Teej is a Hindu women’s festival celebrated in Nepal and some parts of India. The origins of Teej and its real significance is a topic of debate depending on who you talk to. You can read one version of the definition of Teej by Wikipedia and an alternative version of its modern day meaning by Indra Adhikari here.
During Teej, women celebrate by dancing and feasting then they fast and pray to Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati in the hope of blessing them with ‘marital bliss’.
It’s also been explained to me openly by Nepali men and women as a festival by which married women fast and pray for the long lives of their husbands and single women fast and pray in the hope of ‘finding a good husband’.
After a day of feasting on delicious foods, singing and dancing, women will then fast for 24 hours by not eating anything and some true followers won’t even drink water during this time.
They will then go to the mandir, (usually the next day after feasting and dancing) and pray and give offerings to Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati.
Traditionally, it’s thought that women who fast and pray will ensure her husband’s life is longer and that his health will be enhanced.
Adhikari who holds a Phd from Jawaharlal Nehru University writes:
“People mistakenly think that fasting during Teej will prolong the husband’s life and enhance his health. Such an understanding not only insults women but also society as a whole. By prioritising ‘living for others’ instead of one’s own progress, women are deliberately placing themselves below others. Fasting during Teej is common among practicing Hindu Nepali women but we still have not been able to make progress on the Teej discourse beyond conservative and outdated religious beliefs.
She continues…“The truth is, most women still have no say on where, when and with whom they are going to marry. Their choices and interests are still sidelined by parents who choose a husband for them. Only societal prestige, family lineage and maturity from every angle are the criteria for choosing a prospective bridegroom. This is done with the anticipation that the man will then control and take care of the daughter. So, for parents, marriage marks freedom from their responsibility of taking care of their daughters, both socially and legally. In this situation, praying for an appropriate life partner for marriage is the only option for girls. And this supposed ‘right’ to choose an appropriate partner is linked to Parbati’s struggle to get Shiva as her husband. This central message is still relevant in Nepali society. Addionally, the mobility of women is still largely restricted after marriage.”
“Similarly, there is no doubt a close relation between the progress and the well-being of the husband and the happiness of a wife. But there is no objective, scientific correlation between a woman staying hungry throughout the day by harming their health and the well-being of her husband. So women need to prioritise their own selves to be self-dependent and influence society. Festivals should aim for the well-being of all humankind, society and civilisation.”
I agree with almost all statements made here by Adihkari. I find it ludicrous that I should fast for my’s husband long life. Of course I want him to live long but I don’t think by me not eating that I could make him live longer. Plus I think it would be different if you were not just fasting and praying for your husband, but for yourself and your children as well.
Adikhari also writes that Teej is actually a symbol of liberation and a form of rebellion, rather than submission “Teej is also a time for women to express their suffering through songs and dance. These songs and dances are a way to voice opinions about existing evil practices in society. Women, then, sing of the feelings they have suppressed for long and rejoice.”
To be honest, I hadn’t heard that side of the issue before.
Another article by a Nepali lady who does not celebrate Teej because she does not believe in it says “some women want to fast for their husband and some feel forced too”.
She also did some research on the modern day Nepali woman’s observance of Teej and wrote “one article that said maybe the wives should encourage their men to go to the gym and cut down on greasy food, smoking and alcohol if they want their men to live longer. Amen to that writer.” You can read her article here.
Usually during Teej, women will leave their in-laws home and return to their maternal home (mother’s home) and celebrate with her sisters, brothers’ wives etc.
This is another school of thought on Teej; that women enjoy Teej because they get to return to their own family during Teej and get a break from the rigours of daily chores.
I think it’s up to a woman whether or not she celebrates Teej and I don’t judge others because I see both sides of the story but my personal belief is that Teej, in its traditional form, is another example of women being treated less than men. As Adhikari points out ‘By prioritising ‘living for others’ instead of one’s own progress, women are deliberately placing themselves below others.’
The first thing I said to Rabindra when I was told about Teej is “I will fast for your long life, if you fast for my long life. I mean, what’s the point, if you are living longer and I die younger. You will just be alone.” He laughed and agreed.
Rabindra does not believe in the overall idea of Teej. Why? He is not overly religious and believes there is no way that he will live longer as a result of me fasting and praying for him.
However Rabindra’s family celebrate Teej and he did grow up with the festival. Being abroad for as long as Rabindra has, it’s also important to maintain Nepali culture and festivals are a great way to do this.
Being abroad and in the modern day, men will usually celebrate with their wives enjoying dancing, drinking, feasting and playing cards (but not fasting or praying).
In the modern day, there has been other criticisms of Teej.
Many women nowadays in Nepal use it as an excuse to acquire more gold, more saris and they celebrate for weeks on end with endless dancing and feasting.
Nepali women who travel abroad also question the roots of the festival because they have learnt more about women’s empowerment and women’s rights.
Nepali women abroad, my friends included, celebrate Teej but they will eat fruits and yoghurt on the fasting day because they are working in physical jobs.
They have also adapted the fasting and praying to not just be about their husband, but their children and family as well which is their way of taking of a traditional festival but modernising it their own way.
I’ve asked Rabindra in the past what he thinks about me fasting and he says it’s stupid and that I shouldn’t do it. Because I am not Hindu, I also do not pray to God however I do support him being a Hindu.
But he did say that he would like it if I dressed up in sari (he loves seeing me in sari 🙂 and that if I want to I could dance and sing to Nepali songs with other ladies as well/
I liked the idea of this and that is how I have celebrated the past few years. Like others abroad with no family, Rabindra’s friends celebrate with their husbands too, not just females.
So there you go, yes I do celebrate Teej and like many other modern Nepali women, it’s not in the traditional sense but it’s in a way that me and my husband have agreed on where we can still enjoy the festival and celebrate our links to Nepal but be comfortable about what the significance of the festival means for us rather than shunning it all together. Some might say, it’s missing the entire meaning of the festival, but anyway that’s a choice that we, and other modern couples, have made.
To my readers, do you celebrate Teej? Do you celebrate Teej the traditional way or have you adapted modern ways of celebrating Teej?
What do you think of Adihkari’s comments on Teej? Are they too harsh?