation ago. By not doing it any more, am I cutting off a part of my culture?

        Like

  4. R's Mom says:

    nah, never…I wouldnt ever fast..for anyone including myself…I really respect womenfolk who can do it…and for their husbands..I think its great…but to each his own..and to me, my food! bring on the toasted cheese egg sandwich please!

    Like

    • Kiran Manral says:

      R’s Mom: I know. I admire women who can fast, because I dont think I have the willpower to.

      Like

      • oh i have the willpower, but i dont like the way we continue to fool ourselves about the reason. i dont mind fasting as long as i know that i am doing it for willpower. the moment i start fretting that i accidentally ate meat/grain/sip of water and its going to have me burn in hell, i’ve lost the point of it. i agree that most fasts were set up for detoxification and will power. if we can see them for what they are, its really healthy

        Like

      • choxbox says:

        agree totally MM.

        Like

  5. Aathira says:

    This is my second year doing it.

    I do it because my husband’s family is from Delhi, and it expects it of me. I do not have any great issue with no food the whole day, the water bit is what makes it slightly difficult. I do not do any other kind of fasting, for any festival like navratri etc. In fact, I do not think I would do this also if left to me. But, I think its a small thing in exchange for having everyone happy.

    PS: My husband also fasts with me, as he feels its unfair else.

    Like

    • Kiran Manral says:

      Aathira: That is fair on the part of your husband…

      Like

    • see this is what i mean. no one is forced in this day and age but the pressure is high. and that holds true for most things in a family. you visit because you’re expected to. you wear a salwar suit because it makes them happy. the list of things you do ot keep people happy is endless. that in itself is a form of forcing, na?

      Like

  6. Sue says:

    A fast for somebody you love feels like a pact with the cosmos to give up something you like in order for them to get they get something they desire/need.

    I don’t need the man to fast with me, in fact, given that he forgets to eat all the time, I’m only too happy to see him eat!

    Like

  7. sscribbles says:

    I am a Malayali married to a Punjabi so I have not grown up seeing anyone around me fast ever not even for navratras. But having grown in Delhi, I kept fasts… right from Navratras to the Monday fasts. No one has ever forced me into doing it. Now after marriage, I started keeping KC and it wasn’t ever forced on me and I do it because I know it will keep my in-laws and their extended family happy. It’s also a way of carrying forward both the traditions in our household. I don’t feel regressive, rather I have belief in the beliefs of my husband’s family. I have faith in their faith that it’s for the good of one’s better half.

    Like

    • Kiran Manral says:

      sscribbles: as long as it makes YOU happy, more power to you! And yes, somewhere down the line I do feel that traditions are something one needs to hand down to the next generation. My poor son has barely anything, whatever he gets he does from his grandmother, I grew up like a weed.

      Like

  8. dipali says:

    “women in India historically werent empowered enough, and derived their empowerment from the various fasts they undertook for the men in their lives, husbands, brothers, sons. It made the men beholden to them in some strange way”

    This statement makes total sense to me.

    I think most festivals and fasts were observed so religiously by many women because they were days when they were viewed with more respect than usual!

    I used to fast in the early years of my marriage, but the accompanying migraines and nausea put paid to that. My husband was the last person interested in my fasting, and it just wasn’t a great big deal.
    It’s something which is such individual choice. Not fair for either fasters on non-fasters to pressurise the other.
    That said, am now a confirmed non-faster.

    Like

    • Kiran Manral says:

      Dipali: Hain na? Yup, I would only fast though I think if I had a hidden agenda of weightloss woven into it today…;)

      Like

    • very true doosi nani. i no longer do things that traditionally involved respect. neither do i do things because they command respect today (for example, holding down a job is a big deal these days). I dont care. i do what i believe in and not because i think it will get me respect or make someone else happy.

      Like

  9. abha says:

    i dont fast. simply because i dont care about it eitherways.

    but then for folks who want to do it, i think its absolutely alright. whatever be their rasons as long as they are ok doing it! :)

    cheers!

    Like

  10. I love the stuff that comes along with Karva Chauth. The fasting bit I can do without. The Mehendi, the songs, the gathering of women, the chance to air bridal finery, the fripperies if you will. It is all about fun yaar. Oh and bollywood! Everything else is just bakwaas :)

    Like

    • Kiran Manral says:

      AnotherKiraninNYC: True. Its the fun of the dressing up, of the gathering together, it is a celebration. The gifts, the singing and dancing. The fast today is incidental to the celebrations…

      Like

  11. shilpadesh says:

    I don’t fast but I do go to the temple with other women who fast(no water), for company :-)

    Like

  12. BEV says:

    In many ways I see it as a regressive thing, because it was traditionally something forced upon the woman. In those days, it wasn’t about whether you loved your husband or not, it was because widowhood was truly a fate worse than death. If women today are doing it out of choice and a desire to carry forward tradition or because they truly believe it helps their spouse, that’s ok for them and an individual choice, but the fact is that in most families even today, the women concerned have no choice in the matter, they have to do it to ‘uphold the honour of their family’ or some such or just because it is the tradition.

    I’m glad that I’m South indian and my husband is Muslim so either way, I don’t have to either put up with the social pressure or fight against it :)

    Like

    • Kiran Manral says:

      BEV: I agree with the fact that it was once upon a time forced on the women, but today, I speak from the friends I see around me, I dont think any of them have been compelled to keep the fast, most do it because they have seen their mothers and aunts keep it, and because it has been romanticised so much in serials and films, (honestly) and for some, they truly feel it is a form of expressing their love.

      Like

    • what BEV said. every word.

      Like

  13. Anu says:

    Hi Kiran

    I have mixed feelings about fasting.

    Let me begin by presenting the positive.

    Fasting, if is pursued with honesty (not the fake ones where you wont eat grain but don’t have problem wolfing a bag of potato chips), is an exercise in self-control. To deprive one’s body of an occasional deprivation is not a bad thing. Of course, this act should not taken to the extreme.

    Now the negative aspect.

    If fasting done with a purpose, for e.g., “I will fast for 5 Thursdays, if You give me….etc etc.” is an act of negotiation with Him. I find this very difficult to accept.

    More so, if it is presented as a form of social power, “I am such a dedicated wife…look at the sacrifices I make for my husband and family”…well I find it even more difficult to accept.

    But that being stated, it is my belief that each person should be allowed to express his or her relationship with God in a manner that makes him or her happy. For me, I am not comfortable expressing it in a public platform.

    That being stated, I do not fast for any religious occasion. I do love my husband a lot. But do not use fasting for him, as a means for expressing my love him.

    Anu

    Like

    • Kiran Manral says:

      Anu: Most fasting I feel is detoxification prescribed by the ancient wise men by giving it a religious sanction. To that end, I feel a bit miffed that women got more of it than men did. On the flip, there a number of women who fast as a form of self flagellation (I would say the previous generation), it was their sole means of being virtuous and elevating their status in the eyes of the family, and yes, a lot of bargaining with the lord also happened with all these fasts. But whatever gives solace and peace to them.

      Like

  14. Zed says:

    Never celebrated the festival but sounds like fun. And I’ve yet to come across a battered woman who says she doesn’t want to be part of the ritual. So until then I’m going to keep my mouth shut and not make any speculations about why and what. If women want to fast for their husband’s long life then so be it. I would pray for that too!!!

    Like

  15. sraikh says:

    Interesting reading everyone responses.

    I have been married 13 years now and I think I did the fast 2 years. The first year I did it because of all the movies I watched and what not. The 2nd time I did in Americanland everyone was doing it and I wanted to do it. Both times the damm moon didnt come out and spouse insisted ho gaye nautak, let’s eat :)

    The rest of the time, I was either pregnant or nursing or spouse was not in town. So I couldnt be bothered :)

    Like

  16. Poornima says:

    Very interesting perspectives indeed.

    I do agree that in today’s world and most of the modern families, it is a matter of choice, and fun and tradition being celebrated like many other beautiful festivals in India. Those are reasons enough and dont need to be defended, or provided explanations for. Its beautiful for all those who enjoy celebrating it.

    But I also do agree, if we really analyze the origins of this and many such traditions in India is deeprooted in the history and social fabric of the past. It was regressive. It was a bit sexist and may have come out due to the insecure nature of a woman’s existance without a husband.

    About the fast – well in my personal opinion, fasting is a strange way to express love and dedication. Not just for a husband, but also for god. I am a maharastrian and know many people around me who will fast – but then will eat really high calorie substitutes like sabudana khichadi, potatoes, yams, peanuts, fruits (which is still ok) and all milk products. And if they happen to – by mistake injest even a tiny grain or piece of vegetable – they will say “Arre, Upaas modla!” (Oh no my fast is broken). :-)

    Here is a thought. Instead of starving yourself for a day (whch I beieve is against nature) it would be nice if both husbands and wives could resolve to give up ONE vice they possess. Or take up one good deed (if they do not have any vices :-) ). Either for each other or for the family or for their children, for the elderly, or socially deprived. Now that would be a beautiful way to be close to your loved ones and god!

    Like

    • Kiran Manral says:

      Poornima: I for one totally adore sabudana khichdi and would kill for it, so that would be a sure incentive for me to fast. Seriously though, to each his own. Some folks do feel that fasting for their spouses is an expression of their love, who are we to stop them….

      Like

  17. cass22 says:

    Me and my hubby, we both are Punjabi. He has an upbringing in a family where cutomes, traditions and following them is a way of life. On the contrasy, in my family though I have seen all the traditions being followed, but it was more of an individual’s own decision to believe in them or not.
    It’s again a debate on believing what has been told to you since you were born and doing what you feel is right one you get your own senses. When I was growing up I felt that all such rituals and traditions like fasting on Navratra and Karwachauth makes no sense. After getting married to a family which believes in doing all such things religiously I started feeling that I should do it as a sense of duty.
    It was my 3rd Karwa Chauth this year.. i have no issues in fasting and all.. I can stay without water and food whole day. But only thing that bothers me is that I don’t know the proper rituals and in which order to do what. So I am always taking help from mom and Google (Not my mom-in-law because… u know ;) ).. but still there is always one miss or the other every year. And yeah BTW my in laws stay in North while me and my hubby are working in South.. Here in South nobody follows Karwa n all so I am always in a state of dillema like whose help to take and whether I am doing it right or not.
    This year everything went fine except a few things and the day ended in not so god way.. it left a bitter memory.. May be I should be bold enough to stick to my own ideas and not follow which I don’t believe in.

    Like

  18. 30in2005 says:

    This was year 9 of keeping this fast. I have no pressure from anyone to keep it – my sisters in law don’t and my mil’s health no longer permits it. My mother keeps it and I have grown up watching her and all my aunts. If nothing it is a day of abstention. And in some small way it comforts me knowing that I can do this with nothing but good feelings about my husband and our life together and that none of the constant anti-women sentiment really holds ground.

    This is what I wrote in 2006 and for me it still holds true:

    http://30in2005.blogspot.com/2006/10/bring-on-moon.html

    This year with small child in tow I managed the fast but none of the goodies such as pua’s and hot fluffy poori’s. Chocolate and big glass of water to break it. That’s modern nuclear far-away country living for you!!

    Like

  19. sujata says:

    My grandmom used to fast – she lost her husband very young. So she stopped and so did the rest of the generations. I dont do this stuff because I dont believe this works. And I am not the kinds to do it just for dressing up and jewellary and the feminine bonding !

    Like

  20. Mansi says:

    I agree with the first comment wholeheatedly. I am married to a bengali so don’t really need to fast, however, I grew up watching my mother fast and keeping the fast is a small way to hold onto my culture.

    Like

  21. Iya says:

    I do.
    I am empowered, educated, financially independent. I have a mind of my own. Sometime I behave like a brat and other times I am sweet. I can be a bitch if I want to.
    I fast because I want to.
    I fast coz I am so so in love with him. I fasted for him even before we tied the proverbial knot.
    The kind of satisfaction I get is paralleled to none. I am not superstitious. And i know nothing will happen if i don’t. Today i am young and my body can take a day of fast in a year very smoothly. Tomorrow when i am old and unhealthy I wont!
    So dont judge me, I dont fast because my mom did or my Mil wants me to.
    Just like I light the diya each diwali, or sing songs for Lohri, or smear faces on Holi, just like i tie the rakhi, or celebrate the Durga Puja, I put mehndi, dress up and fast for a day!
    I do it coz i love him so.

    Like

  22. - i dont. am christian so no background of it. husband south indian so no tradition of it.
    – that said i grew up watching it romanticised in films and considered beginning it. but i agree with whoever said that its regressive for a woman to fast for a man’s long life in this day and age when widowhood is no longer a fate worse than death. i’d posted about this on my old blog.
    – i also dont agree with fasting for 8 mondays/tuesdays/wednesdays and asking God to grant me XYZ. You cant bargain with God if you believe in a God.
    – on the matter of carrying forward traditions, i’ve always believed in only carrying forward things that i truly believe in. i believe as thinking women who are building and raising families we’ve got to think through the subtle messages each tradition carries and pick and choose what we want our sons and daughters to learn. i didnt want my father to give me away at my wedding because i found it very chauvinistic. I do believe that you go from your parents’ family to set up a new one with your husband and i asked my mum to walk with me too. the only hitch, she broke down and started crying the moment i started down the aisle and someone sat her down and i ended up walking down with dad alone, really furious and muttering curses.
    – so yes, santa is fine. as are baby showers or whatever. but anything that is only about finery or says something about subjugating women, i’m opting out of.

    Like

    • last comment i promise – its very easy for most of us to say its regressive if its not part of our belief system. what is difficult is to break out of our own belief systems. i know because i struggled with the whole – who gives away this bride and many other fights i have with my family and the priest in church.

      for the others, i dont care what they do really. be it for the dressing up, the food, any reason. at the end of the day they haev to live with their choices so its got to make them happy and not me.

      Like

  23. Cee Kay says:

    I don’t fast for Karva Chauth. Just never agreed with the whole vrat thing. I was fortunate that my mother in law never forced any vrat on me. Well, one but its been so long that I don’t remember what it was for and I never kept it after that.

    My nani never fasted for karva Chauth, my mom did for years and then stopped. My nani never stopped my maami (her DIL) from fasting – so I have grown up seeing tolerance for other people’s choices all around me. I never gave it a thought as to why those who fast, do. I always assume they do it because they want to. Thassit!!

    Like

  24. ilovewhatyousay says:

    Nobody in my family other than my nani celbrates it, but I’d like to at least once, I blame DDLJ :p

    Like

  25. earthwire says:

    I find this post and the comments very interesting… May be because I belong to the group that doesn’t care either ways…. You should do whatever suits you… make your own traditions and pass them on.

    As for KarvaChauth, I don’t believe in it. I may keep it if others want me to. But, it would be for the want of peace and won’t be promoted. However, there might be other traditions of similar kinds (you may call them women-repressing ) that I might carry forward for the sake of keeping alive the culture.

    We all have definitions of rights and wrongs. Burning oil and ghee diyas at Diwali might be considered unethical when we have people starving on streets by some. Its insane playing Holi with colors and waste so much water later on when people don’t have water to drink. However, life might be real bland if its devoid of such trivial pleasures.

    Like

  26. Pingback: Karva Chauth is not sexist… « A Message To India

  27. kash says:

    Disclaimer: This is not meant to offend anyone. It’s a free country and free speech..so I am expressing my views here.

    its a technically free country…so to each its own…but I personally find it highly regressive…..It’s a highly ‘filmy’ and serialised stuff…I bet some women do it because they think its romantic…I mean i know for example…a marathi woman fasting on karwachauth….saw a picture on her facebook page…didnt see anything posted for vat savitri or hartalika….(marathi festivals where women fast for husbands). All of the customs are such that married women get all the “love and respect” …widows are not allowed to..and and considered as bad luck.A women is only respected if she is married with a husband. Widows and unmarried women are not that fortunate…I hate the fact that married women are “glorified” so much..red sarees, shringaar, bangles and what not…Why on earth should a women look beautiful only for her husband.? Why are widows not allowed to live life normally? Life is already hard for widows and such traditions make life difficult for such people.They are socially outclassed. Moreover, fasting for long life- I hope people don’t actually believe in this.

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