Tag Archives: fasting

Let’s Teej Again, Like We Did Last Summer…

Other Teej Posts: Teej (2009), It’s Time Again for Teej (2010), Panchami and the Bhutanese Refugees (2010)

Today is my first married Teej and my first Teej with my mother-in-law.

I first learned about the holiday when P and I moved from New York to Massachusetts in 2007. I’ve taken part in the festival every year since, generally by wearing red and fasting for 24 hours, and usually by dressing up in a sari and going to the local temple with several female friends (AS, S-di) at some point during the day.

This year Mamu is with us, so I am letting her dictate how we should celebrate the occasion. Last night she explained that I should wake up early, take a shower so that I am “pure,” then I should dress in red clothing and wear my bangles and green and gold wedding tilhari, then we would worship Shiva and Parvati.

“And fast all day?” I asked.

“Eh, fasting too difficult.” Mamu said. “You have to work, not so strict. Eat pure foods. Milk, potato, sweets, fruits. No salt, no rice.”

“But Mamu that seems like too easy of a fast.” I told her. “No salt and no rice is easy if I get to eat sweets and fruits all day.”

“In Nepal it used to be harder.” Daddy explained, “No food, no water. But now the rules are not so strict. No need to fast all day. Sweets and fruits are fine.”

“But potatoes? Eating boiled potatoes hardly feels like a fast.” I insisted.

“It’s okay.” They said, “Eat, eat.”

If one thing is true above all else, I’ll never starve as a member of the P family.

So this morning I set my alarm for 6am… and snoozed it until about 6:40. By the time I was conscious enough to roll out of bed and stumble into the shower Mamu had already beaten me there. So I laid down for a few more minutes and listened to the water, waiting for her to finish.

Then I showered, and dressed up in a red kurta top that Mamu and Daddy picked out yesterday. I selected ten of my red and gold glass wedding bangles, putting five on each arm, and slipped my green wedding pote with golden tilhari over my head. When I went out to the living room Mamu and Daddy were already sitting on the couch waiting.

“Come, come,” Mamu said, “Wash hands to purify, then we go to worship Shiva.” At the sink she asked me, “Where’s your tikka? No tikka?”

“Should I put?” I asked.

“Tikka put on. Small tikka. Very pretty.” She insisted. So I went to my bedroom and fished out a packet of small sparkly tikkas from my jewelry box and stuck it between my eyebrows. While I was at it I asked P to put a small dot of orange sindoor at the part in my hair.

“Good,” Mamu said, and we walked to her bedroom where she had a small altar set up on the dresser. She had folded the Nepali calendar she brought with her from Kathmandu so that a picture of Shiva and Parvati was facing upward. In front of the picture she had a cucumber, a banana and an apple on a plate. She lit two incense and said, “Today we pray for the long lives of our husbands,” and motioned for me to pick up the plate of fruit/veg. I circled it in front of the gods’ picture and then she gave me the incense she had been holding. She folded her hands in Namaste and whispered a quick prayer. After I circled the incense she took them back and stuck them in the cucumber in front of Shiva to finish burning. She then motioned for me to touch both the heads of Shiva and Parvati, and then touch my own forehead with my right hand, then motioned for me to touch the two images of Ganesh and again touch my forehead.

“Okay, finished.” She said, “You want boiled potato?”

She took me to the kitchen where she had two small boiled potatoes on a plate ready for me. I felt like I was cheating. I kind of like fasting. I don’t have many opportunities to do it and I like having a reason to abstain from food—it’s like a personal challenge, and it makes you think about what it is like for the people in the world who have to go without. It teaches you discipline, and gives you some clarity. I have great respect for people who fast for Ramadan. One day of fasting hardly seems like a sacrifice.

I guiltily took one of the small potatoes and took a small bite.

“How many?” Mamu asked, “Two? Three?”

“One is okay.” I told her. “Potatoes are heavy.”

“But I have many!” She said, lifting the lid off the pressure cooker to reveal another four or five floating in the water.

I compromised, “I’ll eat one now, and take two small potatoes for lunch.”

“And sweets?” she asked. At the Indian grocery store last night she had picked up two boxes of sweets—barfi and jelabi, and a canister of rosgolla. She thrusted three barfi into my hands.

“I’ll eat one now and take one for dessert.” I said.

“No… two. You want another? Three?”

“Okay, I’ll take two.” I packed a small lunch box with two small boiled potatoes, two milk barfi, and an apple. So much for “fasting.”

“No salt today.” Mamu instructed. “Only pure foods—ghee, milk, fruit, sweets, and potato.”

So now I am sitting in my office with tikka, sindoor, tilhari, red kurta, and glass bangles. In my own office it doesn’t matter so much… I’ve dressed “international” before, and it is more accepted by our student population (being that they too are international), but I have to meet with a domestic student today that the university administration asked me to take off campus for a serious issue tomorrow morning, so I am a little shy about meeting her all “Nepali-fied” and having her think I’m “weird.” I also have to host the campus religious diversity center open house—which I guess dressed in Hindu festival attire I won’t be too out of place, but I prefer my bubble of cultural diversity when dressed in this way.

The plan for the rest of the day is that once I get home from work I’ll dress up in a new maroon silk sari that Mamu brought me from Nepal specifically for Teej and go to the temple where P and I got married with Mamu and S-di.

So happy long life to my family, and happy Teej to anyone else celebrating today. Hopefully your MILs and/or significant others are helping you cheat with sweets as well today ;)

It’s Time Again for Teej

It is time again for Teej, the Nepali festival where women (from some of the ethnic groups in Nepal) fast for the long healthy lives of their husbands.

One of my first blog postings last year was about Teej— what the festival was about and my own personal feelings about participating in the festival.

This year I was quite excited. A few weeks ago several women in the community started planning a gathering so we  (with significant others) could be together during this female centric holiday. S-di was planning a big Daar dinner (the feast before the fast), with lots of music, dancing and merriment (as usual).

Next the plan was to be together for the fast on Saturday– relaxing, dressing in red, and going to the temple to meet with other Nepali women for the puja. Lastly, after breaking the fast at midnight on Saturday, we would gather on Sunday morning at a community center where the local Bhutanese refugees were planning a special puja to close the festival celebration.

Women in Kathmandu celebrating Teej

Until… I realized that months and months ago I bought tickets and agreed to go with P and some of our male friends to the US Open Semi Finals in New York on the same day as the Teej fast. If the tickets were less expensive, or the plan more spur of the moment, I would definitely drop it, but I feel kind of locked in. Needless to say I’m really disappointed.

That’s the problem with Nepali festivals. I never know when they are going to happen. I generally know when to start asking about them—Teej is usually in late August or early September. Dashain is in early to mid October (I think this year it’s Oct 8-23rd, but I’m not sure when the main day is yet) and Tihar is in early to mid November (this year Nov 4-7th), but festivals never seem to be on anyone’s radar until they start talking about festival dates and celebrations during conversations with parents back home.

So I think the fast this year will be hard. Waking up early, walking around New York all day, sitting out in the sun, pretending to watch tennis while day dreaming about food. As I’ve mentioned to some of my Muslim friends and students, I have a lot of respect for those who participate in the Ramadan fast. It takes a lot of dedication and will power not to cheat, and for those who come from whole cultures and communities that celebrate, it must be truly challenging to move to a place where there are very few people who commemorate such an important festival. (And by the way, today is Eid-al-Fitr—Mubarak!)

Thus Saturday won’t be as enjoyable participating in the fast essentially on my own instead of with a community, but I’m still going to do it. It’s my last Teej before marriage, and next year will be particularly special as my very first married Teej– which I will be able to prove to the wider Nepali community by wearing my very own red wedding pote. No tennis matches next year for sure!

Our friends AS and N who got married this summer ("Nepali Wedding in New England"). AS is wearing her red wedding pote with golden tillary. She will wear this necklace again tomorrow for Teej.

I also still plan to wear red. Last summer when we were in Nepal P’s mother gave me a few red necklaces and red tikkas that she specifically asked me to wear during Teej. I’m wearing one of her necklaces today in honor of Daar (I’m also wearing a reddish-orange kurta top as well).

So happy Teej to those who might be celebrating, and happy fasting. May the lives of you and your partner (and family) be long, happy and healthy!

Holi and Lent

Last night we celebrated a friend’s birthday and Holi in true Nepali fashion… with momos of course!

This is me during Holi two years ago...

In between wrapping the potato/tofu/cabbage (or chicken for the meat eaters) mixture into wanton wrappers and piling them up to be steamed, we would periodically try to smear bright pink colored powder across each other’s faces.

I have yet to be in South Asia during Holi, although someday I hope to. I know it is kind of crazy to go outside during that time… you have to prepare to be pummeled with colored dust, or in Nepal particularly, color-filled water balloons, but I think it would be great fun. I remember once as a little kid someone gave me the idea of making “flour bombs” where you fill a thin napkin with a spoon or two of flour and tie the napkin shut, so when thrown with force it “explodes” white flour everywhere. Holi is essentially the same idea (if you take away the religious aspect of it), and I could see my inner child running wild. We have celebrated a few times with our friends in New England, but the festivities are usually more subdued, since it is usually too cold to go crazy outside, and no one wants a chaotic colored mess to clean off their apartment floor.

Playing Holi in South Asia

The birthday aspect of the evening concluded with some cake, which brings me to the second topic of conversation… Lent.

My relationship with Christianity has been a long and rocky one. So I really wouldn’t classify myself as religious, or even spiritual, but there is one aspect of the Catholic calendar that I do try to adhere to since I find it a fulfilling endeavor—Lent. Generally speaking, Lent is a 40 day period of time in between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday where Catholics go through a period of fasting. I’ve really tried to do this in earnest each year (but not always successfully) because I think, devoid of its religious connotations, it is a nice anchor throughout the year, a time to abstain from something that you really enjoy or rely on. It helps me to practice self restraint and control, cleanses my system, and puts my needs and desires into perspective for the year.

For many years I’ve tried to focus my 40 day fast on sugary things. I’m a huge sweet tooth. I love chocolate (mmmm, Cadbury caramel Dairy Milk and this time of year… Cadbury cream eggs), and baked goods (pies, strudels, cookies), even sugar in my tea, or a soda at a restaurant for dinner. So cutting out the overtly sugary things in my diet (like all of the above, and including last night’s birthday cake) is really tough, and kicks my butt.

The first two weeks are usually the hardest. I gaze longingly at trays of cookies set out at university events, or mentally debate with myself about how bad it would be to just have a bite. I’ve been eating a lot of apples to help me through… and at the end of the 40 days it will feel really good to know that I didn’t give in to desire.

As a kid I tried to give up different things, like soda or television. I told P that this year we should try to give up eating out, but that would be really tough, because with our work schedules, and his exam studying (he passed! Hurray!), sometimes it’s just easy to grab some quick Chinese or burritos, but I’ll keep that one in mind for the future. Sugar seems to be a good one—a tough challenge, something I use as a crutch, and in giving it up I feel healthier at the end of it all, and it usually helps me decrease my overall sugar intake (after the previous few years fast I prefer less sugar in my tea, and sometimes forgo sugar for honey). Last year our friends R and S gave up rice. I commend them on that feat. I’m sure it equally kicked their butts.

So anyway, 13 days down… 27 more days to go.

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