Teej or Haritalika is a festival of fasting, singing, dancing, and feast, celebrated by a large group of Hindu women in Nepal. It takes place in August or early September. The festival is a riot of red color with women dressed in red from head to foot. It is a fest to witnesses the enthusiastic display of music, dance, and devotion
Teej serves as a great opportunity for women bound to their homes to get a much welcome break away from their daily chores and duties and relax with their friends, neighbors, and relatives. The married ones are happily invited to their paternal homes after the farming season. It is a festival of women and girls who have reached puberty. In participating, the unmarried women believe they would find a good and healthy husband and married ones believe the happier married life is achieved and the longevity of their husbands get ensured.
Legends say the Goddess Parvati, the charming daughter of Parbat Raj- the King of Himalayas- worshipped to get Shiva as her husband. Legends say her father wanted her daughter to marry Lord Vishnu instead, but Parvati denied to marry rich and powerful Vishnu and ran away to the forest with the help of her close friends. She desperately wanted to marry her dream-boy, the Shiva. She had to undertake a religious meditation or tapasya to please Lord Shiva. It is said it painfully took her 108 rebirths to get to her goal. Lord Shiva once disguised himself as the rich Vishnu and tried to lure her to marry him. But Parvati was so adamant that she refused to marry anyone and continued her meditation. Plays and tricks by many including Shiva could not deter her devotion to Shiva. Seeing her unconditional and unwavering love towards him, Shiva knelt to her perseverance and devotion and agreed to marry Parvati.
Goddess Parvati is believed to have promoted the festival to commemorate her devotion. She as an ardent worshipper of Shiva asked every woman to worship Shiva promising them happy married lives and longevity of their husbands.
Three days of celebration
The day one
It is called the day of ‘Dar khane’ – or a day to enjoy delicious dishes. Married women are invited to visit their parental homes where they are treated like special with delicacies they love. As a special guest of honor, they are carefully looked after. It is a family reunion. They in groups visit temples, cook, and consume food they like. They join with friends, neighbors, and family in sharing, singing, and dancing together till midnight.
The day two
The second day is the fasting day or Nirjala Brata (fasting without water). This tradition of women spending the whole day without food and water is still being practiced by many even today. Many of them gather in public places, at crossroads or in front of Shiva temples decked up with all red attire like newly-wed bride and begin singing and dancing gleefully. This event gives women, old and young, an opportunity to redress or dress like a bride.
Pashupati temple receives tens of thousands of women feverish devotees this day. Worshipping of Shiva Linga, the phallic symbol of Shiva with flowers, oil lamps, and fruits mark the day. They beg Lord Shiva for the healthy life and longevity of their husbands. The unmarried girls worship Shiva to grant each of them a good and healthy husband in the future.
Women feverishly dance and sing. Their songs highlight discrimination, sufferings, agonies Nepali women face in their lives. Teej songs represent their rebellion. May it be price hikes, or any other social and women issues, it is a day for women to raise their voice and be defiant. Songs illustrate their emotions, grudges they have, and their response to it. When analyzed, Teej songs depict the hardships of women and their status in society. Participation of many non-Hindu women including foreign tourists in public indicate the accommodative nature of Nepal’s cultural life.
Politically the day of 8th of March is observed as the International Women’s Day worldwide. But in the case of Nepal, Teej, in a practical sense, is the social and cultural Women’s Day in Nepal. The day is observed with a national holiday throughout the country.
The day three
The third and the last day of the festival is Rishi Panchami when women pay homage to Sapta Rishi (seven holy sages) by giving donations. Women go to the rivers and worship a holy bath in the river. Believers say the holy bath that day would cleanse them of all their sins if performed devotedly. Lord Ganesh, the son of Shiva is also worshipped on the day. Then begins the feast again.
The festival is marked after the active plantation season and nearly at the end of the monsoon season. As the sky slowly gets cleared, the festival of Teej opens the door for numerous festivals to follow.