Do we know why we follow certain rituals?
The idea of women starving themselves to prolong the life of their husbands seems archaic. Yet millions of women from all over India continue to do it. In some parts of India this fasting raises it’s head in the form of a festival popularly known as Karva Chauth. Women do not eat during the day-time on this important day. Similar fasting rituals happen in states like Maharashtra where it’s called Vata Purnima. The ritual of Vata Purnima however is not considered sacrosanct in Maharashtra anymore. There are similar festivals in Southern India too. There is no ritual in Hinduism which requires a man to fast for the life of his wife.
Whenever any such fasting ritual is religiously observed by any woman in urban India year after year, it makes me wonder. After all it’s just a one way street. Their male partners don’t do it with them, they don’t pray for their long life.
How did it all start?
When this ritual started, such a ritual (to prolong the life of the husband) made perfect sense. Widows’ lives were sheer hell. They could not re-marry and often were at the mercy of their relatives, who thought that the women brought bad luck and were in some way responsible for the death of their husband. Whether it was shaving their heads, wearing white and living an ascetic life or throwing themselves on their husband’s pyre, it was clear once the husband died, the wife’s life was more or less over. Therefore this ritual was right at the time. When women observed those fasts, they were not really praying for their husbands at all. They are praying for their own lives. They were fasting for themselves!
Today the situation has changed. The ritual of Sati where a woman killed herself after her husband’s death (often to escape torture at the hands of the in-laws and society) is not observed in North India anymore, except perhaps in some rural pockets. Even otherwise, women have come a long long way since those days… and the fasting ritual has far less meaning.
Yet the tradition itself is strongly entrenched…it’s become a ritual that women follow without thinking whether it’s relevant to modern society. Today even if a wife dies her husband is at a loss, he is devastated. I am not saying that in the old days he wasn’t, but at that time he could easily marry again. Today in urban India widows also re-marry. In fact in today’s nuclear families, it’s very hard for a man to manage if something happens to his wife.
So if this ritual is to be followed, why can’t it be changed to include men? Shouldn’t men also fast for the life of their women?
I am not even saying fasting is bad or good, because if a person thinks it is a way of expressing their love for their husband, it seems alright doesn’t it. But in that case the husband should reciprocate shouldn’t he? This is why I think that maybe this may not be the only reason why people do it in modern times.
Do they do it because they actually believe that this action will protect their husbands? Or do they feel it’s simply some ritual they need to do to please the extended family? I think it’s not just because they fear society’s disapproval…I think many girls believe that in case something does happen to their husbands, they shouldn’t feel that it was because they did not observe the traditional fast. Perhaps it is a mix of both reasons.
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