Being in Nepal for the first time in September, I looked forward to discovering Teej, the holiday that brides celebrate with pomp at the end of the monsoon. However, I would never have imagined the glare that Pavitra and Maya gave me when I saw them come out all in red dressed and adorned with their most beautiful jewels. I seemed to contemplate in them the shakti, the feminine energy that gives Hinduism its unique fervor. That day, my neighbors were getting ready to welcome their relatives and friends for an evening of celebration, embellished with a delicious feast, before entering into the great asceticism of the next day.
The life of a Hindu woman is punctuated by a series of monthly fasts for the benefit of her family. Most of the time, she is satisfied with fruit and milk. However, no austerity can surpass that of Teej where, for twenty-four hours, she takes no food or drink. This absolute fast is performed for the health, longevity and prosperity of her husband. It is the manifestation of the sacred bond of marriage which gives it its full identity within society.
Despite the harshness of the asceticism they practice during this religious festival, my neighbors showed no sadness. On the contrary ! Freed for the occasion from household constraints, they spent two hours of the morning getting ready in their finery, braiding scarlet ribbons in their long hair, not to mention the tilahari and the mate, these glass necklaces and bracelets that adjust so elegantly to the curves of their bodies. For the occasion, Pranisha, Pavitra’s new daughter-in-law, brought out her precious red bridal sari to celebrate her first Teej.
Throughout the day, the streets of Kathmandu resounded with joyous processions towards the temples where each wife could entrust her husband to Shiva, the hermit god whom the heroic penance of Parvati had made bend, diverting him from his solitary retreat in the Himalayas to marry with her in righteous marriage. After paying homage to the divinity, the women filled the courtyards to embark on joyful dances in a spiritual joy that fasting did not succeed in attenuating. Elsewhere, groups have formed to sing traditional Teej songs that exalt pride in being a wife or tell of the hardships of the home – a fickle husband or tyrannical mother-in-law – and longing for the dead, the paternal home. A moving outlet, in the female fraternity, of a sometimes thankless daily life.
In the evening, Pavitra invited me to the puja, Teej Haritalika’s specific prayer. Along with the Hindu priest, we were the only men present in the richly decorated room. For two hours, I was fascinated by the rites performed, all imbued with the tantric esotericism so prevalent in Nepal. I marveled at the nobility of my friends and the intensity of their devotion. So far from Western incantations and other theories of the genre, I was faced with an obvious fact – one that Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once exalted in unforgettable words: “The eternal feminine”.