Sunday, September 12, 2010

In the Red: Teej and Pashupati

For the last three days, it has been the Hindu festival of Teej which has been losely translated for me as "women's day." During the festival, Nepali women dress up (usually in red), fast, and seek blessing at Shiva temples. The fast is preceded by a major feast and lots of dancing. The purpose of all this is to secure the long life of their husbands and children, to secure a happy marriage, and to seek absolution from any sins that the women may have accumulated in the prior year.

In case you're wondering - no, there is no equivalent festival for men.

In Kathmandu, the largest Teej celebration occurs at the Pashupatinath Temple, the oldest Hindu temple in Kathmandu. Conveniently, Pashupati is only a twenty minute walk from Boudha so some Fulbrighters and myself walked over to check out the festivities. The temple sits on the banks of the Bagmati river so we headed down to the river first. Despite being a particularly holy river to both Buddhists and Hindus, the river is fairly polluted. There's a lot of trash along the banks and agricultural run-off as well as sewage have left the river a murky gray color. This doesn't seem to stop people from bathing in it though. There are steps down to the water level at a number of points and many platforms, where funerals and the accompanying cremations are typically performed. In 2001, after the Royal Massacre, several members of the Nepali Royal family were cremated along the banks of the Bagmati. (Look for some summary of recent Nepali history and some political observations in a future post...)

The banks of the Bagmati. If you look closely there are some swimmers in the background.
Stairs down to the Bagmati.
Along the way to Pashupatinath Temple, we passed a smaller temple, and I took a few pictures...

At this point, we encountered the line to enter the Pashupatinath Temple. This probably stretched for at least a mile in two different directions. The line to enter the temple was separate from the general crowd, but it was still very crowded.

This is at least several hundred yards from the Temple and not even the end of the line...

That's the line on the left of the road.

Here's an enlargment from the previous photo. You can really see the crowd snake into the distance.

Street vendors were set up all along the street, music blared over loudspeakers, and there was dancing in a number of different locations. Being non-Hindus, we were not allowed to enter the Temple grounds but there was still plenty to see. And even if we had been allowed in, it would have been almost impossible to get in given the sheer size of the crowd. Actually, at one point we saw a woman being carried out of the crowd on a stretcher, after (I'm guessing) she collapsed from either dehydration or heat exhaustion.

Ornate roof from one of the buildings in the Pashupati Temple complex.

The shops had come out full force for the festival.
This was a field near the temple that wasn't so crowded. The structure in the background is a stage where women were dancing.
So after working through the crowd for half an hour or so, we were all tired and sweaty. After some deliberation, we decided to go to the Roadhouse Cafe for lemon soda (and, as it turned out, dinner). Despite being very expensive by Nepali standards (so like $8), the food was pretty good. I got pizza (i.e. a whole pizza), which turned out to be classic sicilian style and nearly as good as you'd expect in New York. This is also the only place I have been where you could plausibly find yourself inside and not know that you were in Nepal. The interior could have easily passed as a restaurant interior anywhere in the States.

Anyways, one cab ride home, a lazy evening, an early sleep, and that was Saturday. I had planned to go hiking today, but it was raining all morning so that will have to wait. Look for more posts in the next few days as I'm working on another recipe, two posts on political/development issues, and the still absent post on OGN...


  1. Hope you are well and the pictures look great! Sounds like you are having a fascinating time, we miss you!

  2. Fascinating. It's moving (oftentimes to the point of being scary) to see what people driven by faith will do. Can't wait to try your next recipe.

  3. Love the temple shots and man that's a long line! Yikes!!!

  4. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful...what an amazing thing to see! Thanks for that great post. : )