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.
Nepalese women holy bath in Pashupathinath Temple a month Swasthani Bratakatha festival goddess Swasthani Kathmandu pic.twitter.com/Q3tqXnFRta
— Earthman Journalist (@Intprofessor) February 9, 2016
Some women even fast for a month. Writer Shiwani Neupane tweeted:
— Shiwani Neupane (@ShiwaniNeupane) February 15, 2016
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:
साँच्चै महिलामाथि गरिएको चरम विभेदको कथा संग्रह “श्री स्वस्थानी व्रतकथा” किताब अग्रगामी हरूले च्याते कि नाईँ ?
— Atman (@atmiya_nepali) January 24, 2016
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.