As I entered through the wide open the doors, a virtual sea of red overwhelmed me. My first impression was that of entering into a world that closely resembled the fabled ‘eastern bazaar’ described in tales such as ‘Marcopolo’s Travels’, ‘Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves’ and ‘Thief of Baghdad’. It was a colourful setting all right, what with the large number of stalls displaying saris and kurta suruwals (with the colour red predominating); shawls and bedcovers (many-hued); handicrafts; shoes and sandals; shampoos and cosmetics; plasticware and kitchen utensils; etc., etc. And, oh yes, I mustn’t forget―lots and lots of glass bangles. Red and green and yellow; golden and silver and metallic coloured―bangles were what were most conspicuously on view at the Teej Festival (actually a fair) held from July 30 to August 2, 2009, at the World Trade Centre in Tripureswar, Kathmandu. Well, that event was four years ago, no doubt, but the same kind of affair has been held almost every year without fail at one venue or the other in the Capital.
And, without fail, bangles are what have always been at the focus of attention at these fairs. This, one must hasten to say, is as to be expected, because after all, bangles are to Teej what colour is to holi, that is, the soul of the festivities. Another thing that was very noticeable at the above-mentioned event was that the swarming crowd consisted mostly of women. And again, this was as to be expected, because after all, Teej is a festival of, by and for women. However, men are not totally excluded from this festival since the fasting and prayers of the womenfolk are meant to invoke Lord Shiva’s blessings for marital bliss and the longevity and good health of their men folk. In the case of unmarried women, blessings are sought to grant them husbands as virile as Shiva himself. So, all in all, it’s a festival for all.
The festival falls on or around August end or early September every year (28th August 2014, this year) and is a three-day long affair. According to the religious texts, Goddess Parbati fasted and prayed earnestly for Lord Shiva to become her husband. Her fervor aroused the mighty Shiva from his state of deep meditation in Mount Kailash. He was so impressed with Parbati’s zeal that he agreed to tie the knot with the determined maiden. Inspired by this rousing tale of the gods, mortal women also started the tradition of fasting for the prosperity and longevity of their families. Thus, the Teej festival was born.
During the festival, women, married and unmarried, throng the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, lining up patiently for hours on end to worship Shiva (actually, they worship the Shiva Lingum, the phallic symbol of the God of Creation and Destruction). They are all dressed almost completely in red. The main part of the festival is the fasting that goes with it. It’s not just some ordinary fasting that we are talking about here, oh no, this one is really serious stuff—the women don’t even let a drop of water down their parched throats the whole day—and there are umpteen cases of women fainting and having to be rushed to hospital on that day. This type of fasting is being increasingly discouraged today, citing it as not being in the best interest of health, particularly the health of the thinner ones among the women. Of course, that is not to say that preparatory steps are not taken to ease the pain of such serious fasting. The night before the big day, married women get to gorge on specially prepared food sent by their mothers. ‘Gorge’ might sound a bit theatrical, but actually, gorge is what they do! The food is rich and heavily laden with calories and the women spend the evening before the fasting day putting down as much as they can. This is an event in itself and is accompanied by a lot of dancing and singing late into the night.
And, the next day too, the women dance a lot throughout the day. Digestion of all that heavy food, guaranteed! Actually, all said and done, Teej is a festival that celebrates womanhood, and is a great occasion for women to fraternize with members of their own species.