Monsoon is approaching, and bringing Teej festival, vibrant energy all packed up in a case. And here I am, sipping coffee and writing about a festival that I have never celebrated. The streets of Kathmandu have already started showing glimpses of dancing and colorful gatherings. On Teej, married women fast, so they can be blessed with the longevity of their husband’s life and girls fast to be honored with a wonderful husband in the future.
Hindu women in both Nepal and India celebrate Teej. In Nepal, Khas women celebrate it with great devotion but with time, women of other ethnic groups have shown involvement and devotion too. Growing up, I never noticed my mom being excited about Teej, she said we “Newars” don’t celebrate it. But my aunt, on the other hand, was always on cloud nine, totally excited like a little kid.
Days leading up to Teej, streets in Nepal are covered with women dressed up as brides, wearing red and green attires and colorful accessories, and decorating their hands with beautiful henna prints. The festival becomes a colorful celebration and brings so much positivity.
According to Hindu mythology, Goddess Parvati meditated for years and took 108 births to finally be accepted by Lord Shiva. When her love and devotion won Lord Shiva’s heart, Goddess Parvati announced that the day would be celebrated as Teej. The festival is celebrated for three days that includes Dar khaney din – a day where you eat a lot so that you can fast the following day, the actual day of fasting and rishi paanchami. On the first day, women gather with relatives and dance till midnight singing songs of commitment while eating and celebrating. Starting at midnight, they start their fast with the same enthusiasm. Some of them are so strict with fasting that they don’t even sip a drop of water all day.
In Nepali, it is called Nirjala Barta. There is a belief that if you pray to Goddess Parvati with great sincerity then you’ll be blessed with a happy family and the man of your dreams. They finish off their prayers on the last day by worshipping the seven saints by offering them food, money, and other submissions. This final ritual is supposed to be the ultimate sin washer. But it is just a belief – fasting and celebrating Hartalika Teej doesn’t save some women from being bashed on the floor like a rug for not providing enough dowry or not bearing children.
When I was in school, many of my friends were from the Khas community and they had this great belief regarding Teej, not so that they could find a husband but due to their loyalty towards Shivaji. Now, after graduating from high school, all of my closest friends are Newars so I obviously don’t see much of Teej. Like I said before, my mom was never excited about Teej though she took the simple fast but never participated in the entire ceremonial thing. Surprisingly, last year she seemed excited about a Teej party that was about to happen. In recent days, Teej has become more like a fashion parade with women having to wear excessive jewelry and heavily embroidered saris. On the other hand, Teej has also become a celebration of the bonds between women, more than just a cultural norm. Women seem to be celebrating each other and finding ways to share joys and sorrows in the form of dance and music. Maybe someday, Teej will be celebrated as Nari Diwas, as it seems to be celebrating women more than on actual Woman’s day.