Follow-up to “A Holiday for the Modern Woman”

14 09 2010
Teej Dance

This pre-Teej gathering captures the spirit of the holiday.

Though I still feel that Teej is one of the most patriarchal holidays ever, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I can’t comment on all the patriarchal bits without hurting people’s feelings, so you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you that Hindu women seem to enjoy less equality than many of the non-Hindu women of Nepal.

The place to be on Teej, if you’re a Kathmandu Hindu woman, is Pashupatinath Temple (more commonly referred to as Pashupati). Foreigners outside of Nepal and India, assumed to be non-Hindu, are not allowed inside Pashupati but can only observe from across the river. Because of this and the fact that my sister-in-law didn’t want to stand in the entrance line for 3 hours on an empty stomach (she fasted), we watched the festivities on TV. Very reminiscent of watching the New Year’s Eve Times Square ball drop on TV. So, it ended up being a very relaxing holiday. No purifying bath in the polluted sacred river required.

My sister-in-law invited me to watch her worship rituals in the family’s special mini-temple, which was very sweet of her. Their temple room is located on their roof and is filled with pictures of the main gods/goddesses and the ones that are dearest to family. There are probably 5,000+ Hindu gods/goddesses – plenty to choose from! Worship (puja in Nepali) requires flowers, fruits, nuts, rice, oil and water libations from special containers, pigmented powders for tika (the colored paste applied to foreheads as a blessing), and various other materials. Listening to the mantras was very soothing, as meant to be, and she was very good about explaining her actions as she went along. The lighting of oil-soaked cottons placed in elaborate copper containers blesses her husband. Application of tika to this fruit or nut honors such-and-such gods. The whole thing was very touching and reinforced the notion that it probably matters more what kind of person you are and how you treat others. What you believe and how you practice your faith are window dressing.

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4 responses

19 09 2010
william allen

I know some faiths will allow a non-believer to participate, to allow the person a more complete view of their faith. Are you or do you plan on taking part in their faith?

20 09 2010
Kathryn Hagy

Hi William,

I’ll try to give a short answer because this is a complex issue. Being married to a Nepali Hindu man for the past 8 years, I have taken part in many Nepali family traditions and Hindu religious celebrations. There is a Hindu temple in Cedar Rapids, in fact, with a warm and welcoming community of people from various Hindu cultures. In Nepal, however (and this isn’t true in every Hindu culture) there are signs at nearly every Hindu temple banning non-Hindu foreigners from entering. There are several world religions that seek or welcome converts, but Hinduism (at least in Nepal) is not one of them. Even if I were to convert, I am still a foreigner. Within the Hindu caste system, foreigners are technically considered “Untouchables” or Dalits. I can’t begin to explain the caste system or Untouchables in this reply so I’m going to let you research that one on your own. Also, Western foreigners are automatically suspected of being beef-eaters and since cows are sacred, this is another strike against me. All that aside, not everyone supports this rigid caste system and Nepali family and friends are very gracious and welcoming when it comes to including me (see follow-up post on Teej). Hinduism is an ancient and fascinating religion and there have been attempts in the last 50+ years to modernize it in keeping with social reforms.

Kathryn

16 09 2010
Lindsey

You mentioned there being thousands of pictures of gods. Do these people pray to them while they are in the building? If so, how do they decide which one to pray to? In other words, do each of the gods have a significant characteristic or value?

17 09 2010
Kathryn Hagy

Hi Lindsey,

The temple I was referring to was a private temple but there are temples and shrines all over Kathmandu, each devoted to different deities. Many of these shrines are out in the open and not necessarily in a building (the concept of sacred space is different here). Each deity or god represents something different. For example, Ganesh (the elephant-headed god) is very popular because he brings luck. If a Hindu needs some extra luck one day, he or she might visit a Ganesh shrine or worship an image of Ganesh at home. Other gods are popular in specific geographic regions, maybe because an event in the god’s life occurred in that spot. And some families will worship gods that are meaningful to their family or clan for historical reasons that maintain the family traditions. Because the gods are embodied in images or sculptures, the artwork here is incredible. I’ll try to include some shrine images soon!

Kathryn

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