Teej

Two Sundays ago (Aug 23rd) our household celebrated Teej, a Nepali festival where women traditionally fast for twenty-four hours for the long life of their husbands, wear red, usually gather with other women and female relatives, and worship Shiva. I didn’t know much about Teej until I moved, two years ago, to a place with a larger Nepali community, and one with significantly more Nepali women.

Women celebrate Teej in Kathmandu with red saris and green/yellow pote (Photo credit)

Women celebrate Teej in Kathmandu with red saris and red/green/yellow pote

Teej (in a nutshell) is a three day festival. It is not celebrated by all ethnic and caste groups in Nepal, but by some, including the Chhetri caste which P belongs to. The first day is the feast called Daar, when women come together to dance, sing and eat, sometimes staying up well past midnight when the fast begins. The second day constitutes the fast, although people interpret “fast” in different ways- some will not eat or drink anything for the full 24 hours, while some will take tea, fruits and yogurt. If celebrating in Kathmandu women will dress in one of their nicest red saris and go to the Pushupatinath Temple, devoted to Shiva as one of the holiest Hindu shrines in Nepal.  Women break their fast after midnight on the second night, and on the third day engage in various pujas and rituals to purify their souls.

That first year after moving, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the festival, although I was excited to learn about this new piece of Nepali culture I knew nothing about. I was also intrigued by the feminine solidarity of the event. It reminded me of my time in Kenya, where division of labor in the rural farming community I lived in left women in the evening sitting around the dimly lit cooking house, singing and joking and making food for the entire extended family. I remember liking the community feel and the safe “women’s only” space, but it brought up lingering feelings of conflict between wanting to connect with something traditional and almost ancestral  which seemed to clash with my (western) feminist views.

Women at Pushpatinath

Women at Pushupatinath

So I talked to P about it. I thought it would be interesting to participate in the festival, however I thought it was reasonable that if I was fasting for his long life, that he should fast for mine. I think that the idea was relatively radical. Teej was a woman’s festival not a man’s, why would a man fast for Teej? It didn’t make any sense. I explained that I thought fasting- devoid of its religious significance- was in general a good process of centering yourself. You purge the body for a day, you learn self-restraint and self-control, and it forces you to reflect on your desires and needs, and think about excess. In addition, fasting for each other could also be an act of solidarity for our family unit. We would be supporting each other, and hoping for the long, healthy and happy life of each other and our partnership. P agreed that it sounded fair, and decided to also participate, even if some of the Nepali men in our community thought it was absolutely ridiculous.

Teej ladies ready to go to the temple near my home...

Teej ladies ready to go to the temple near my home...

That first year, several of our female neighbors came over to eat, and relax. On the following day we fasted and dressed (in some variation of red) to go to the local temple, where we could immediately pick out the other Nepali women who were dressed in bright red sari—many with shiny green, red or yellow wedding pote necklaces. Afterwards we returned home, relaxed and lamented our hunger before breaking our fast. From that point forward I decided that we would make it an annual event- fasting for Teej.

However Teej seems to be a very “charged” even political festival. Many westerns look at it as an oppressive holiday which forces women to worship men (for more information you could check out this posting). When on Facebook I wished everyone a “Happy Teej” I got a sarcastic reply from one person that I must be such a “good little Nepali buhari” (daughter-in-law) to subject myself to that, while another person said they wouldn’t celebrate the festival because they were a “a modern, revolution-loving biatch.” Perhaps I would feel very different if I grew up in Nepali culture, but I think that the approach P and I have taken on the festival is one generated by a lot of thought. I truly appreciate P’s willingness to support my participation, and to participate himself, and I feel very loved that he is willing to take the fast for me and our partnership.

This year was the first American Teej for a very political male Nepali friend of ours. His partner fasted with me in previous years (even though he was in Nepal and she was in the US), and when I asked him if he was going to fast with her this year he said no… that the festival was oppressive and silly, and he didn’t want any part. His partner said she would not fast for him unless he fasted for her, to which he replied “fine, no one will fast.” Then she said it was important to her to keep cultural traditions alive while living outside of Nepal, but that she wanted to fast in support of each other. We had a group discussion about it which eventually led to the couple fasting two Sundays ago.

I know that we are taking the festival out of its original context, but I am still happy we participate, and I look forward to many more Teej’s in the future

Other links about Teej

Advertisements

5 responses to “Teej

  1. I too have had a few qualms with certain parts of my husband’s culture, and he was also willing to help us find a workable way around things so that we could still include these things in our life in ways that made us both comfortable, just like you guys did in this situation. I think this is a very inspiring read!

  2. I just happened upon these pictures of Hindu festivals, some of which are from Teej, and I thought – hey! I know about that!

    http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2009/09/recent_hindu_festivals_and_rit.html

  3. These pictures are great! Thanks for sharing!

  4. I think it’s a very interesting (and important) point you bring up about the outsider/insider perspective on “borderline” (not the right word, but I’m inarticulate at the moment) cultural practices.

    I feel like many of the younger South Asians I meet – both men and women – are trying to distance themselves from cultural practices they grew up with because they see them as unfeminist or “too ethnic” – and then they’re bemused (or sometimes offended) by the Western significant others of South Asians (almost always women) trying to bring these practices into their lives.

    In some ways the tone of these conversations/remarks remind me of the generation split between the “original” feminists – people of my mother’s generation – and today’s younger women. The older feminists, I think, felt they had to work outside the home, be successful in business while raising a family, etc, in order to prove that they were just as capable as men. In contrast, I feel like a lot of women of my generation feel like there’s nothing to prove, and thus have no problem with quiting work to raise a family. I suspect South Asians might see a similar reversal to acceptance of various rites in a generation or two to a more balanced approach.

    (For some reason, upon rereading this comment, I feel like it might appear condescending in some fashion. Hope that’s not the tone others see it in, as it’s not my meaning at all.)

    • I don’t think the tone is condescending… and I agree with you, I am sure that your example plays into the mentality of it in some ways. Most definitely in the future I’ll post more on this general topic, because I feel it is one that I struggle with from time to time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s