Teej, the festival of swings, falls on Sunday. The vibrant Marwari community in the city is ready to celebrate it with music, dance and food

Krishna Agarwal’s eyes gleam with happy memories about the festival of swings or Teej. As a young girl, in her home in Rajasthan, she would sit on the swing and race upwards towards the sky. “The swing went high, high up in the sky. I felt I was among the clouds.” This Sunday, she will be one among the 100 Marwari families, settled in Mattancherry, who will celebrate the festival at the Ram Mandir precincts.

The small, but vibrant Marwari community in Kochi remains strongly connected to their tradition and culture observing their customs, rituals, prayers and cultural tenets judiciously.

Gayatri Agarwal, Krishna’s mother-in-law, and president of the Agarwal Mahila Mandal said, “Teej is celebrated on a very large scale in Rajasthan, Haryana and parts of Western UP. It is celebrated in the month of Shravan, which corresponds to the Malayalam month of Karikkadam. Legend goes that Teej is celebrated to mark the end of the long separation between Shiva and Parvathy. Parvathy is adorned by her mother as she prepares to meet Shiva. She does the solah shringar, which is the16 steps to bridal make up. So we women dress up to the hilt,” says Gayatri.

Gayatri came to Kochi as a bride 47 years ago. She says that her husband’s family is settled in Kerala for over100 years. They moved to Kochi from Alappuzha, where they came for trade. Gayatri plays the role of a leader of the community with great purpose. She keeps in close touch with the women and children and encourages them to follow their culture, lest they forget their roots.

Colourful dresses

On Sunday, the women will observe a strict fast without water, until sundown. They will then dress in the most beautiful attire for the festivities.

“This time we will be wearing our traditional leheriya saris,” says Krishna, adding that the traditional lengha or full skirt too can be worn. Application of mehndi and wearing colourful bangles are other mandatory customs. The women generally wear clothes in bright colours of red, green and pink. Green is an important colour because it is the season of rains. “Back in Rajasthan we have peacocks coming out and dancing to the sound of thunder,” reminiscences Krishna

Bala Goyal, whose family is into rubber business, adds that there are three types of Teej celebrated throughout the year: Kajri, Hariyali and Haritalika. The shravan teej is the most important one.

Festival of relationships

“It is a festival about relationships, the love between saas and bahu (mother-in-law and daughter-in-law), between mother and daughter and husband and wife. However, the fast observed is for the longevity for the husband and the love for him.”

The day begins with the youngsters touching the feet of the elders; the saas- bahu exchange gifts.

Parma Devi Gupta, who is 75-years-old, is one of the oldest community members. She is always referred to when doubts about traditional rituals arise. She says that the festival is also about the homecoming of a daughter. “It is a very big occasion for us,” says Krishna. If daughters can’t go to their mother’s home the mother-in-law takes over the role of a mother. “It is so nice to have the elders fussing over us about dressing up,” she adds.

Krishna plans to do a Marwari dance, along with friends on Sunday at the gathering. “Bollywood has a quick answer,” she says about the choice of songs and dances, in these times of exams and work. “Otherwise we do traditional dances.”

Gayatri says individual feasts at home have been brought together in a common venue so that everyone can come together.

“We have a sort of a fete, a mela, where we put up stalls, have music and dance. Children put up skits, men and women dance to traditional music. A stall selling rakhi, which is in two weeks time, is a must in our gathering.”

The women end their fast by having a traditional sweet dish called ghevar. The food in the evening is lavish.

Once all decked, the women, men and children group together and each one compulsorily sits on the swing, which is the focal point of the gathering. Here it is an iron swing which is decorated with fresh flowers. “It is such a thrill to sit on the swing,” gushes Krishna.

Most couples sit on the swing and savour a happy experience that marks their bond of love.

“The joy of a swing ride is unforgettable. Old and young alike indulge in it,” says Gaytri, adding that it unleashes feelings of love and camaraderie among the commune.