Gauri Vrat, a festival in which even 3-year-old girl fast for good future husband, activists raise concern

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Baroda: Seven-years-old Khushi Dholakia, dressed in her fineries is patiently waiting for her friends at a Shiva Temple, in their neighbourhood. Both she and her friend are part of a bigger entourage of girls assembling in the temple to perform the rituals of the not-to-miss Gauri Vrat, a religious practice prevalent in Gujarat and the Hindi-belt of India.

What Gauri or Gouri Vrat is all about?

This five-day-long fast and rituals as informed by the girls and mothers assembled in the temple are primarily performed by unmarried girls as young as three years of age, with the intention of pleasing Shiva and getting a good life partner.  According to Shiva Purana, Parvati had fasted or kept this vrat for five days to appease Lord Shiva, maintain theologists.

Each girl during this celebration is seen with an earthen pot called jaavar, where they sow seven types of seeds, mainly cereals and lentils. However, in today’s consumer-friendly market, jaavars with saplings are readily available; one needn’t put in that much effort.

“It is actually a ritual of the agrarian community, which is performed during monsoon. Somewhere it is linked with the idea of farmers pleasing the gods for a good harvest,” said Dr Bharat Mehta, a professor at MS University and a social activist.

“Every ritual reflect the mode of livelihood of any society. In the present generation of eFarmers, who reap crops on Hay Day or Farmville, you won’t find many who believe in such rituals,” added Mritunjay Kumar Yadavendu, professor of Sociology and Anthropology, Mahatma Gandhi Central University. He added that such practices are prevalent in almost every Indian state, the Hindi heartland, in particular.

A little more about Gauri Vrat

In these five days, the girls observing the vrat are not supposed to consume anything during the daytime barring water. After the sun sets, they are allowed to have their dinner comprising chapatti and sabzi, cooked without salt. Keeping the demand of unsalted food during this period, the market gets flooded with unsalted banana wafers in particular.

Watch the Gauri Vrat celebration

Gauri Vrat now a rage for all

At present, parents from communities other than the agrarian community, encourage their girls to observe this fast. Girls too, give in to the peer pressure and insist on participating in this annual ritual. Schools also are very encouraging and allow the girls observing this fast to attend school in colourful fancy dresses during these five days.

Don’t question our faith

It is not just the illiterate or semi-literate parents who encourage their girls to fast but also highly educated parents. “It is our belief. There is no point of questioning it,” said Kailash Joshi, as school teacher and resident of Baroda. He has his nine-year-old daughter observing Gauri Vrat every year.

Keeps western culture at bay

It’s not just about questioning the social practices but also a way of making the girls rooted to Hindu culture right from a tender age. Hetal Rawal of Surat, while speaking to eNewsroom clearly stated, “Such practices will keep our girls away from practicing western culture. Such annual rituals will make our girls adhere to our Hindu tradition and in the long run will help them from not going astray.  As parents it’s our duty to help them understand our beliefs and culture.” Rawal runs a jewellery shop in Baroda.

Activists differ…

According to social activists, lack of awareness for gender equality is the root cause for the prevalence of such practices. “Such practices reflect the patriarchal mindset of the society. From such a tender age, a girl is made to believe that finding a husband as good as Shiva is a priority in life and that all other things are secondary in life,” added Prof Mehta.

As a society, be it Hinduism or any religion has a very feudal mindset. “Coming to Hinduism, as Gauri Vrat is a Hindu festival, I wonder why no one complains about this concept where a woman is either elevated to the position of a goddess or branded as the evil witch. Why can’t they simply be treated as a normal human being,” pointed out Prof Yadavendu.

Change is the only constant

Prof Mehta however, feels that things are changing for sure. “It might take time, but change is on its way,” he said.  Speaking about the importance, he says, “In Ramayana, Mahabharata and all other books, there is a reference of this vrat so people fear that not following the rule book would be seen as a rebellion. Hence, a number of educated people just allow their daughters to participate in it. They also teach that following the ritual is a must, but one must not forget that getting a husband is not the only agenda in life. I taught this to my daughter and many are doing the same.”

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