Researching Karva Chauth comes with unforeseen perils. For one, Google, facebook and Instagram algorithms have taken it upon themselves to inundate me with Karva Chauth advertisements. Growing up in a middle-class, urban, Bengali family I had seen women of the family keep fasts but mostly for the welfare of children. I was a selfish brat who was very happy to see my mother and grandmother make so much fuss about me and feed me loads of my favourite fruits. But the first time I heard of Karva Chauth was at a movie theatre, aged 10. Kajol was faux fainting at the prospect of being fed the first morsel of food by the fiance she did not love and tricking Shah Rukh Khan into feeding her. This moment made pop culture history–here was a stuffy, annoying ritual which was elevated to the heights of coolth because it wasn’t limited to sanskari aunties anymore: eloping lovers were expressing love by fasting for each other.
Cut to the present, teenage girls regularly fast for their boyfriends, praying for their long life. Karva Chauth has arrived. A festival of love as some call it, this is just one more occasion for advertisers to ply you with everything from garish lehengas to bejewelled sieves and special facials and hairdos. After all, you have to look pretty for the husband whose long life you are praying for. There are even apps that help you with rituals and include a virtual sieve to view the moon through. It’s all about sacrifice so your partner can thrive.
There is a catch though, with this supposed ‘Indian Valentine’s Day’: it is rather unequal. If performing a punishing ritual is the only way to show love and value your partner, then clearly men don’t seem to want their partners’ well-being or long life. Away from the glitz and glamour of sundown Karva Chauth parties and 20% off on bangles, Jyothsna Patel in rural Odisha also fasts all day for the Sabitri ritual. She worships her husband in the evening, completing the ritual with drinking the water used to wash his feet and then asks for his blessing. “We perform this ritual to protect our husbands from unforeseen problems. After the rituals are complete, I serve him food and only then I eat some fruits,” she elaborates.