Maharashtra is a State on the Western and Central Deccan Plateau parts of India and Pune, the city where I live is in it. Pune is located just East of Mumbai more familiar with its old English name Bombay, which is the State Capital.
As with most of India, Maharashtra is predominantly Hindu and one of the traditions that Maharashtrian women follow is to observe a fast for three days to concentrate on their prayers for the well being of their husbands. Yesterday was the last day of the fast called the Vat Purnima in local parlance. You can read all about it here.
A news item about this ceremony in the local paper reminded of an incident which I narrate here.
My late wife Urmeela did not observe this Vat Purnima fast, but one year when we were based in Delhi, she did observe a local variety of the same fast called the Karva Chouth.
To conclude the fast, women await the rising of the moon. Once the moon is visible, depending on the region and community, it is customary for a fasting woman, with her husband nearby, to view its reflection in a vessel filled with water, through a sieve, or through the cloth of a dupatta. Water is offered to the moon to secure its blessings. She then turns to her husband and views his face indirectly in the same manner. In some regions, the woman says a brief prayer asking for her husband’s life. It is believed that at this stage, spiritually strengthened by her fast, the fasting woman can successfully confront and defeat death. In Rajasthan the women say “Like the gold necklace and the pearl bracelet, just like the moon may my husband always shine brightly”.
The husband now takes the water from the plateand gives his wife her first sip and feeds her with the first morsel of the day (usually something sweet). The fast is now broken, and the woman has a complete meal. It is customary for the husband to make a gift to his wife, such as jewelry or a new dress.
She was more of less bamboozled into observing this fast by our lady neighbours who were observing it, and she did not tell me in advance about it. Not knowing that it was karva chouth, I invited some friends over for some cocktails and dinner in the evening and telephoned her to get things organised. Even at that point she did not mention anything and the party went off very well. At about eleven after the last guest had left, she performed this last ritual and I was more than touched and apologised for the inconsiderate party that I had thrown. As she always did, she brushed the apology aside and broke her fast and had her dinner. I however insisted that she does not do anything like this in the future as there was no need for an annual occasion, when I knew that she always had my well being in mind and that was that.
The story however, does not end there. The next day, our lady neighbours berated her for having given the party with liquor, and horror of horrors, meat and chicken cooked at home on such an auspicious day when she was observing the fast. Urmeela listened to all the rants and raves patiently, and finally said, that she implemented the spirit of the fast – the welfare and well being of her husband by arranging a party as per his wish. That shut the whole lot of them up. I came to know about the punchline from one of our male neighbours who complimented me for having such a wonderful wife!
Her prayer worked. She defeated death from taking her husband away from her, but death had the last laugh. He took her away from me.