By Nibriti D
*The second part of the Teej series. The reasons behind why this author celebrates and what it means to her. What do you think about her reasons? What are your thoughts?
To me, Teej brings images of red saris, chadke tilharis, and dancing. My childhood memory of Teej is of my mom doing puja and keeping her barta (fast). My dad was gone during that teej for some reason so she had placed his picture next to the statues of the deities to complete her puja. It has always been a fascinating festival for me, with all the chura(bangles), pote (beaded necklaces), and saris. All things that I could not participate in until later in life.
A couple weeks ago, I read a wonderful article about the festival titled “Tailor Made Teej” by Indra Adhikari. The article explained that Teej was done by Parvati for Shivaji but asks questions regarding her motive. Everyone focuses on Parvati praying for Shivaji and ‘obtaining’ him but no one focuses on the fact that Parvati was rebelling against her parents. Adhikari explains that Teej is in fact about women’s empowerment. Parvati was going against her parents’ wishes because she knew that Shivaji was right for her. Teej is more about what women can accomplish through their heart and mind, rather than obedience. The author expresses that the festival is a form of rebellion rather than submission.
Even if we were to go with the theory that Teej is done for the safety of husbands/fiances, I still see it as a form of rebellion and strength because, in a way, women are defying fate to elongate their husbands’ life spans.
When I was in Nepal, I never attempted to keep fast. I like to think it was because I was too young but it was probably because the opportunity never presented itself. I first attempted fasting in 9th grade. Needless to say, I got very hungry and I ended up eating dinner that evening. My second attempt was after I got married and that did not go any smoother than my first attempt. I lasted till midday before I hurriedly did the puja with mom and sister and ate some food.
I tried my best this year. My mom, sister, and I got dressed up in our saris, pote, and tilhari. We spent time setting up the ‘puja station’. I lasted till 5 this year. I finished my puja around 3 and ate fruits around 5. I even ended up eating dinner around midnight. I felt very weak and decided it was best for my health to not wait till the next morning to give argha and then break my fast. Thisj experience begged me to question my motivation and my goals for fasting.
I do not think of Teej as part of a religious event that I need to follow. To me it is a big part of the culture I grew up in and that is why I chose to observe the fast. Again, I am prompted to question myself: is it right to do something just because it is part of a culture? I think, yes. I have good reasons for doing it. Honestly, I wanted to be able to relate to the mothers in my family. I know my mom, my aunt and my grandmothers all observe this fast. By following their footsteps, I am trying to understand their thoughts and feelings. It is such a big festival for them. They get up early and get decked up with red/green/gold and stay that way the whole day. They enjoy putting on all those bangles, pote, tilhari and sindoor. Their energy and excitement rubbed off on me and I knew I had been infected for life.
Observing the fast also helps me to feel part of a community. Our Nepali community is not very big and we all try to stay connected to each other in one way or another. We are trying to keep our culture intact in a different land, if at all possible. And if I end up having children, I want to be able to pass down cultural practices I grew up with. I want my children to have similar excitement and energy that I feel around the mothers in my life right now.
The question I asked myself at the end that day was if I would continue this in my life? Yes, of course, I will, but in my own way. It is not practical for me to stay in school or work all day and not eat. My brain and body needs food. Kudos to the women who can pull that off.
Teej is an important part of our culture but only as long as it is not being forced. I do not believe a woman needs to starve herself in order to prove her ‘loyalty’ or to prove she loves her husband or to secure her husband’s life. Teej shouldn’t be done as a burden, it should be done from the heart. It should be done because the woman wants to do it and it doesn’t hamper her health.
So, I’d like to challenge all the husbands/fiances out there to fast with their partners next year. If you cannot complete the barta, no big deal, just follow her for as long as you can. My husband refrained from eating until mid-afternoon this year, around the time I ate some fruits. However, to my disappointment, he did not dance. If all male partners followed, I’m sure all of us would love to see the ‘teejing’ husbands with their awesome dance moves.
*Editor’s note: I didn’t put a picture up for these 2 posts due to slow internet.