Festival Of Jivitputrika has Patriarchal Roots but Women are Changing the Narrative
Jivitputrika Vrath is a festival celebrated by women in North India for the well-being of their kids. On this day, women observe fast for the whole day without even consuming water. There are many legends woven around the festival but the most common plot is that the fast initially aimed at the welfare of the sons in the house. Mothers observed the difficult fast and puja to save their sons from danger to their lives. But these beliefs are rooted in the era when the female child wasn’t given any importance. Only sons were looked at as the symbol of pride and prosperity. Today, when we are increasingly moving towards gender equality, how has the narrative of male-child preference of the festival changed?
India is a land of diverse culture, religion and festivals that are considered auspicious for a person’s identity and beliefs. But it cannot be ignored that many of these cultures and festivals reek of patriarchy and misogyny. The festival of Jivitputrika is patriarchal and misogynist firstly because it reinforces the idea that mothers should be responsible for fulfilling the parental duties towards the children. Fathers since the traditions were not expected to observe this fast. Women are expected to be homebound and take care of their children and family and perform religious rituals. Men on the other side, are too busy carrying the financial burden of the family and workload to indulge themselves in housework or parenting which is considered as feminine work. Women have been pedestaled as goddesses who are capable of performing self-sacrificing worships and duties and live a life of austerity not for themselves but for others. Secondly, because the festival is rooted in male-child preference as traditionally it was understood as a fast for the welfare of the sons who will carry the name of the family forward. Jivitputrika was the name given to the son of Mahabharat’s Uttara, the widow of Abhimanyu, who later became the only inheritor of the Pandavas.
However, today the narrative is gradually changing. Not only women are free to denounce such patriarchal rituals but also practice them on their own terms. Here I would like to draw on the Bhakti Movement of Indian history that bore the seed of feminism in India. Women used their religious beliefs and devotion to question the male-dominance and live the life the way they want- even if that means denouncing marriage, home and family to live a life of a Bhakt. Meera Bai, for example, refused to acknowledge her marriage, educated herself and devoted her life in worshipping Lord Krishna. The point is they exercised their freedom to choose without compromising their own beliefs. Certainly many Feminist debates today have talked about giving up such patriarchal festivals forever. But they aren’t inclusive of women who use their beliefs to assert their choices and feelings and also change the patriarchal narrative of the festivals to make it a feminist statement. Women who celebrate Jivitputrika today do not do it because they have internalised the gendered idea of motherhood. But because they are happy to be mothers as they have willingly embraced motherhood. They love and are proud of their children. Moreover, the festival is not male-child centric anymore. Mothers offer prayers for the safety of their children irrespective of age and gender.
“I celebrate the festival not for my son alone but for my daughters also. I never observed this fast with this boas in mind but just as a mother of three kids whom I love, ” said my mother.
My nani, who is 70 years old now has not lost the enthusiasm to celebrate the festival. Even though I dissuaded her because of her health, she warmly said, “It is for the welfare of my kids, how can I miss it!” while she smiled back at mother. She has a treasure of legends about the festivals. When I asked her why is it only about the sons in these stories, she said, “These are older times when people discriminated among sons and daughters. But today the festival is only about motherhood and the welfare of their children, son or daughter doesn’t matter.”
But what is still lacking is the support of male members of the family, feminists and society as a whole. Male members or fathers should respect the women who choose to observe these fasts and not hesitate to do it themselves if they also believe in the custom. Religions and festivals are not feminine or masculine, it depends on how they speak to your beliefs and identity. The discussion around women empowerment and feminism also needs to include the choice and narrative of women who are religious rather than creating a divide by lopsided arguments. And society as a whole should be understanding enough that a woman who observes a harsh fast feels comfortable, equal and respected in the society.