Presenting The Absence: A Contrapuntal Reading of the Maita in Nepali Teej Songs
This paper seeks to underscore the fact that much before the arrival of Western feminism in Nepal with its vocabulary of protest and polemics, the discourse of right and fight, the Nepali women have a long complex and ambivalent genealogy of protest in the genre of Teej songs. However, such discourses have been rendered invisible by the dominant epistemology that derives its ideological sustenance from the Eurocentric and Enlightenment paradigm of knowledge production. The collusion of native patriarchy with the dominant epistemological system can be located in the absence of any systematic engagement with the Teej songs in the indigenous academia. Through Nepali women’s complex and highly nuanced conceptualization of the maita (the parental home) and the ghar (the house where women get married into), the paper seeks to show how Nepali women problematize not only the Western construction of the silenced native subaltern, but also the erasure of Nepali women’s voice in the construction of ‘knowledge’ by the native patriarchy.
The paper further seeks to underscore the changing contours of maita and Teej in the urban production and consumption of Teej in the era of market economy and globalization. The spatial as well as the religious underpinnings undergo a seismic shift as we journey from the originary to the urban; from the ‘purity’ of the folk to the hybridity of the metropolitan. Firstly, with mass mobility due to the introduction of the modern means of transport and communication, space sheds much of its oppressive quality for women. Secondly, with the growing power of democracy, modernity, western rationality and globalization, the religious aspect of Tīj experiences a significant change. When the context that underpinned the spatial and l religious axes of Tīj, that is, the vast distance between parental home and the in-law’s home, and deification of the husband as mentor and god have changed, the urban Tīj often expresses these standard tropes almost as anachronisms, contradictions.
The urban Tīj enacts a carnivalesque de-bunking of the māita’s “halo” in two different ways. Firstly, in the urban Tīj there is almost a snapping of the umbilical cord of Tīj with the māita. Women’s construction of alternative celebratory spaces in party venues, in auditoria, in each other’s houses undermines the site of the māita as an indispensable existential signifier. It is difficult to imagine the māita without the Law of the Father: going home on Tīj is going to the home of the Father. In conducting celebrations in auditoria and friends’ homes, women move away from the phallocentricity of the māita rendering it less important. The birth of the māita as a space is predicated upon the symbolic and ritual death of the daughter in marriage. The urban women’s moving away from this place, is thus the inauguration of new spaces outside the māita that are life-affirming and existentially celebratory. The women’s relocation of Tīj is symbolic of their empowerment. In the rural binary spatialization, if the ghar is conceived as a space of drudgery and tyranny, the māita is conceived of as a space of recuperation, renewal, plenitude, and fulfillment. The celi needed periodic rescue and recuperation at the māita. In women’s realignment of space in urban locations, women have created new spaces of renewal and recuperation – a rejection of their vulnerability and victimhood.
Questioning the idealized constructions of maita and the erasure of women’s construction of an a complex alternative epistemology of the maita in the old Teej songs, the paper makes a shift to the cityscape of Kathmandu and critically scrutinizes and unravels the ‘carnivalization’ of the maita in the urban praxis of Teej.