September 10, 2014

NEPAL: THE CHANGING MEANING OF TEEJ THAT MEN SHOULD UNDERSTAND

[However hypothetically, if we were to take the dar eating away from Teej brata, the long colourful queues in the temples could possibly shrink to a trickle. Therefore, if anything, those long and colourful queues of women are nothing less than a resounding reminder particularly to those males who still happen to harbor their macho mindset that a great wave of women's liberation is in the making and is sure to engulf them too, sooner rather than later. Therefore, the best bet yet for men would lie in coming to terms with the changes that are taking place in women all around them. As for Sarita Girijee, she too would soon find out that her best bet as a politician too lies in ingratiating those liberated women by rejoining them in their ever lengthening queues around Shiva temples.]


By Bihari Krishna Shrestha

I like Shree Sarita Giri's contribution to this Teej debate very much, particularly, allowing the readers a rare peek into the dynamics of her own transition in life, occasioned in no small measure, by her own education and newly acquired perspective on equality between sexes.


For instance, initially, following her marriage she too observed Teej Brata. But then, in later years, she had a change of heart, saw something in it that she thought was "unequal" if not demeaning altogether for women, and stopped observing it, even as she continues to respect the beliefs and practices of other women who go about celebrating the festivity to their hearts' content. While, at the face of it, her refusal to observe Teej must have sent its own shockwaves to the rest of the members in her household including her husband, it must have contributed to establishing a new balance of power in their relationship to each other which all of them continues to find rewarding. This is how new values, beliefs and norms are absorbed and integrated into the society. I am sure Sarita jee is not the lone change maker in this regard. She is probably a part of a large wave of change - for equal status for women  - that is engulfing the entire society in an increasingly accelerated pace.

However, there seems to be an apparently contrary wave too in the making. With every passing year, there seems to be more and more women joining the ranks of the Teej celebrators as seen in the highly engrossing TV visuals, dedicated commercials and musicals, even as the duration of celebration too is getting longer and longer, now weeks before the actual day of Teej .

Traditionally, the observance of what is ritually known as "dar khane" or "dar eating", the pre-Brata indulgence in ingestion of good food is observed within the four walls of the household. However, with the country going through major socio-economic transformation that has put more money in the hands of increasing number of people, it seems to have made its inroads into the Teej celebrations too through its relatively more materialistic dar eating window.


Given the fact that the country is predominantly Hindu - not only the Hindu caste groups but also similar ethnic groups - it is the Hindu middle class that is undergoing an implosion of sorts, i.e. there are more people joining the ranks of the middle class in the society. A major change lately in the observance of Teej festival has been that dar eating has broken loose of the traditional four walls of the households and has now reincarnated itself as a "community affair" of like-minded and relatively well-heeled women who now get together to celebrate the event in a more organized manner that particularly highlights sartorial exhibitionism, singing and dancing and of course, lavish food. The event would be organized by either somebody going about collecting individual cash donations from prospective participants for collective dar eating; or it could be an exclusive affair of even better-placed women organizing it as an in-group event with each of the members of this elite club hosting them in rotation. Either way, celebrating Teej, particularly its dar eating part has emerged as an arena where one establishes her middle class or elite credentials. Participating in dar eating has now become a status symbol and therefore, a must if you want to announce your own upward economic mobility to the rest of the society. This is happening with or without men's consent. In orther words, women now exercise so much power to make their decision to participate in these revelry prevail that men can now dissent only at their own peril. With women's education on the rise in tandem with their economic mobility, most men now have no option but to give in.

Since dar eating and Teej fasting have been a package deal traditionally - that is,  if you engage in dar eating, you must fast too - this economic shift is therefore sending more women, dressed more colourfully, to join the ever lengthening queues in and around the Shiva shrines, Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu in particular, in the country. So, where do the men stand in all this development? For one thing, men as husbands must not read too much in the long queues of their women around those Shivite shrines. Given the tectonic shifts taking place in Nepali society economically as described above, they do not necessarily mean that women are now devoted to their husbands in larger numbers.

However hypothetically, if we were to take the dar eating away from Teej brata, the long colourful queues in the temples could possibly shrink to a trickle. Therefore, if anything, those long and colourful queues of women are nothing less than a resounding reminder particularly to those males who still happen to harbor their macho mindset that a great wave of women's liberation is in the making and is sure to engulf them too, sooner rather than later. Therefore, the best bet yet for men would lie in coming to terms with the changes that are taking place in women all around them. As for Sarita Girijee, she too would soon find out that her best bet as a politician too lies in ingratiating those liberated women by rejoining them in their ever lengthening queues around Shiva temples.