Jitiya highlights the cultural role and importance of women in the Terai region
Among the very many feasts and festivals of Nepal, Jitiya is a festival that is celebrated by women from the Terai region of Nepal.
Jitiya falls on the seventh, eighth and ninth day of the waning moon (Krishna Pakshya) in the month of Ashwin (September), tentatively nine or 10 days before Ghatasthapana.
Prior to the festival, a day of fasting is observed which is called Naha kha. On this day women take baths and make offerings of mustard oil and khari (mustard oil cake). This day of fasting is especially kept for the long life of their spouses.
The second day which is also called Upas (fasting); women wake up before sunrise and attend a puja. They place beaten rice, curd, and sweets at their doorsteps. These offerings, made to the deity, are later consumed by members of the family.
Women fast on this day, which falls on Ashwin Krishna Asthami, listening to the tales of God Jitumahan. The fasts continue from Asthami to Nawami. The devotees during this period do not consume anything – solid or liquid. It is regarded as one of the strictest fasting in the Terai community.
The third day is called Parwan or the ending of the fast. They end their fast by bathing in the nearest pond or river. Various animals and birds, including eagle, fox, cow, pigeon, and crow are worshipped during this festival.
Myths suggest that a fox and an eagle used to live in a tree by the Narmada River at Kankawati observing the women taking part in Jitiya Parba. At the same time, a funeral procession of a businessman’s son was taking place. As the body was being cremated, the broke his fast and ate the remains of the deceased. As he ate the flesh and committed a sin by breaking his fast, this was witnessed by the eagle.
It is believed that both were reborn to priest Vaskar as Shilawati and Kurpurawati. Shilawati, the eagle was married off to the wealthiest family in the kingdom whereas Kurpurawati, the fox, got married to a King. Shilawati had six sons. However, Kurpurawati gave birth to a dead son and failed to conceive any further.
Kurpurawati dissatisfied with her situation envied her elder sister which worsened their relationship. Shilawati then came to know about their past lives and the sin her sister had committed. She told Kurpurawati that breaking a fast in a previous life was the cause of the death of her son.
As a result, it is believed that the consequences of an improper fast fall upon the children of those who break the rules of fasting.
Jitiya highlights the cultural role and importance of women in the Terai region. The festival is observed in the Pitri Pakshya (special period dedicated to ancestors) and also offers Pinda (ball of cooked rice or barley flour) to the departed souls.