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Teej Ko Rahar

WOW’s Aakriti Aryal explores how women have navigated through Teej’s evolution to find empowerment and value along the way.

In Nepali culture, Teej is a time when ladies from all walks of life gather for what seems to be a fabulous celebration of womanhood. Vibrant red outfits are showcased at every shop front and the latest pote designs sway on the necks of stylish ladies hustling to their next daar khane party. Dohori geet(s) and Bollywood hits blast from speakers set up in chowks and party palaces where good wishes and gossip are traded and shared. But, appearances can be deceptive for although everything about Teej is catered for us women, the focus of the holiday is on the men.

Legend tells us that Parvati fasted for a full 108 days to prove her devotion and earn Shiva’s love. Her actions inspired the holiday of Teej, a time for women to prove their devotion to the Gods and in turn, be blessed with long, healthy lives, for their husbands. A time for post pubescent girls to fast all day, rejecting even drops of water and morsels of fruit so the Gods will look down and see that they are deserving of the ultimate honour, a generous husband.

Through this notion a women must “earn” husbands through devotion (a standard that is not held to men through a male version of Teej), Nepali women are taught that the primary objective in a women’s life is marriage and subservience to our future spouses. Suju Poon, Program Manager at Women LEAD Nepal agrees. “Celebrations like Teej advance gender roles and stereotypes in our society,” she shares adding that making the choice to fast is one thing, but the fact that women are pressured into it for the benefit of their husbands, that isn’t even scientifically proven.

Teej comes to an end with Rishi Panchami, a day of more fasting and prayer, but with the added component of cleansing. When it comes to religious practices, cleansing is often associated with purity and forgiveness making Rishi Panchami a day where women bathe in holy water to become absolved of the sins of the year. More specifically, women are to seek forgiveness for a time when we are most “polluted” of all— during our periods. Here lies a second message of Teej— instruction for women to “purify” both our bodies and souls and repent for our sins during our menstrual cycle which supposedly exposes us to spiritual contamination.

Inherent to the practice of Teej are certain outdated ideas that no amount of festivities can cover up. But it is important to recognise that Teej is more than these ingrained ideas for in many ways, Teej represents a time of the year in which Nepali women are most empowered. During this season, we are able to express our femininity without the often dominating male eye. Facebook feeds are loaded with beaming faces of women of different backgrounds and ages dancing, feasting and posing in full celebration of themselves and each other. Most of all Teej has become a time for women to be able to put themselves first— a luxury that is not afforded to an average Nepali women’s hectic reality of balancing work, partners, in-laws and children.

Teej celebrations today range from singing and dancing at the local Shiva Mandir to sipping sangria and joking with girlfriends in Kathmandu apartments – a change that Karishma Dhakal, prominent Nepali dancer that specialises in Teej songs, has been paying attention to. “Teej used to be a very cultural religious time for women where prayer, ritual and tradition was combined with dance, song and celebration. Today, it’s a reason for women to party,” she claims. She jokes “what used to be kheer is now wine, sarees have become hot pants, and houses are switched for party palaces.”  Bringing to light another question at the crux of this conversation about Teej, is the holiday losing its religious significance for the sake of fun? Is this the change we need to make Teej more empowering for women?

Priyadarshani Shah, spiritual healer feels that discounting spirituality from Teej, would be very wrong. She explains in great detail the intention of Teej from the three day fasting cycle (Teej, Ganesh Chaturthi, Panchami) which resets a women’s immune system making us physically stronger, to the elements we use in puja, to the colours that we wear to fortify and balance our chakras. During the rituals of Teej while we pray and take part in these ancient practices, Shah states this gets women in tune with the universe. She believes that Teej at its essence is very empowering for women because we are giving from a place of love. Finding empowerment in the rituals of the holiday she emphasises, “During Teej, we can ask for anything – the window between you and the spirit world is open and you’re able to channel energy. I feel like I have a higher light quotient after Teej ko puja.”

On the other hand Dhakal is less committed “I never followed the strict paath puja but I think Teej is most empowering as a cultural and traditional celebration, rather than a meaningless party.”

Empowering women does not mean entirely stripping away our religion and culture, for these are our foundations for much of our identity. As modern Nepali women looking ahead to our future, it is time for an inventory. Let’s take a look at what we have; our complex religion and practices, our rituals, traditions, and celebrations. Let’s value history enough to discard certain expired practices. Let us celebrate our age old traditions in a way that matches our values today.