From homes to BPOs, Karva Chauth spreads roots

October 17th, 2008 - 7:00 pm ICT by IANS  

Gurgaon, Oct 17 (IANS) Henna Singh, a 27-year-old multinational executive employed in a business processing unit in Gurgaon, was denied leave Friday for Karva Chauth - a festival that celebrates wedded bliss. But then, she was allowed to go early and also provided a car to get dropped at her husband’s office! Her office in this upscale suburb of the national capital also allowed the women, most of whom fasted through the day as required on this festival, to take some time off to adorn their palms with the russet-green motifs of the henna dye with the help of a henna stylist.

“This is my second Karva Chauth. As my husband also works in a BPO, we will leave early to go to a temple at moonrise and then cook a traditional vegetarian dinner at home,” Singh, originally from Patna in Bihar, told IANS.

The women at her workplace visited a shopping mall the previous evening to buy the traditional red bangles that many Indian women wear on Karva Chauth to proclaim their married status.

“I have to break my fast and tradition stipulates that the husband put the first morsel of food and the first drops of water from an earthen pot (known as the karva) in my mouth,” Singh told IANS.

Karva Chauth, one of the most commercially exploited events in the country’s spiritual calendar, has now entered the BPO industry, which employs a large number of women from central and northern India where the festival is a religious tradition.

The festival is the staple of mainstream Hindi cinema, which features romantic sequences of the festival, where leading ladies pray for their husbands’ well being in the presence of the moon, often accompanied by soulful songs.

Some women call it a regressive festival saying it is a one-sided affair that sees the fairer sex fasting through the day and praying for their husband’s well-being - and not vice versa. But many celebrate it with gusto.

“Companies have become quite flexible with timings and schedules on Karva Chauth these days. They may not be granting me leave, but my bosses make sure that I don’t miss out any of the rituals and ceremonies. In fact, I walked out at 3 p.m. today to shop and prepare for the evening rituals and nobody complained,” said Karuna Monga, who works in the corporate communication department of Turner International.

She said all multinational corporate firms located in northern India were familiar with the socio-cultural milieu of the land and were making concessions to their women employees so that they could follow their traditional faiths and festivals.

The festival has spawned a multimillion dollar business in the form of merchandise, sale of traditional clothes, jewellery, accessories, gifts and fancy ‘karvas’, which are central to the rituals. In fact the pots these days come embellished with semi-precious stones, crystals and metals like gold and silver.

“Till two at night, there were women getting henna done at the local market. And these weren’t just elderly married women, mind you, but young girls in spaghetti tops and skin-tight jeans. Some of them weren’t even married but wanted to celebrate Karva Chauth for their boyfriends!” said Ritika Vettath, a resident of south Delhi.

In Gurgaon, upscale apartment blocks requisitioned the services of henna designers and bangle sellers for their women residents.

Karva means a clay pot, while Chauth signifies the fourth night after the full moon. Traditionally, wives begin their fast on the third night of the moon in the presence of their husbands and break it the night when the moon rises. They pray to gods Shiva-Parvati, and drink water from the karva, which is preserved throughout the year.

“I had a new lehenga-choli in beige and gold especially tailored for Karva Chauth. It is as gorgeous as the one I wore on my wedding,” laughed Neena Gulati, a Delhi-based event manager.

The 40-year-old mother of a little boy had prepared since morning for the evening rituals at her Vasant Kunj residence in south Delhi.

One legend also says that the festival is celebrated to honour Karva, whose husband was caught by a crocodile. She pleaded to Yama, the Hindu god of death, to send the crocodile to hell. When Yama refused, Karva threatened to curse Yama, and he restored Karva’s husband to life. The crocodile was banished to hell.

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