Tag Archives: Indian holiday

Indian Holiday of Karva Chauth

NA: Ok so there is this holiday called Karva Chauth and you have to fast for your husband’s long life all day until you see the moon and then you have to do this weird thing and nobody knows why you do this but like you take a flour sifter and you hold it up to the moon at the end of the day before you break your fast. Nobody knows why the hell you do this, but you have to hold it up to the moon. When you do that, you do it at night, and once you do that you can break the fast.

Interviewer: Okay, and who participates in this?

NA: So it’s is only women and it can be like women that are married, like I can do it for my future husband like I don’t even have to know him. It is just for the long life of my husband. My grandma did it, so my maternal grandma stopped doing it after her husband passed away and my other grandma when her husband passed away she did it for my dad, so she did it for her son. It’s just women and then some men will do it for my long life so I’ll fast with them, um but otherwise men don’t have to do it. They really don’t have to show up until the end of the night when you do that flour sifting thing.

Context

NA is a 20 year old USC buisness student whose family India. She grew up in southern California, but is very conencted with her Sindhi culture. She is also my roommate and I asked her about any folklore she had relating to her Indian background. This information was gathered from an informal interview conducted over Facetime. For further context related to this story she is a single woman who has never been married. 

Thoughts

This holiday emphasizes the importance of the woman’s role as a wife and mother in Indian culture. Although it is not unique to Indian culture, it shows the importance of the role of women while men do not have the same obligation as a husband to bless their wives in the same way. It also shows the power of rituals. NA and her family perform the ritual because they believe in its power. However, that does not mean they know exactly why the particulars of the rituals are there. Thus, showing the level of trust in what has been passed down through the generations and how that can be effective without knowing why. 

Additionally, this ritual shows the connection between femininity and the moon that is seen in many cultures around the world. It seems as though women are using their connection with the moon to bless their husbands, demonstrating the power of that connection. Fasting also is a common symbol of religious observance in the Hindu faith with many religious holidays involving a fast, and many Hindu’s fasting on particular days of the week to show reverence towards the corresponding god. 

Diwali Holiday and Legend

Context: The informant, a 19-year-old female college student of Indian and Pakistani descent, described the Indian holiday of Diwali to me when we were discussing how her mixed cultural background has shaped her worldview today.

Text:

Informant: Probably the most popular holiday in the Indian culture is Diwali. Basically, the way my family celebrates it, is that my dad always turns on every single light in the house. So, like he lights a bunch of candles, and it’s supposed to serve as a symbol of light in darkness. So, when the sun goes down, you turn on all the lights in your house. Basically the way my dad told me the story of like why the lights in the house are on is that there was once a prince and he had a wife. There was this demon character who kidnapped his wife and somehow the prince defeated the demon. Then, in order for the princess to find a way back, everyone in the town lit candles so she could find her way back to him. So, the holiday is a symbol of love conquering all and light overcoming darkness. I think it usually happens in October… or November… usually around my birthday. There are other activities that go along with it, but I don’t really know…. I think it’s like a family-oriented holiday. I actually think people give money… people give… we go to my grandparents’ house and they give us money! I think it’s supposed to be like how in some cultures people give money on New Year’s for good luck and wealth and good fortune in the new year. We celebrate with family and food and that kind of stuff. You mostly just stay in and light candles and eat good food and celebrate with family.

Informant’s relationship to the item: The informant typically celebrated Diwali growing up in her household, but it has been several years since she last took part in the festivities. Her excitement about the holiday increased as she continued to describe the rituals associated with it; the details of the holiday came back to her as she spoke, despite not celebrating Diwali since her childhood. She explained how the holiday not only helped connect her to her immediate family, as her dad taught her about the legend surrounding Diwali, but also to her extended family, as the holiday included visits to her grandparents’ home. The informant also clearly understands the symbolic importance of Diwali (light overcoming darkness), as well as the holiday’s similarities to celebrations in other cultures that include giving money as a symbol of prosperity and good fortune.

Interpretation: In addition to the informant’s insights on the symbolic importance of Diwali, the holiday, like many others around the world, clearly has spatial and temporal significance. The informant mentioned that the events of Diwali typically take place within the homes of family members — both immediate and extended. This prescribed space relates to the holiday’s legendary origin, as well as its association with family bonding and connection. The holiday also takes place around the time of the harvest season (specifically, between mid-October and mid-November). This time period is significant on the circular calendar because it takes place after the conclusion of the summer harvest, and typically coincides with the new moon — the darkest night on the Hindu lunisolar calendar. The main event of Diwali — the lighting of lights and candles — is meant to overcome this darkness at the onset of winter, reminding people that light overcomes darkness and wisdom triumphs over ignorance. After conducting my own research on the legend surrounding the holiday, I discovered that there are several different versions of the story my informant recalled. The most popular variation on the legend is the story of the homecoming of the Lord Rama, returning after his exile and journeyings of 14 years to take his rightful throne. He brings with him Sita, his wife, rescued from Ravana, the demon king. The palace and the city were illuminated for him to help him find his way back. Despite having slightly different plot points in her version of the story, with the most notable difference being that Sita makes the journey home alone in her retelling, my informant understood the symbolic importance of the legend: that love conquers all.

Works Cited:

For another version of the legend surrounding the Indian holiday of Diwali, please see p. 53-54 of E.F Coote Lake’s 1960 “Folk Life and Traditions.”

E. F. Coote Lake. “Folk Life and Traditions.” Folklore, vol. 71, no. 1, 1960, pp. 52–58. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1258790.