21-year-old Januka Shrestha confesses of being quite excited about the ‘dar’ that’s being organized at the institute she’s enrolled in for a diploma in fashion design. According to Shrestha, Teej is what she considers to be the ‘biggest festival for Nepali women’ and she feels the buzz leading up to the festival is an important aspect of it.
“I’m going to wear a pink and yellow sari that I’ve designed myself especially for the festival,” says Shrestha who is one of the many young women who get excited at the prospect of Teej. Shrestha mentions that she has celebrated this festival ever since she got her periods and that she genuinely enjoys spending it with other women who are important in her life. “It’s the one day we get to spend focusing on our own enjoyment,” she says adding that she loves getting dressed up head to toe in red, as is the norm, on Teej.
Like Shrestha, Radhika Ghimire has also celebrated Teej since her preteen years. Ghimire mentions that seeing her mother all dolled up in red and enjoying herself with family and friends was what made her want to follow in her footsteps and celebrate the festival. However, she only started fasting during Teej after learning about why the festival was celebrated in the first place and the cultural significance it had in our society. Now, Shrestha, who is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Rural Development, views Teej as one of the only female centric Nepali festivals that has a lot of cultural and historical importance.
The story Shrestha is talking about is the tale of goddess Parvati fasting and meditating during the ‘Shukla Paksha Tritiya’ of Bhadra according to the Nepali Calendar, in a bid to get Lord Shiva as her husband. According to the Hindu mythology, because the goddess eventually did get married to Lord Shiva, Hindu women started fasting on this day both to get a ‘good husband’ as well as to pray for his long life.
But this idea about fasting to get a ‘good husband’ doesn’t settle well with everyone. 20-year-old Evasana Pradhan personally believes that celebrating this kind of festival in this day and age when people are finally talking about feminism and women’s rights is doing a disservice to these movements. She says that she knows the festival was important historically as even until a few decades ago women were oppressed in the society and Teej was one of the few occasions when they were relieved of household chores and could enjoy themselves.
“I’m all for women having fun and enjoying themselves on this day but fasting, without even drinking water, with the belief that this will force the gods to bless your husband with a long life, just doesn’t feel right to me,” says Pradhan, a second year student of Computer Engineering at Kathmandu Engineering College.
19-year-old Jenny Sherpa is also on the same page as Pradhan when it comes to the reasoning behind Teej celebrations. While she likes the idea of women coming together to dance, sing, and have fun in the days leading up to Teej and on the actual day as well, she abhors the idea that all of it is done for the sake of the men in their lives.
What also bothers Sherpa is the fact that lavish ‘dar’ parties are the norm these days. It seems nobody organizes a small quiet event anymore, and in many families there’s an undeclared competition of sorts to see who throws a great one. Sherpa laments that it has become a display of wealth and status in the society. She claims that she knows people who have actually borrowed money to throw a ‘dar’ party or buy ‘appropriate’ gold jewelry and designer saris to flaunt at these ceremonies.
Manasi Oli, a first year bachelor’s student at Ace Institute of Management, says she thinks Teej celebrations are important to forge connections within families and communities. But she adds that lavish parties under the guise of ‘dar’ can have a negative impact in the society. This can foster resentment and worse lead to financial crises.
“My mother organizes small ‘dar’ program at home every year and invites only immediate family members. It’s really fun and planning it doesn’t stress my mother out either,” says the 19-year-old adding that these ‘dar’ parties at home are exactly what a ‘dar’ is supposed to be – a fun meal with a few close relatives and friends. Oli herself doesn’t celebrate Teej but she sees how happy her mother is every time the festival rolls around and that makes her appreciate the culture of even praying for the husbands.
Although everyone had his/her own reasons behind celebrating or not celebrating Teej, everyone this scribe spoke to agreed that it was an individual choice. Some perceived Teej as anti-feminist while others believed it was a reason to make merry and nothing more.
However, it definitely seemed like Teej gets mixed reactions from the youngsters. Neither were they all against it nor were they completely for it.
Rashmi Thapa, 24, feels the festival has been blown out of proportion these days. In many families, the need to give expensive gifts to near and dear ones can cost a fortune and send your budget out of whack, she says. Not only that, on the day of the festival, many fast without drinking water and that can be especially problematic for those who are on certain medications like those taking blood pressure or diabetes medicines.
“Your health shouldn’t suffer. You should only do however much you can handle. Otherwise, it can be a good detox day,” she says adding that her mother observes a strict fast whenever she can but there have been times when she has had teas and juices throughout the day and just abstained from proper meals. Thapa adds that as far as Teej being anti-feminist is concerned, it does feel a bit unfair that only women to have to do this for their husbands. “Why can’t it be both ways? The men should fast too,” she says.
Apeksha Chalise, 20, a second year bachelor’s student at Kathmandu School of Law, believes that when it comes to cultural and religious celebrations, one can’t always view it from a feminist perspective. “I don’t celebrate Teej myself but I don’t really see a problem with the celebrations. If you’re doing it because you want to then you shouldn’t stop because of other people’s criticism. But no one should force you into it either,” she concludes.