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Swasthani Vrata Katha in Photos: Nepal’s Month-Long Festival of Fasting and Praying for Spouses’ Well-Being

Nepalese Hindu devotees offer prayers before taking holy dips at Hanumante River during Madhav Narayan festival in Bhaktapur, Nepal. Nepalese Hindu women observe a fast and pray Goddess Swasthani and God Madhav Narayan for longevity of their husbands and family prosperity during the month-long festival. Image by Sunil Sharma. Used with permission.

Nepalese Hindu devotees offer prayers before entering the Hanumante River during the Madhav Narayan festival in Bhaktapur, Nepal. Image by Sunil Sharma. Used with permission.

Swasthani Vrata Katha is a month-long Hindu festival during which women fast and pray to the goddess Swasthani to ask for the care and prosperity of their spouses and family members. Younger girls fast and pray to get good husbands.

The ritual begins on the full-moon day of Poush and ends on the full-moon day of Magh (the tenth month of the Nepali calendar), which was yesterday.

During the festival, devotees recite scriptures from the Swasthani Vrata Katha (the story book of goddess Swasthani). A different chapter is recited once a day for 31 days. Women wake up early in the morning, take a bath, and worship Mahadev, one of the three major deities of Hinduism, in the afternoon, each day of the month.

Some women even fast for a month. Writer Shiwani Neupane tweeted:

The ritual is said to have started after King Himalaya’s daughter Parvati, the Hindu goddess of love, fertility and devotion, spent a month fasting and praying to the goddess Swasthani, asking to marry Mahadev whom she had longed for since childhood. Her love for him was no accident — Parvati was the reincarnation of Mahadev’s first wife Sati Devi, who after immolating herself was reborn.

The devotees throng to the places mentioned in the Katha: Guheswari, Gokarna, Sleshmantak forest, Gaurighat, Bagmati River, and Shali Nadi (River).

In Sankhu and Bhaktapur, both men and women fast, worshiping goddess Swasthani and god Madhav Narayan. People also take part in ritual bathing while observing the Madhav Narayan festival, which starts and ends on the same days as Swasthani Vrata Katha.

While devotees worship the goddess Swasthani, seeking the well-being of their spouses and family members, some are displeased by the ritual's gender inequality.

In an opinion piece, Manju Thapa writes:

कथाले पति भनेका मालिक हुन् भने पत्नी भनेका पतिको सेवा र चाकडी गर्ने सेवक हुन् भन्नेजस्ता पति—पत्नीको अत्यन्तै असन्तुलित अन्तरसम्बन्ध देखाइएको छ, जुन महिलामैत्री छैन ।

The story says a husband is master while a wife is a servant who needs to serve her spouse. This is not women-friendly as it shows an unbalanced relationship between a husband and wife.

The tradition continues despite the few outcries. On Twitter, atmiya_nepali wrote sarcastically:

Did the progressives tear the story collection “Shree Swasthani Vrata Katha” which is highly discriminating against women?

While the debate continues, let’s take a glimpse of the Swasthani Vrata Katha and Madhav Narayan festival through the lenses of photographers Sunil Sharma and Archana Shrestha.

Nepalese Hindu devotees taking bath in the Bagmati River at the premises of Pashupatinath Temple during the Swastahni Vrata Katha. Image by Archana Shrestha. Used with permission.

Nepalese Hindu devotees bathing in the Bagmati River at the premises of Pashupatinath Temple during the Swasthani Vrata Katha. Image by Archana Shrestha. Used with permission.

Nepalese Hindu devotees take holy water from the Bagmati River during the Swastahni Vrata Katha. Image by Archana Shrestha. Used with permission.

Nepalese Hindu devotees take holy water from the Bagmati River during the Swasthani Vrata Katha. Image by Archana Shrestha. Used with permission.

Nepalese Hindu devotees offer prayers at the bank of Hanumante River during Madhav Narayan festival in Bhaktapur, Nepal. Image by Sunil Sharma. Used with permission.

Nepalese Hindu devotees offer prayers at the bank of Hanumante River during Madhav Narayan festival in Bhaktapur, Nepal. Image by Sunil Sharma. Used with permission.

Nepalese Hindu women warm themelves after taking holy dips at the Hanumante River during Madhav Narayan festival in Bhaktapur, Nepal. Image by Sunil Sharma. Used with permission.

Nepalese Hindu women warm themselves after taking holy dips at the Hanumante River during Madhav Narayan festival in Bhaktapur, Nepal. Image by Sunil Sharma. Used with permission.

Nepalese Hindu devotees offer prayers before taking holy dips at Sali Nadi (River) during Madhav Narayan festival in Sankhu, Nepal. Nepalese Hindu women observe a fast and pray to Goddess Swasthani and God Madhav Narayan for longevity of their husbands and family prosperity during the month-long festival. Image by Sunil Sharma. Used with permission.

Nepalese Hindu devotees offer prayers before taking holy dips at Sali Nadi (River) during Madhav Narayan festival in Sankhu, Nepal. Nepalese Hindu women observe a fast and pray to goddess Swasthani and god Madhav Narayan for longevity of their husbands and family prosperity during the month-long festival. Image by Sunil Sharma. Used with permission.

Nepalese Hindu devotee offers prayer before taking holy dip in Sali Nadi (River) during Madhav Narayan festival in Sankhu, Nepal. Image by Sunil Sharma. Used with permission.

Nepalese Hindu devotee offers prayer before taking a holy dip in Sali Nadi (River) during Madhav Narayan festival in Sankhu, Nepal. Image by Sunil Sharma. Used with permission.

Nepalese Hindu devotees at Sali Nadi (River) observing Swasthani Vrata Katha and Madhav Narayan festival in Sankhu, Nepal. Image by Sunil Sharma. Used with permission.

Nepalese Hindu devotees at Sali Nadi (River) observing Swasthani Vrata Katha and Madhav Narayan festival in Sankhu, Nepal. Image by Sunil Sharma. Used with permission.

Nepalese Hindu devotees carry oil lamps on their body parts during the Madhav Narayan festival celebrations in Thecho, Lalitpur, Nepal. Image by Archana Shrestha. Used with permission.

Nepalese Hindu devotees carry oil lamps on their body parts during the Madhav Narayan festival celebrations in Thecho, Lalitpur, Nepal. Image by Archana Shrestha. Used with permission.

A Nepalese Hindu devotee participates in traditional rituals during the Madhav Narayan festival celebration in Thecho, Lalitpur, Nepal. Image by Archana Shrestha. Used with permission.

A Nepalese Hindu devotee participates in traditional rituals during the Madhav Narayan festival celebration in Thecho, Lalitpur, Nepal. Image by Archana Shrestha. Used with permission.

A Nepalese Hindu boy portraying as God Madhav Narayan blessed with holy water participating in traditional rituals during the Madhav Narayan festival celebration in Thecho, Lalitpur, Nepal. Image by Archana Shrestha. Used with permission.

A Nepalese Hindu boy portrayed as god Madhav Narayan, blessed with holy water, participating in traditional rituals during the Madhav Narayan festival celebration in Thecho, Lalitpur, Nepal. Image by Archana Shrestha. Used with permission.

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