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By- Deepak ShimKhada

With age comes experience and wisdom.  Now that I have turned 70, I hope I have earned both.  As a senior citizen, I can be excused for speaking my mind without being politically correct.

During the past few days innumerable Teej parties were organized in Kathmandu as well as around the world wherever Nepalis happen to live.  I have seen photos of Teej parties held in America and in Nepal.  They all have one common denominator—alcohol and fashion.

Truth is blind.  So what I am going to write here will not please everyone, especially those women who had waited a whole year to celebrate Teej.  So call me “a grumpy old man” if you like.  I don’t mind it, because I am one.

It doesn’t amuse me when I see the bastardization of a culture.  To celebrate one’s culture is beautiful.  It’s the only way to continue it.  However, in the name of Teej, let us not change the spirit and the method by which to celebrate it.  For example, in the name of “dar” Nepali women gather to drink alcohol and cake.  That’s not how I remember Teej.

When I was growing up in Nepal, my mother, sisters and sisters-in-law ate kheer and mishri kanta at midnight.  After that, they fasted until the next evening when the fast was broken with a Shiva puja under the guidance of a Brahman.

Today, however, I have seen in place of kheer, the women cut a cake, and in place of mishri kanta they drink wine, whisky, margarita and vodka.  Although alcohol binging isn’t good for health, occasional drinking in social setting is accepted.  After all, we live in the country of Melcchas where alcohol is a billion dollar industry.  If I told you that I didn’t drink, I wouldn’t be honest.  We all have done it on some occasions.  But a public display is nothing to be proud of.  It is harmful not only to our reputation but also for our young children who are likely to emulate us.  Please think about your children what kinds of examples you are setting for them and society in which they live.

My point is—if drinking is the agenda, why not call it “Rato Sari and Hariyo Tilari Party.”  But let us not drag Teej into the mud.  It’s perfectly fine to have a drinking party, but call it just that.

Again, let us not drag Teej into the mud if you want to have a competition of sari and jewelry where the women dress their best and wear the most jewelry.  If that were the agenda, I am not denying women of their God-given right to look their best.  Women should want to look their best.  If they didn’t, the billion-dollar cosmetic and jewelry industries would collapse.  Women are the primary driving force behind these industries.

For fashion, let them organize a fashion show separate from Teej.  They may call it “Rato Sari and Hariyo Tilari Show” where women compete to win the coveted title of the year.  The one who wears the most is declared the winner.  However, the winner should consider hiring a bodyguard because she can be a target for kidnapping.  With so much expensive jewelry on her body she is more valuable monetarily than physically.  I read a story where a rich man was kidnapped not for his money but for his Rolex watch.

How is a tradition created?  A tradition is established through the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation by doing the same thing repeatedly.  If this is the definition of tradition, then the Nepali women in America are likely to alter the tradition of Teej. For example, alcohol will take place of mishri kanta.  So “Dar” would be associated with alcohol and cake.

It’s a simple matter of association.  I grew up smelling marigold flowers during Bhai Tika.  So whenever I smell marigold it transports me back to my days in Nepal when my sisters put a tika on me while giving me a marigold garland, followed by lots of home-made and halwai-made desserts.  For me the “Sel Roti” is also a marker of Dashain and Tihar festivals.

Of all the festivals, Teej is the one that is intimately associated with women and their potency of fertility.  Naturally, the festival of Teej falls right after Monsoon when the rice paddies have been planted in the field.  The color red which all women don during the festival is a symbol of their creative aspect.  To me Teej is richly symbolic of women’s awesome creative power.

The mythology that forms the basis for Teej is equally rich.  The Goddess Parvati in her many births desire to obtain Shiva as her husband and finally after a penance of 108 years she compelled Shiva to accept her as her husband.  It shows her determination and power to subdue even Mahadeva, the God of gods, to surrender to her wish.  Who can defy a woman, especially a wife?  Only those who are married would know what I am alluding to.

No wonder women, clad in red, on Teej are said to be Shiva’s women.  That is the reason women of the Kathmandu Valley make a pilgrimage to the temple of Pashupatinath to get a blessing from Shiva for their husbands and their families.  Clearly the foundation of Teej is religion and hence it goes against the tradition to trivialize a culture that is so rich in meaning.

 

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About The Author

Deepak Shimkhada retired from Claremont McKenna College after teaching Asian religions for ten years. Presently he teaches courses in Hinduism as an adjunct professor at Claremont School of Theology as well as History of Asian Art at Chaffey College in Southern California. His most recent edited books are Nepal: Nostalgia and Modernity, and The Constant and Changing Faces of the Goddess: Goddess Traditions of Asia published by Cambridge Scholars Press which has just been reissued in paperback. Dr. Shimkhada is president of the Indic Foundation which he also founded in 2001 for lending hand to the growth and expansion of the School of Religion at CGU. He served on the School’s Board of Visitors representing Indic Foundation. For his detailed biography please visit Wikipedia.org (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deepak_Shimkhada)

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