The sieve has great importance in the fast for Karva Chauth held on Chaturthi, the fourth day after Purnima according to the lunisolar calendar. In the evening of the observance of Karva Chauth, Hindu women of north India keep puja items like objects of shringar, matthi, hennah as well as the sieve in a puja plate. They end their fast by seeing their husband through the sieve. Married women keep a lamp in this sieve and look through it at the moon and then look at their husband. After this, the husband offers the wife water to drink and that finishes the fast. In parts of India where this occasion is not observed, one may wonder what belief goes behind this practice.
According to Hindus who observe Karva Chauth, the moon is a benign manifestation of Lord Brahma that blesses the believer with a long life. The moon has beauty, is cool, exudes love, gives fame and longevity. This is why a woman observing Karva Chauth looks at the moon and turns her gaze towards her husband to bring to him all these virtues. But what about the sieve?
According to a legend, a moneylender had seven boys and a daughter, Rani Veervati. One of the years in her married life, she was at her parents’ place on Karva Chauth. Veervati fasted to pray for the long life of her husband. As the evening drew towards the night, the moon was nowhere to be seen in the firmament.
When the brothers sat for dinner, they invited the sister to eat. But she wouldn’t until she could make sure she transferred Lord Brahma’s blessings to her man. Hearing this, the brothers planned to feed the sister by tricking her.
The brothers lit a big fire far away, placed a mirror at an angle so that the glow reaches their house and showed Veervati a faint reflection of the light to claim that was the moon. The woman broke her fast but soon her husband fell ill and died. That was taken for a bad omen. In a version of the story, Goddess Parvati appears with Lord Shiva, explains to Veervati how she was tricked and offers her blood, which brings the queen’s husband back to life. In the other version, the goddess is undefined, but Veervati’s intense penance moves Yama who returns her husband to her.
To avoid such an inauspicious act in the future, the sieve started being used along with the oil lamp through which the moon was to be sighted first and then the husband.
The legend varies as one moves through the cultures of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Delhi and, in south India, Andhra Pradesh. The rituals followed on Karva Chauth, from chorus singing by married women to their meal on the day before the fast and the gift from the mother-in-law, vary too.
Karva Chauth has been targeted by a section of feminists who allege it is an occasion to celebrate the subjugation of women and/or their dependence on men. They question why the husbands do not observe fast for their wives ever. In the age of social media, these feminists have increasingly come under attack by Hindus who point out that the women activists never dare question the customs of Christianity and Islam. Women who observe the occasion say that feminists must respect their right to choose as nobody forces them to fast or follow other rituals.
Karva Chauth will be observed this year tomorrow, Thursday, 17 October.