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Take Back Teej

Heather Webb | PostedSeptember 28th, 2012 | Nepal

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Teej is largely recognized in the Hindu world as a day for women.  But is it really?

Every year, hundreds of thousands of women in Nepal celebrate Hindu festival Teej.  Hindu women love Teej because they are permitted to rest from housework and fieldwork and visit their maternal homes, reconnecting with mothers, sisters, childhood friends; women dress up in fancy red sarees and intricate ornaments and spend the day dancing, singing, and laughing.

Teej Celebrations!
Teej Celebrations!

Teej Celebrations!

But underneath all of the festivities that appear to be about women, Teej is really about men – and women’s subordination to men.

Teej has its roots in Hindu mythology, celebrating the union of Goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva.  Goddess Parvati spent 12 reclusive years trying to prove her love to lord Shiva, finally winning him as her husband after fasting – going without even a drop of water – for 24 hours out of devotion to Shiva.  Parvati charted her own destiny by doing everything in her power to claim Shiva as her partner.  Thus, the example of Parvati is meant to empower women to achieve happy matrimony in their own lives.

Call me a crazy feminist, but I do not think that teaching young women that spending 12 years hidden away in a forest dedicating oneself to getting the man of one’s dreams is productive or empowering for women and girls.

Hindu women are permitted to rest from housework and fieldwork during Teej so that they are able to fast for 24 hours out of worship of their husbands and prayer for the long lives of their husbands (or future husbands if they are unmarried).  Questioning the equity of such a ritual, WRRP Executive Director Samita Pradhan, asks “if women are worshiping for the well-being of their families, are the men equally involved in that wish?  Is there a day when men wish for the long lives of women?”

The answer is no, there is not.

However, what the vast amount of Hindu women see in Teej is a day off, when they are able to spend a few days in their maternal home, sharing feelings and experiences among one another, and getting dressed up to dance and celebrate with one another.  And who can blame them when such restful, happy breaks are so rare?

WRRP Celebrates Teej at Pashupatinath
WRRP Celebrates Teej at Pashupatinath

WRRP Celebrates Teej at Pashupatinath

So, instead of campaigning against Teej, WRRP decided to take back Teej for the Hindu women of Nepal.  Women who gathered last week at the Hindu temple area of Pashupatinath, located in Kathmandu, all decked out in beautiful clothing and jewelry and ready to celebrate, were able to do so with WRRP, which took advantage of the day to raise awareness about women’s rights and women’s health.

WRRP decided to capitalize on the freedom and power of women during Teej with the objective that “women always feel the way they do on Teej”, Samita told me.

WRRP Celebrates Teej
WRRP Celebrates Teej

WRRP Celebrates TeejWRRP Banner at Teej

WRRP Banner at Teej
WRRP Banner at Teej

WRRP Banner at Teej

Professional singers performed at WRRP’s stall at Pashupatinath in Dohori-style – a conversational singing style – intermixing traditional Teej songs with witty conversational singing about various women’s issues, such as proper care during pregnancy, family planning methods, mother-in-law/daughter-in-law dynamics, and the importance of open communication.

Dohori Singers
Dohori Singers

Dohori Singers

It is hard to escape that women in Nepal love Teej.  This was evident from the sea of smiles in red sarees at Pashupatinath last week.  But, as Samita asks, “what about the other 364 days of the year?”

Please enjoy the video below, which offers a glimpse of the Teej celebrations at Pashupatinath last week!

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2 Responses to “Take Back Teej”

  1. Heather Webb says:

    Thank you, Andrew!

    Yes, it was a joyous, happy day at Pashupatinath – lots of dancing and singing! :) Yes, I really liked WRRP’s approach to make the day their own – matching the celebratory atmosphere, while also increasing awareness about important issues to women.

  2. Andrew says:

    From your photos, it does seem like they really love this celebration! Good job using the opportunity to spread the word about WRRP’s work and women’s health tips in a fun way that fit in with the mood of the day.

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Fellow: Heather Webb

Womens Reproductive Rights Program


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