Teej is a Hindu festival dedicated to the Divine Feminine during the lush-green monsoon season. It is celebrated by married women who observe fasts and pray for the well-being of their husband, children, and themselves.
Teej is celebrated as a major festival by Gurkha ladies, especially those who are married. It is observed as a three-day festival, the second day being Hartalika Teej. On this day, married women adorn themselves in complete red or green, worship Lord Shiva, perform ritual prayers, and observe a 24 hour fast. In Nepal, the roads are a burst of red colour on this day as the colourfully adorned ladies dance and sing to traditional folk tunes in a display of joyous sisterhood.
Gurkha ladies in Darjeeling & Sikkim, and in countries around the world carry forward this tradition and celebrate Teej in red-splendour. They celebrate the union of Shiva and Parvati, for on this day Shiva accepted Parvati as his consort. Parvati spent 108 years in meditation and austerity, asking for Shiva as her husband, and on this special day her dream came true, with the Lord appearing before her and taking her as his Divine Feminine.
Prominent amongst the ornaments worn on Teej is the potay, the traditional glass-bead jewellery adornment of Gurkha women. This stunning ancient craft is many centuries old and is completely hand-done. Artisans spend countless hours with different sizes of needles, stringing together hundreds of shimmery glass beads into resplendent strings that are used to make jewellery pieces – necklaces, bracelets, earrings, rings, and other adornments. Each item is handcrafted with intricate detailing and is beautifully arranged, indeed a laborious work of art. Some of the needles used have eyes so small one has to wince several times to see through them.
Traditionally potay was worn only by married women; today it’s worn by all women irrespective of marital status. However the red and green bead potay are worn only by married women, even today. Potay beads are used to craft the entire jewellery piece, or they complement gold to create traditional jewellery, like the ‘naugedi’ – nine gold-plated nuggets strung together with potay strands. The naugedi is an intrinsic element of any bridal trousseau (image on the right below). The key event in a Gurkha wedding is the ‘sindoor-potay’, the solemn moment when the groom applies sindoor to the parting in the hair of the bride, and gifts her a ‘tilhari’ for her neck. The tilhari is the mangalsutra in Gurkha tradition, and is made of potay beads (image on the left below). Traditionally only green potay beads were used for the tilhari, today the tilhari comes in all bedazzling colours. Why green, you may ask? Because the colour green is an ode to the Anahata chakra, or Heart chakra, the body’s fourth chakra that is associated with unconditional love, compassion, joy, and acceptance.
Potay jewellery in today’s times is worn by women mostly during festivals and traditional events. To save this ethnic art, and to reach out to a larger (read modern and younger) audience, artisans have now adapted to creating contemporary jewellery designs and accessories, without losing the essence of this time-honoured art. This traditional craft is passed down through generations, and it is the younger generation today who is incorporating modern designs to the old art. But it is also left to be seen how many from the younger generation will continue this family tradition. Some of them are already pursuing private jobs that assures them certainty.
The cultural legacy of this beautiful indigenous craft should be carried forward, and we can only hope that the new generation of artisans continue with the brilliant handiwork of their elders, infusing it with contemporary flavours. Potay is known in the global market; it is sought after and you will see potay being sold on big-brand online shops, and boutique jewellery stores. The artform can be sustained if the workers receive more money for their work, a price that is in line with the final price of the jewellery piece.
At Darjeeling Connection we work with artisans and procure our line of potay jewellery directly from them. The glass beads used are from Japan and Czechoslovakia. Each piece is unique, and a testament to this ancient handcrafted art.