KATHMANDU, NEPAL – It’s midafternoon and the neighborhood of Gongabu in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, boasts a festive mood for Teej, a Hindu festival taking place today in which women fast in dedication to their husbands or future husbands.
Songs about the festival echo throughout the premises of the Kathmandu Vidya Kunja Secondary School. About 200 women, ranging in age from 15 and 70, gather here, all dressed in red. Some dance to the music, others clap, and some even play the “madal,” a traditional Nepali drum.
Draped in a red saree, Sabita Kafle, 30, wears red bangles on her wrists, red beads around her neck, vermillion on the parting of her hair and a green-beaded “tilahari,” a traditional necklace. All these symbols signify a married woman in Nepal.
Kafle, who has been dancing for half of the day with the other women in the crowd, hasn’t even had a sip of water. She says she is not going to be hungry or thirsty or even tired today during the fast. No one will stop her from dancing on one of the few Nepali public holidays just for women.
“It’s Teej today,” she says. “It’s a day of freedom.”
Teej, previously reserved for higher castes, is now a time of celebration for all Hindu women and their friends of other faiths as they fast for their husbands or future spouses. Today, women fast and visit the temple out of respect for their husbands, as well as dance and sing to celebrate their freedom to have a say in their marriages. Rural and urban women practice different Teej traditions, and some worry about the commercialism of the festival in recent years. But overall, women say it’s a time of unity and freedom.
Teej is an important day for Hindu women. Married women dedicate the festival to their husbands, as they fast for their husbands’ prosperity and long lives. On the other hand, unmarried women also fast on this day in hopes of marrying the men they desire or finding a good husband.
The festival of Teej usually falls during the month of August or September. Women in rural areas call this perfect timing as it falls between the time of planting and harvest, so they’re not busy on the farms and can spend the day dancing and singing with family and friends.
Teej also marks the beginning of festival season in Nepal. Two weeks after Teej, the country, and especially the capital, observes the Indra Jatra, the festival dedicated to the god of rain, followed by Nepal’s biggest festivals, Dashain and Tihar.
Teej is a festival originally reserved for the Brahmin and Chhetri, higher castes in Nepal. But it’s now celebrated by Hindu women of all castes, who are also joined by female friends of other faiths. Gathering for songs and dances has become a Teej ritual throughout Nepal for rural and urban women alike.
Pandit Narayan Prapannacharya, who has a master’s degree in Hindu religion, literature and philosophy, says the year women began