Haritalika Teej: Nepali women's festival of dance,fasting and merriment
By Prabalta Rijal
Sept 16, Kathmandu: The sound of music resonates through the streets of Kathmandu as women draped in red sarees begin fasting for the health and life of their life partners.
Teej is a time of merriment, joy, fasting and prayers for women across Nepal who fondly dress in red and stay an entire day without food and water, the religious festival is also culturally practiced as a religious festival of dance, prayers and happiness, a festival during which women come together to fast and pray for the health and life of their husbands.
Women across Nepal rejoice at the thought of Teej because to them this is about making the gods lengthen the lives of their husbands who they love so dearly. It is also a festival that is celebrated as a time when married women can reunite with their parents, away from their husbands homes and daily chores. In the past, this was the only time women would be able to leave everything behind and come home to their parents. Women in those days would have to wait a whole year to visit their parents, though this isnt the case today, this culture is still practised as the three-day festivities begin with a ritual called 'Dar Khani'-where women come home to feast and this day all about eating, singing and dancing, the second day is the fast-women clad in red sarees start their day with prayers followed by an entire day of fasting and dancing, tents are put up across the cities, villages and towns where women gather to sing songs of devotion, love and marriage and dance all night long. The Third and Final day of Haritalika Teej is called Rishi Panchami, on this day women bathe, offer prayer and homage to saints and officially break their fast.
However, instead of being an independent choice Teej has become an obligatory test of love, purity, honesty, loyalty and devotion, an annual exam Nepalese Hindu women take to prove to the society how much they care for their husbands, but is this test really necessary?
"We have heard of cases of mothers-in-law forcing their daughters in-law to keep the fast, women have complained of being slapped by their spouses for not wanting to fast," said Ballika Adhikari, a beautician.
As someone who meets women from various walks of life everyday as customers, she stated that though women in Kathmandu these days have a say on whether they want to fast or not, for women in the rural regions it is still obligatory and there have been several cases of women falling sick because of the fast. According to her, this time of the year is the busiest time of the year as women flock into beauty parlours to prep themselves for the three day fiesta.
Tulasa, a house cleaner, who works in several houses in Sywambhu, said , that her husband and his family forced her to fast on Teej even when she was pregnant.
"I was six months pregnant with my first child but my mother-in-law came and told me that my husband was going through a bad time and I should fast to keep him away from bad omen. Nothing happened to him but I fainted during the fast," she said and added that her baby girl was termed unlucky for the family and whenever things went wrong she was blamed for it.
She also informed that though she was forced to fast while she was pregnant, she would continue fasting all her life. "I want to be true to my husband, I will do everything in my power to keep him happy, and I know this fast is for him so I will continue fasting," she said.
If we look at religious scriptures we find that goddess Parvati had taken this fast to impress and marry Lord Shiva also according to Hindu mythology. Lord Shiva and Parvati share a very harmonious marital life and are known to be the perfect couple. This is supposedly how the festival of Teej was born and why it is considered so important.
However, we are mere human beings, who can’t even tell what the next hour has install for us. So, a natural question arises, how on earth can we lengthen someone’s life by staying hungry all day? But still many women including the learned ones fast on this day. This is what the charm of this festival has been.
Hinduism was never gender biased and women were considered to be the source of all power and strength but with the rise of a patriarchal norms, the value of women in society began degrading, it was during this time in history that the meaning of festivals like Teej changed from being a festival for marital bliss to a festival of rigorous obligatory fasting by women for their husbands and families. Teej should be a festival of marital bliss, which brings a couple closer, as it did long time ago. Women should not be forced to take the fast, it should be an independent decision after all just fasting without food and water will not increase anyone’s life span.
Even today in certain parts of India Teej is a festival during which both men and women fast for each others long life and marital bliss.
"I feel lucky to be married into a family that does not expect me to fast without food and water during Teej and other festivals. I usually eat fruits and sweets while fasting and I really think rigorous fasting without food and water is really not necessary," said Rita Sharma.
The fasting ritual in Hinduism is said to contribute to a clean and healthy lifestyle and moral thinking. According to Hindu scriptures, when a person fasts, their digestive organs are cleansed, detoxiacated and corrected. Fasting is also said to control emotional imbalances of the body and prevent acidity and flatulence.
Though Teej is a religious festival it has become an important part of the Nepali culture and today is celebrated as the festival of women, where women get together and spend time with their family and friends, away from the chores of daily life.
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