Ours is a tradition where a touch of sanctity is given to the unique bond of matrimony. People not only give this connection utmost importance but there are several festivals celebrated in this context.
One such festival celebrated throughout the northern states of India such as Rajasthan, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana as well as Nepal is ‘Teej’. ‘Teej’ literally means the third day after the full and new moon and there are three types of Teej celebrated, namely Haryali (Green), Kajari and Hartalika Teej.
According to the Hindu mythology, it is said that after Sati (first consort of Shiva) left the world by immolating her mortal body, Shiva detached himself from all worldly affairs and withdrew himself to the mountains, taking solace in meditation and ascetic isolation. Goddess Parvati then went through a total of 108 birth and re-birth cycles until Lord Shiva took notice of her unswerving dedication and accepted her love by agreeing to marry her. Teej festival celebrates this very devotion which was exhibited by Parvati and the unison of the divine couple. Another reason why Teej is celebrated is to welcome the arrival of the monsoon season.
In most homes, the arrival of Teej brings about a wave of exuberance and bliss. What connects me the most to this feast is a vivid memory of this little girl, asking her mother about a devotional procession, when she saw women in the neighbourhood were out on the streets with an idol of Teej Mata. And her mum, trying to explain to her in simple language about this festival and the traditions accompanying it. I also remember, all the married women around my house would dress up in traditional attire with hues of green or red, wear bangles, apply vermilion and intricate designs of henna on their hands. The parents and in-laws of married women would give them ‘Sindhare’ which were gift like packages containing Ghewar (sweet), henna, bangles, traditional attire etc.
Since childhood, I have seen various flavours of this celebration back home, and now here in Australia. The Indian and Nepali Community in Melbourne and other cities across Australia gathers together in this merrymaking. They eat, pray, sing, dance and follow the rituals and customs, as did our previous generations. Some traditions haven’t changed a bit, like women keeping fast for their husband’s long life and marital bliss. The unmarried girls fast as well, for a perfect future husband.
Our societal beliefs have always associated this festivity as a practise relevant to women. And, looking at my friends and colleagues talk about finding an ideal husband as well as marital bliss, simply by fasting, makes me question this ideology. As a culture, we talk about gender equality, women empowerment and education but then we have traditions like these where girls are taught that by fasting, they find unequalled partners. Aren’t these customs fuelling the fire of problems like patriarchy and dominance of one race which we have been trying to put off for a while?
My opinion here is not against the festival and its spirit but some of the traditions that have emerged from the past and perhaps need some variation as per the present day. Science backs that fasting serves hygienic purposes of cleansing and purifying the body. If performed properly this has several benefits for the body. Shouldn’t that then be done by both men and women? And, aren’t men an equal part of this sweet union between two different but very strong divine energies?
I leave this for the readers to decide whether we should become patrons of traditions like these that slacken our growth or take a while to think why these beliefs originated in the first place. And, from there modify them into something that benefits us as a society while keeping the spirit, meaning and our history alive.
By Archita Baweja
(Archita Baweja of Melbourne is an engineer by profession but a writer at heart)
More from Archita: Jagannath Ratha Yatra: A conflux of our tradition and belief