Do I celebrate Teej?

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Hindu Nepali women but we still have not been able to make progress on the Teej discourse beyond conservative and outdated religious beliefs.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 outBy 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).

texasnepal.comPhoto caption: Nepali women celebrating Teej. Image credit: TexasNepal.com

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?

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14 Responses to Do I celebrate Teej?

  1. Ayk17 says:

    If you start digging into objective basis and logic of a religious tradition, I tell you that all are pointless just like observing Easter, burning incense sticks in mandir, praying in synagogues and monasteries and so on. And please don’t bring in “women empowerment and rights” here. It has nothing to do with that. Yes, women feel obliged to fast but no one is forcing them (while families may expect them to do); most like doing that. Fasting by unmarried women is not a tradition in Teej. This is a recent development. Families don’t even encourage their daughters doing that. But some girls do that as a means of praying to god asking for a decent life partner.

    There is more to Teej apart from fasting and praying for husband’s life which you also have mentioned in the article. You are fair to argue that why don’t husbands do the same. Thing is it is NOT a tradition. Now if we think husbands should start the tradition of doing it then we should also think women should start paying their share of dinner/movie tickets when couples go out on date! Some traditions are evil and needs refining but if traditions (like Teej) are not hurting anyone, it’s best to keep them as they are. Else what will you pass down to future generation as heritage? Don’t say it is stupid to fast on Teej. Because it is only as stupid as – “submitting to god hoping for salvation”, doing good deeds looking for Nirvana, etc.

  2. I am glad you and your husband found a way to make it meaningful for both of you. I think it’s fabulous when husbands join. There is no festival in Nepali tradition in which the roles are reversed. I haven’t participated in any Teej festivities but maybe in the future I will.

  3. O says:

    I am 27, of Nepalese origin, not married (live with my partner) currently living in SE Queensland. I do not celebrate Teej. I find Teej a bit like a hen’s night, to be honest (as far as the vibe goes).
    My mom and her group of Nepalese female friends really love Teej. They put on a party the weekend before Teej for Dar. Men come to those too, sure, but men are an afterthought really, for Teej parties. It is probably the Nepalese function every year they dress up the most for. They dance. I think the Dar party also allows women a heightened amount of revelry.
    My mother or her friends do not do it for their husbands or because there is a pressure on them by family. They take the day off for Teej, dress up in their finery, visit the temple as a huge group of women, pray, congregate at one of their places and hang out afterwards.
    My mom does not fast. Well, she half arse fasts by eating “pure” foods or some such. I think she likes putting on an image to the Nepalese community that she is in touch with her culture/religion, so it suits her to eat a somewhat restricted diet and say, oh yes, I fast.
    I did not find Adhikari’s comments harsh at all. I felt like she was defending Teej because there is a group of people that feel that by celebrating Teej, even (and especially) if you are advantaged, you are supporting misogyny.

    • Thanks for your comments, O. I live in SE Queensland too in Brisbane! Your mum is like most Nepali didis and bhajaus I know – they love Teej. So do you not celebrate Teej because you think it’s supporting misogyny? I’d love to know why Nepalis like you don’t celebrate Teej because me being a feminist I questioned a lot of the significance of Teej when I first heard about it but didn’t find many Nepalis who challenged Teej like me. Would love to hear your thoughts

      • O says:

        I think it is, in part, because I do believe the festival is misogynist. But mostly because my partner has no expectation as he is not Nepalese and my family because I am not married. I feel I also have opportunities to dress up and let loose and be crude as I please. I have brunches and night outs for sisterly bonding. I am not saying my mom does not have those choices. Just that Teej as a one of the mediums for all that is what is “normal” to her and what she is the most comfortable with.

      • That’s interesting to know. Good to see you let loose too 🙂

  4. S.A. says:

    Very informative and educational post giving a small glimpse into the Nepalese culture and religion–prompting me to further research it and learn about it. By the way, I have only met one person from Nepal, sadly, I did not inquire much about his culture and country…now I wish I had.
    I appreciate your views and thoughts on this as it lends a different perspective– while also teaching those of us who marvel at the world from a distance– a bit more about a whole nation and it’s people(which I love learning). Off to research more about Nepal…after reading more here first of course 🙂

  5. bideshi in ktm says:

    If you lived here and saw Teej as it is played out, I think you’d think it was more of a party than a fast.

  6. pooja says:

    I am a young Nepali girl studying/living in Europe. And no, I have never celebrated Teej and I was never forced or suggested to do so. I have always found the Nepali dresses like kurta and sari to be uncomfortable and hence I never wear them. (Kurta I think is a little more comfortable). Although I never really participate, I like seeing how women (including my mother) are so happy and enjoy the feast. The fasting part I think is completely ridiculous, as far as the traditional significance of finding a good husband goes! It is beyond my understanding how a woman going hungry all day is related to the long life of her husband. I agree with writer Adhikari’s words you quote above.

    I saw a picture of my young friend who is now married and living in Australia with her husband feeding him water off traditional Nepali cutlery with the caption “My god” (mero parmeshwor – in Nepali) on Facebook during Teej. Yes, they looked happy but I don’t think an equal status can be achieved with such acts as considering your normal human husband “god” and acting like a crazed devotee yourself. I told about this to my Polish boyfriend who thought “as long as they are happy who cares. Women have fun during this festival, so what’s the problem”.

    With that said, I think Teej should be celebrated the way people like it, but the idea of undermining your own health and deliberately putting yourself in a status lower than your husband should be thrown out the window.

    • That woman’s comment is silly- “mero parmeshwor”. Why do so many women discount and devalue themselves? blahh. I guess it is the whole thing of women being treated less in society. That’s what my post “when Nepali women don’t even know what equality is” is all about 🙂

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