Karva Chauth is one such occasion when most married Hindu women in North India seek the blessings of God for their husband's long life. Karva Chauth is observed on the fourth day of the dark fortnight of Ashwin, which is also called Kartik according to some calendars. Though it is a day marked with neither food nor water, this festival is quite popular among the newlyweds. A few days before the festival, markets are full of items needed for the festival. The preparations for this festival start a week in advance. Appointments are made with beauty parlours, hands are decorated with intricate mehendi designs and jewelery and cloth merchants do a brisk business.
On this day the women get up before sunrise. They worship Shiva, Parvati, Ganesh, Kartikeya and the moon. The blessings of the Gods are invoked for longevity and prosperity of their husbands and children. Mothers-in-law give their daughters-in-law sumptuous food called 'Sargi' to eat before sunrise, as the fast starts before sunrise and ends only after worshiping the moon at night. It is a tough fast, as the women do not take any food or water.
In the evening, the women to cherish the joy of adorning bridal finery. Many times, the newly wed wear their wedding dress on this auspicious occasion, usually the ghagra-choli or Banarsi saris, embellished with the old-new shimmer of gold, diamonds and rubies. After dressing up, she receives gifts from the mother-in-law.
Before evening, the married woman receives the baya or a basket full of goodies from her mother, which is meant for the mother-in-law. The basket contains sweets, mathadi, fruits and a sari. Before the sun sets, most of the women in a locality gather in one house and prepare a corner for the puja. This puja chowk is beautifully decorated and a small platform is prepared against a wall. On this, the image of Gauri Mata or Goddess Parvati is placed. In the olden days, this image was made of cow-dung.
The women sit around this image with their bayas. Each woman also places a karva or a pitcher full of water and seven pieces of pua in front of her. It is adorned with kharia, aipun and a little roli. A red thread is tied around the karva. At the beginning of the puja, women apply the roli teeka to Goddess Gauri and also to themselves. With the thumb and the third finger of the right hand, water is sprinkled on the image of the goddess. The same procedure is repeated with aipun and roli . Lastly, rice is showered on the image.
An elderly woman of the family narrates the legend of Karva Chauth. Even a widow can narrate this story. The women then pray for the long life and welfare of their husbands. While chanting the prayers, they pass their bayas from one to another. The wait for the moon rise begins after sunset, and as soon as the moon is sighted, prayers are offered to the moon. The fasting women first observe the moon through a sieve and then break their fast. The first sip of water and the first morsel of food is offered by the husband. A sumptuous dinner follows.