Date of Award:

5-2006

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Arts (MA)

Department:

English

Advisor/Chair:

Lisa Gabbert

Abstract

The festival of Karvachauth is celebrated by upper class married women of North India and occurs in the month of October or early November. On this day married women fast to ensure the long lives of their husbands. They wake up before dawn and eat a meal. After sunrise they do not drink water or eat any food until they see the moon at night. The moon is watched through a sieve and prayed to before breaking the fast. An important part of Karvachauth is a ritual that is performed by women in the afternoon. This ritual is hosted by a woman of the neighborhood and other women assemble in the house where they form a circle. The narration of a folktale of a princess named Veeravati forms the center of the ritual. Women also dress up in festive bright saris and lots of jewelry for the ritual. Some part of the day is spent in putting intricate designs of henna on their hands and feet.

Although women's act of fasting for their husbands might appear as a sign of subjugation, in my thesis I argue that it is not. Rather, festivals like Karvachauth temporarily liberate women from daily restrictions and give them a licensed freedom to break away from customs that confine them to the threshold of their households. I argue that Karvachauth gives women a chance to move out of their confined private worlds into the public world, dominated by men, and out of their reach in daily life. I do acknowledge that women must satisfy the serious aspects of the ritual first if they wish to enjoy the liberties. But once they are able to do so, the freedoms are easily manipulated by women to empower them, albeit temporarily, in various ways.

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