Our country India is full of taboos. As a woman one of them that I find very amusing and annoying at the same time is the taboo or beliefs around the menstrual cycle.
I would like to start by mentioning that India is probably the only country that has temples dedicated to a menstruating Goddess. The popular ones are located at Kerala and in Guwahati.
Chengannur Mahadeva Kshetram Alappuzha district – This is one of the oldest temples in Kerala. The presiding deities are Lord Shiva and his wife Goddess Paravti. So the legend says that when the temple priest spots a blood stain in the clothing of the Goddess he take the cloth to his wife who then inspects the cloth and if she confirms that it indeed is a menstrual stain then the idol of the Goddess is removed from the main area of the temple and placed in an isolated chamber (see, Goddess are not spared either). The idol is kept there for the next 3 days and on the fourth day it is taken to a nearby river for a holy bath and gets dressed in new clothes, jewelry etc… She is then brought back to the temple where Lord Shiva is waiting for her. Also the cloth that has the menstrual stain is considered auspicious and it used to be auctioned.
Maa Kamakhya Devi temple Guwahati – This temple is one of the Shakti peeths in India. Legend says that, Once Goddess Sati wanted to attend a yajna( a vedic ritual) and her husband Lord Shiva was not very interested in it. So she argued her way out and attended to yajna only to see her husband get insulted by her father. Out of anger and embarrassment she jumps into the holy fire and dies. Lord Shiva devastated by his wife’s death picks up her charred body and starts tandav( a form of dance) which continued for days. This worried the other Gods and Goddess as Lord Shiva’s anger and pain could be destructive. So Lord Vishnu releases his Sudarshan Chakra (a circular weapon) and cuts Goddess Sati’s body into 108 pieces. These pieces fell all over the world and the one that fell in Guwahati was her womb and vagina. So when the Goddess has her menstrual cycle the temple is closed and the river alongside the temple turns red. The water is distributed as the Prasad (holy offering).
Interesting isn’t it! The reason why the Goddess is worshiped during “that time” is because menses represents new, life etc… But I wonder what happens when we mere souls go through are menses. All of us ladies bleed. Let’s face it. Whether she is a mother, sister, girl friend or wife. She bleeds every month. So why is it disgusted? Why are so many rules attached to “those days of the month”. The common ones I have come across are
Restricted from the temple
Not entering the kitchen
Not touching the food
Not touching the pickles
Celebrating the first period
I remember my granny telling me about these rules when I had started menstruating. I asked her why I have to follow all this. Do other girls go through the same ordeal? She replied with a smile and said that this is just to get you a lot of rest. Our body is going through a lot of contractions and expansions within and we need rest. This is something I could connect with. Because you know, I was feeling the contractions and expansions myself in form of pain. So over the years with School College and job in place I have learnt how to deal with the monthly visitor. However, I am surprised to see that a lot of people do follow all of this religiously. The irony of it is that the same men will go to the temple and pay visit to the Goddess, but will avoid his wife, sister at home on “those days”.
The funniest of them all is celebrating the first period! Have you ever seen an Indian family celebrating birth of a girl? But they celebrate the first period! Why? Exactly my thought when I attended a function for the first time. It was like a mini wedding. So I asked around to understand the reason behind it. And somebody told me that celebrating the first period marks the transition of a girl to womanhood, also, the society gets to know that she is eligible for marriage(yes, everything apparently revolves around marriages in India).
But my concern is far more than all of these. What I want to bring to notice is that. This is such a taboo, that it is not spoken about. 90% girls are unaware of the menstrual cycle till they experience their first menses. They are not really informed about the pain, the hygiene and other issues related with the same. Many girls don’t discuss menses related issues even with their mom. This is surprising because, our menses can speak a lot for our health. I have noticed a lot of changes lately though. With open advertisements of sanitary pads to female hygiene products, we are getting more and more comfortable with this. But, I would like to bring the first change at the very beginning i.e. educate the girls about the menstrual cycle and their transition into teenage and change in hormones before they see their first period.
Let this topic not be a taboo anymore!
God created Man and Woman. He has given us our ways to give birth to a new life. Menstruating is just our way. It is a part of who we are!
Disclaimer: All the images are sourced through google.com.