Menstrual taboos and ancient wisdom

“Why am I not allowed to visit a temple during my period?”A student sharing her experience

“Will the pickle really spoil if I touched it during menstruation?”

“Akka, why do they tell us not to touch anyone, to sit in a separate room and eat from a separate plate when we get our period?

 

Two thoughts play hide and seek in my mind as I try to answer these questions from young girls. One, that I should help them understand that these restrictions are not because they become impure or polluted during menstruation. Two, that I should never, ever, hurt their religious or cultural sentiments beacuse I have neither the knowledge nor the right to make that judgement. The latter makes it difficult to do the former, and so round and round I go in my explanations, at best being able to tell them that these practises have been in place for ages to ensure women get some rest during their period. And leave them with the thought that it is their personal choice to follow these or not.

It is not once or twice that I have come across these questions as an educator on menstrual hygiene for adolescent girls. It is every single time. After having addressed more than 6000 adolescent girls from rural backgrounds over the last 4 years, you’d think that I’d have tried to come up with better explanations by now! The wake up call to find right answers to these questions came when I recently read what a well known educator/organization working on this issue had to say about such questions – the answers were a rude dismissal of such practises calling it superstition and unscientific, having no place in today’s time.

My first thought was – With what right do we dismiss someone else’s belief when we neither know the origin of such practises, nor its significance in the practitioner’s family?

My second, more interesting thought was – What if there was indeed some ancient story of menstrual magic hidden in these rituals, which we would lose out on in our arrogance of rubbishing these questions? Surely, something as natural as menstruation could not always have been looked down upon?

The urge to be able to talk to girls and women, especially from rural backgrounds, in their own language and way of thinking and give them back the meaning of their rituals, started me on this journey.

Please note that I have no scientific way of proving the validity of following content and my intention in this exploration is to understand what might have been the original reasons behind the rituals and taboo on menstruation.

Understanding the power of Menstrual cycles

Today, while most women and young girls in India are being told that menstruation is an impure, inconvenient, sad fate to be put up with, the Western world has gone a step ahead and invented pills that would help women no longer menstruate! Unlike what is now thought by most people, menstruation was originally considered a highly sacred process, equipping women with strong powers which could be life-giving (hence worshipping women) or dangerous (hence secluding menstruating women). Herein lies the beauty and the contradiction. To understand how this came about, we need to know how menstrual cycles are linked to moon cycles, and what changes each phase in the cycle brings.

Menstruation and the moon

To someone hearing this for the first time (like me), it is strange to think that the moon could affect what goes on in my body! Did you know that the menstrual cycle and the lunar (moon cycle) are of 28 days and

Godess Kamakya of Assam during Menstruation
Godess Kamakya of Assam during Menstruation

all women apparantly menstruated at the same time as with the new moon in ancient days? Charting your menstrual period according to the moon is one of the oldest forms of menstrual calendars. In fact, it is believed that the first calendars were based upon women’s charts of their menstrual cycles and the moon cycles.

For those who want a scientific reason, here is what one study explains:
In the days before electricity and living exclusively indoors, women’s cycles were influenced by natural moonlight. The principle is guided by the theory that moonlight provided an important synchronizing signal (scientists call these “zeitgebers”) for menstrual cycles that is now lost in our modern environment. Clinical studies performed by researchers at Harvard University, the U.S. Air Force, and the University of California, San Diego Sleep Center have shown that women’s menstrual cycles can become more regular after the women were exposed to a certain dosage of artificial light while they slept. (Source http://www.regularcycles.com/the-science-of-light-therapy/)

Significance of each phase in the cycle

A woman’s body goes through 4 stages in one menstrual cycle, just as we go through 4 seasons in a year. I found the explanation quiet fascinating and could actually relate to much of what I read, although I was never consciously aware of these changes in my body. (The information presented below is a combination of content I borrowed from different sources mentioned at the end of this blog.)

Week 1: Menstruation (Days 1-7) – Begins with the first day of bleeding (it should ideally be a new moon). Within hours of starting your period, your estrogen levels will slowly begin to rise and you will tend to feel a shift from the heaviness or ‘PMS’ of the days before. This is considered a process of cleansing and removal of all negative thoughts and emotions. Many women, including me, have noticed that on the first few days of our periods, we feel an urge to suddenly clean our homes and remove all the clutter from our closets- and our lives. Our natural biological cleansing is accompanied by a psychological cleansing as well.

This is the time when women feel the need to go inward and be silent and contemplative. The rituals around seclusion during menstruation were partly meant to serve this purpose.

Week 2: Pre-Ovulation (Days 7-14) – This is the phase soon after the period when most women feel at their energetic best. The steady increase in estrogen boosts your brain’s serotonin levels, which leads to an increase in energy, enthusiasm and a more upbeat feeling overall. This phase is considered ideal to kick off new projects or creative work.

Week 3: Ovulation (Days 14 – 21) – This is the phase of Ovulation, where women are apparantly more physically attractive than on other days, and are more attracted to others. This is the time in our cycle when we need to be connecting to people and relaxing in our outside world. It can also be a time of vulnerability, and it is important that we keep ourselves grounded and be mindful about our actions.

Week 4: Pre-menstruation (Days 21 – 28) – On the other side of ovulation, you’ll feel the effects of decreasing estrogen and testosterone and increasing progesterone. Progesterone is the ‘ebb’ to estrogen’s ‘flow’. It will increase your desire to move inward, like the waning moon. Research shows greater activity in the right hemisphere of the brain – the part associated with intuitive knowing – in weeks 3 and 4 of your cycle. Always trust your intuition. But pay especially close attention to it in the second half of your cycle!

Alternative explanation for Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS)

A number of girls and women suffer from aches, pains and mood fluctuations just before their period. Here are some fascinating explanations for this mentioned in different websites

The Pre-Menstrual phase (week 4) consists of the final days before you begin a new cycle. Progesterone continues to rise until just before the end of this phase when estrogen, testosterone and progesterone all plummet to their lowest levels. If you deny the natural need you have to slow down and turn inward, feelings of resentment, frustration and anger find a way to surface. (Source http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/anea-bogue/women-menstruation-_b_3957384.html#slide=more195539)

The crankiness, impatience or annoyance so infamously called Premenstrual Syndrome, that we may experience in the last two weeks of our cycle, is really more about the feelings you have because you are not flowing with what you body really wants you to do – that is slow down, withdraw from the busyness of the outside world and look after yourself, not everybody else. (Sourcehttp://www.moonsong.com.au/spiritualmenstruation.html)

“The premenstrual phase is therefore a time when we have greater access to our magic—our ability to recognize and transform the more difficult and painful areas of our lives. Premenstrually, we are quite naturally more in tune with what is most meaningful in our lives. We’re more apt to cry—but our tears are always related to something that holds meaning for us. Years of personal and clinical experience have taught me that the painful or uncomfortable issues that arise premenstrually are always real and must be addressed.” – Dr. Christiane Northup http://www.drnorthrup.com/about/index.php

So next time, instead of dismissing the depressive or disturbing thoughts that occur to us during the pre-menstrual days, an effort to understand it and address the reason would be much more helpful. Women have all the natural magical tools to deal with life – if only we were more aware of it!

The significance of rituals

I was quite surprised to read that the rituals around menstruation have been the same across the globe, be it Native America, Europe, Africa, Australia or Asia. The same practises of seclusion during menstruation, similar taboos related to touching food, not entering religious place, etc have been documented world over. Perhaps, it is only in parts of Asia such as India, where we still see many women who follow the rituals even now, and therefore most of us wrongly conclude that it is only in developing countries like India that such “superstitions” still exist. I have tried to read up and gather information from as many different sources as possible, to throw light upon how the rituals might have come into being. Here are a few rituals, taboos and thoughts around menstruation I was able to decode to some extent

“Menstruating women have to remain in seclusion until the period is over”

Often, the reason given in today’s time is that menstruating women are impure, unclean or dirty and hence need to be kept aside. In the book Blood, Bread and Roses, by Judy Grahn, she offers fascinating explanations for this..

Menstruating women were considered to be having special powers during menstruation, which if not used properly could cause harm to others. In addition, practical reasons of predatory animals smelling the blood in ancient times and coming for the kill, would have led to these women being kept in separate huts to protect the community. Since most ancestral women menstruated at the same time with the new moon, the seclusion huts (also called moon huts) were filled with women with special powers who together performed sacred rituals for the good of the community. Women who came out of the seclusion hut were revered for their visions and wisdom gained during this time, and often guided the community as to where to go for hunting, etc.

This in fact led to men coming up with similar rituals for adolescent boys, so that they do not feel left out. Thus emerged the ancient rituals (still practiced among some tribals) of young boys beating themselves and cutting their skin so that it bleeds resembling menstruation, and stinging themselves with bees and ants to drive themselves into a hallucination, to resemble the visions women had during menstruation. Poor boys!

“Menstrual blood is impure, bad blood”

All blood, even that in men, has originated from menstrual blood. Menstrual blood in ancient times was considered highly powerful and potent. It was used in many rituals and especially in making magic potions. Even today, any thing that is red in color used in ceremonies is apparently indicative of the ancient ritual of using menstrual blood. One study said that the red mark on the forehead of Hindu women was originally menstrual blood. Similarly, the symbol of Blood of Christ in Christianity is also indicative of menstrual blood. It is also said that the color red which is widely used in women’s lipstick and other cosmetics today, indicative of seduction and power, had its origin in menstrual blood used by our ancestors to make themselves more attractive.

“Menstruating women should not enter temples or participate in religious ceremonies”

This is one taboo which perhaps hurts the sentiments of most religious women and young girls. The thought keeps cropping up – “Am I so dirty during my period that even God would want me to stay away?”

Unfortunately, no one, including the elite women who practice this, had thus far been able to give me any explanation for this restriction, which was not negative. After much digging and research, I have found few explanations which are actually meant to protect women, rather than distance them.

It is believed that during menstruation, women are constantly dissipating energy from their bodies. Most religious chants are meant to balance out the energies in our body. However, this would interfere with the natural losing of energy that must happen in menstruating women to prevent excessive energy build-up. Hence, menstruating women are told to keep away during such occasions, so that their natural processes are not tampered with.

The other reason I came across was that menstruating women become open to receiving and absorbing energy during this time. This means, they can easily absorb other’s energies, including negative energies. Hence, they are asked to stay away from crowds and gatherings.

Another document said that menstruating women are so powerful, that their offering to God drowns out the offerings of everyone else present in the room. Hence, they are told to stay away from places of worship during menstruation.

These explanations might also be valid for the taboos around touching others and touching certain types of food during menstruation, since touching involves transfer of energy.

The website of Maya Tiwari, a spiritual practitioner, had a good explanation http://mayatiwari.org/womenpower.php

Gifting the stories to the next generation

As someone who has taken the responsibility of educating young girls on menstruation, I take it upon myself to share these explanations of the rituals and taboos with them, so that they can appreciate the spirit behind the ancient wisdom, whether or not they chose to follow it.

But even otherwise, I think there are important messages in these ancient traditions for all of us. These traditions have their roots at a time were women were worshiped and considered as beings capable of divinity; where the wisdom of women was relied upon by the whole community. Today, when we talk of increasing crimes on women, we often talk and think in terms of feminism or the newer concept of gender equality. But, let us not forget that we are largely a religious country and majority of us do not speak the elite language of feminism and gender equality. Perhaps, it will be these stories that would plant a seed of change in men and women about their attitudes and treatment of women.

Lastly, following any of the above rituals or practices is a personal choice. There is a tendency to dismiss these rituals as superstitions without investigating enough the knowledge or wisdom behind these practices. As educators, we have the responsibility to make an extra effort to understand the knowledge behind these rituals and the way they were conceived. Let us act responsibly about what we tell the next generation.

– Sinu Joseph

If you found this article interesting, you will find my next blog even more informative – Unearthing Menstrual Wisdom: Why we don’t go to the temple, and other practices. This new blog was written a year after researching such practices across rural India, following the article you just read.

P.S. My exploration on this front will be an ongoing one. I request you to please share with me any such positive stories or explanations around menstruation that you have heard, and help me connect with people who might know more about such stories.

Sources:

http://naturalshaman.blogspot.in/2012/06/magic-of-menstrual-cycle.html

http://www.moonsong.com.au/spiritualmenstruation.html

http://www.drnorthrup.com/womenshealth/healthcenter/topic_details.php?topic_id=138

http://swordandflute.wordpress.com/2013/07/19/three-days-of-impurity-menstruation-and-inauspiciousness/

http://metaformia.org/

http://bailiwick.lib.uiowa.edu/wstudies/grahn/01toc.htm

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/anea-bogue/women-menstruation-_b_3957384.html#slide=more195539

 

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290 comments

  1. This is very good, and I can share interesting facts on this from mythology (as narrated by my elders)…how do I reach you..

  2. I am immensely grateful to you for sharing such a great piece of knowledge with all of us. You know today itself in the evening i was feeling very low on energy, frustrated and started thinking about all those things in my life which are not correct or you can say what all problems are there in my life which i have not yet worked towards and apparently i started crying also. At that moment I thought that this is because of my mood swing that i m thinking so and nothing more. But after reading your article I realised that that all this was PMS and I really was thinking about those aspects in my life which are undoubtedly very important in my life.
    Each and everything that you have mentioned is actually very practical and a very good answer to all the queries of people.I dont think there is any myth in your write up rather a very realistic approach towards menstruation

  3. I respect your intention of bringing these practices in light and trying to look behind these practices. I am sure you have done a lot of research behind this to uncover the history. Your writing definitely seems open-minded. Its definitely fascinating, interesting and mandatory to learn about the ancient practices.
    However, that does not mean you dont have to question them if the practices are not scientific or outdated. Since you are an educator, you will be intentionally/unintentionally influencing a lot of young minds. If you give the kids all these kind of facts and say that its their personal choice whether to follow them or not , in most cases, the young ones, i fear will start believing in this. Please do remember that your social responsibility is very high on this one (not that you dont know). Although, I tried hard to agree (i did try) , I do not agree with any of this.

    • Pree, I am not sure how many girls you have educated. Sinu has interacted with thousands of rural girls/women for years. She would have arrived at this point following interactions with these women, and realizing the importance of understanding their perspective. You have to speak their language, even to communicate basic hygiene practices. Frankly, without stepping on the ground, your opinions don’t matter. If you don’t agree to some else’s viewpoint, you are free to disagree. But, don’t be fanatic in your approach, without any experience of ground reality. We have lot of arm-chair intellectuals, who are totally disconnected from reality, giving discourses.

  4. I used to ask the same questions when I was young but I never got an in-depth answer until recently. Once I came to know of the reasons behind some rituals we observed, I started feeling better about periods, PMS etc. One thing I totally do during my menstruation days is deep cleaning around the house to the dismay of my husband who wants me to take it easy as my periods are usually painful. Another peculiar thing I have noticed is that many good things in my life have come during menstruation days. Thank you for writing such an eye-opener!

  5. Hi, nice post. About the point you shared on places of worship, I have never read this anywhere but its just a thought. Most places of worship – temples, dargahs etc. are often located on hills and way to reach them often involves climbing a lot of stairs. Perhaps, women were asked to be away, so that they don’t exert themselves during menstruation.

  6. Mythri, its a nice post. Very informative. I like the way that you have tried to reason it out, keeping blind feminism away. It’s a different perspective and quite welcome.

  7. Should the Hinduism rule of not visiting a temple or seeing God during the menstrual cycle still be followed?

    The ancient traditions were not in place for nothing. We cannot rule out certain practices as superstitions without actually understanding the reasons behind it. I came across this wonderful article which takes a balanced approach to this issue. The au…

  8. Reblogged this on purplestar24 and commented:
    As an Indian woman who doesn’t believe in religion, and one who inwardly scoffs at all my orthodox friends and their family, this has been truly insightful.
    Upon going to a friends place and entering the kitchen to ask for water, i have been asked many times if i am on my period, and if so, i’m not ‘allowed’ to touch anything. I used to find this extremely insulting to begin with, but after a point it became something of a joke to me.
    It still is sort of a joke, because of the reasons and excuses that people give upon asking why.
    Many traditions and so called rituals practiced in India, and all around the world are truly pointless in my opinion. They are followed just because they ‘were’ followed. If one gives a scientific explanation as to why it shouldn’t be practiced in the modern world, it is discounted, as these religious people believe in religion more than they believe in science.
    But, religion at its inception was a more understanding pathway to science.
    All rituals were called as such to make scientific finds more understandable to the general masses.
    For example: Hindus who eat meat don’t do so in the month of Shrawan(a religious month in the hindu calendar). When i asked people why they did so, their normal reply used be, “because god says so”, or, “that’s what they taught us”.
    When someone answers in this manner, it automatically makes one think that the person is orthodox and lacks logic.
    But truthfully, our ancestors who devised this plan did so because the month of Shrawan falls during the breeding period of animals, mostly fishes. It was created to maintain a balance in nature.

    In india, religion is a sham. It is also a ready made excuse.
    I have a girl in my school who doesn’t come for any of our live model sketching classes. The one time she did come, she was sitting and drawing a chocolate and its wrapper. Curious that i am, i decided to go and find out why she was doing so. Her answer was, “People in my religion (muslim) aren’t allowed to draw humans”. When i asked her why it was so, she had no answer. I went online to research about this odd religious belief, and the result i got was these answers:
    “Us muslims arent allowed to draw living things because at any point, Allah may ask us to breathe life into them, and we wont be able to do so”
    “This is because none can imitate the beauty of God’s creation. We are not Creators but the Creation. It is also to prevent people from commiting shirk (worshipping things other than God)… when people draw pictures, its generally out of affection and if people are idolised too much.. it can be a bit of a danger.”
    “Drawing an image with all the essential parts for life – such as the chest area, the abdomen, the head – will surely be prohibited even if the person does not intend to draw someone specific and just something from his imagination. The prohibition will be there as long as the drawing looks like a living creature, whether human or animal. This is unlawful. This is the emulation of Allah’s creation. It was mentioned in an authentic hadîth that Allah said: “Who is more of an oppressor than the one who aspires to create as I create.”

    This basically means nothing. Drawing may be a form of worship but you can choose whether you want to worship or not.
    They say that you shouldnt worship images but in muslim homes you tend to see images of His Holiness or or mecca. They may not look to it, fold their hands and bow their heads, but it is a form of worship.

    Thus, religion creates an excuse. Religion is used and misused and misconstrued to suit the worshiper. I honestly believe that it is a farce.
    I think when a jain person eats only vegetarian, doesn’t eat ginger, garlic, potatoes and the likes, but then turns their back and drinks and smokes, it is hypocrisy. Sure, you don’t drink vodka because it is made from vodka.
    Applause!

  9. Sinu Joseph,

    Although you have gone far and wide to justify the uncleanliness of a woman during a menstrual cycle as a ‘non-believer’. I see a lot of contradictions in your own statements.
    Your statement quoted below has nothing to do with the menstrual blood and is completely false.
    “Similarly, the symbol of Blood of Christ in Christianity is also indicative of menstrual blood.”
    I have a straight answer for you below.

    ‘Sin’ and ‘blood’ are directly related. Wages of SIN is death. ‘BLOOD’ represents sacrifice and remission of sins. One can die for his family but only God can die for the world’s SINS. Jesus Christ’s blood is the remission for human’s sin as it is God’s blood and is pure.
    Just like sacrifices in temple and mosques need to be made (Either coconuts shedding pure coconut water and shedding pure cattle’s blood) for God to hear us or forgive us, one big sacrifice by Christ covers all our SINS.

    Just by scanning your ideas especially this line I get the idea that you are searching for answers rather than giving them.

    I have few questions lined up for you. I ask because I firmly believe a human being should not be considered as both clean and unclean at the same time. If one believes that a person’s integrity and value is based on the celestial bodies rather than their God or conscious -self, it makes no sense to actually be able to live and have intelligent minds and we will actually end up looking like celestial bodies someday.

    When you think about it, only few world views say that menstruation is an unclean/bad time and Hinduism tops off the charts. Many world views consider this a blessing. If we are created by God which most Hindus believe, here are my questions

    Have you read the reason why a woman has to bear a Child? And the origin of first menstruation? (When you research something first roots and its meaning should be explained rather than the myths)

    1. Why would a woman go through cultural barriers for the same reason?

    2. Finally why would Gods punish or exalt a woman during menstruation and not during regular time? God is good in all means He cannot enforce pain for His pleasure.

    3. I will be happy to answer all your questions but I would like you to think on your own.
    Thanks much.
    Persis

  10. Sinu Joseph,

    Although you have gone far and wide to justify the uncleanliness of a woman during a menstrual cycle as a ‘non-believer’. I see a lot of contradictions in your own statements.
    Your statement quoted below has nothing to do with the menstrual blood and is completely false.
    “Similarly, the symbol of Blood of Christ in Christianity is also indicative of menstrual blood.”
    I have a straight answer for you below.

    ‘Sin’ and ‘blood’ are directly related. Wages of SIN is death. ‘BLOOD’ represents sacrifice and remission of sins. One can die for his family but only God can die for the world’s SINS. Jesus Christ’s blood is the remission for human’s sin as it is God’s blood and is pure.
    Just like sacrifices in temple and mosques need to be made (Either coconuts shedding pure coconut water and shedding pure cattle’s blood) for God to hear us or forgive us, one big sacrifice by Christ covers all our SINS.

    Just by scanning your ideas especially this line I get the idea that you are searching for answers rather than giving them.

    I have few questions lined up for you. I ask because I firmly believe a human being should not be considered as both clean and unclean at the same time. If one believes that a person’s integrity and value is based on the celestial bodies rather than their God or conscious -self, it makes no sense to actually be able to live and have intelligent minds and we will actually end up looking like celestial bodies someday.

    When you think about it, only few world views say that menstruation is an unclean/bad time and Hinduism tops off the charts. Many world views consider this a blessing. If we are created by God which most Hindus believe, here are my questions

    1. Have you read the reason why a woman has to bear a Child? And the origin of first menstruation? (When you research something first roots and its meaning should be explained rather than the myths)

    2. Why would a woman go through cultural barriers for the same reason?

    3. Finally why would Gods punish or exalt a woman during menstruation and not during regular time? God is good in all means He cannot enforce pain for His pleasure.

    4. I will be happy to answer all your questions but I would like you to think on your own.
    Thanks much.
    Persis

    • Dear Persis,

      The line about Blood of Christ is not something I came up with, but something I took from Judy Grahn’s book Bread, Blood and Roses. Please look that up if it interests you and write to her for any clarifications.

      Also, I’d like to make it clear that this is not a platform meant for religious bias. So if that is your intention, kindly keep from commenting further.

      • I left a comment but not sure if you got it.

        I am not surprised that you got offended by my comments. Your entire topic revolves around religious practices and rituals and if you are contradicting yourself of a public blog, it brings no valid solution. Talking about religious bias, I truly believe that people who are reading your article are concerned only about belief systems and hope they get the facts straight rather than wander in vague statements.

        I am a Biotechnologist and an ardent lover of bioethics and lean a lot of world views apart from my own faith and belief system to understand where everyone comes from. Reading alone gives a lot of information but I am intimidated by few lines in your article which are going viral in the internet world.

        Also I have mentioned in my comments to read from the scriptures for answers rather than the third person’s perspective which could be misleading. As an educator you strive to find answers but if you cannot start from what originated menstruation then the quest ends there itself. I asked you 3 questions for which you dint answer. I hope your quest in searching the facts behind menstruation taboos will complete successfully.

        My apologies if you felt the other way round. Other than that I have no setbacks or mean intentions.

        Persis

  11. Superb….I really thank you for taking these efforts to put some light on the ancient beliefs and rituals…..Me too have heard all these stories and i am still practising these rituals but really wanted to know their significance. This was very educating nd something we can pass to our next generation…..and i really feel that all our ancient rituals nd traditions had a lot of scientific connection which we actually need to get it researched nd knw…..Thank you for this…..

  12. Well done Mythrispeaks or the moderator behind this. I like your article no doubt and shared it with my wife. However it is how you responded to the many queries that shows the maturity of your organisation, the strength behind your article and the non judgmental stance. Have followed your “Mythri” blog.

  13. Hi,its a gud piece of info beyond doubt.u r certainly creatin a much needed awareness.many of us m sure might not b knowin d real reasons behind these taboos,m glad u hv thrown sum light on dis,nw v can evn pass it on to r kids without sounding clueless.thnx keep up d gud wrk

  14. Everyone has their own perspective about the world, its functioning and how it should function. Some of them are very rigid in their stance., we call them fanatics. We traditionally use the term fanatics for religious fundamentalists but fanatics are everywhere, from all streams and some of them are rationalists & non-believers.

    Fanatics can never appreciate others perspective. They can’t look at things objectively. Rationalists who are fanatic and who keep talking about objectivism exactly lack that. They can’t look at things from different vantage points and hence can’t appreciate others perspective.

    At the other end, we have this namesake pluralists. They can’t take any stance, simply because they lack the essential quality of curiosity and guts to explore. They lack knowledge to truly appreciate alternate perspectives. Many of them are timid and play safe.

    It is rare to find people who are above these categories. Its because of them we are able to appreciate rich diversity. They help us to enjoy the true beauty. We can appreciate what we believe truly only when we know the others perspective. It will be sad if they choose not to express themselves and remain silent. I see that extra effort from the author to explore alternate perspectives and capturing them so beautifully.

  15. As a Hindu girl this was a question I had asked countless times in the past. I found the explanation you have provided quite interesting.

    While I was trying to check up, the reason I found at the time for the reason as to why menstruating women were not allowed into the place of worship was the fact that in ancient times, there were no tampons and sanitary napkins available. They had to use fabrics like muslin. While sitting the women would spread out they attire so they don’t stain it and sit. But this would cause the floor to get dirty. A lot of the Hindu rituals are practiced sitting down and the area where the rituals are performed has to be clean at all times.

    I’m not sure how far this is true. This is just what I have heard. But based on this theory, the practice would not be applicable to the modern times. But since it is a practice that is still followed, it could be a combination of these reasons.

  16. One can only quote from the religious books to understand what they say rather than bring a third person’s perspective and conclude. So if you want to search and understand I recommend you read the Bhagvath Gita, Bible, Quran, or any other religious scriptures directly.

    Thanks again for your time and I do see that you have lot of comments to attend to and I wont take much time.

    Persis.

  17. Thanks for this valuable sharing! Wonderful attempt to go into the details of the subject and combining the ancient wisdom with modern science!

    About women not going to temples during menstruation, I find two things…

    1. A woman is in a mode of throwing off the unwanted and non-useful stuff out from the body. Temple is where you go to absorb the pure energy. These two are contradictory processes. So both the processes, when done simultaneously, will lose their effectiveness. To give a gross example it is eating and vomiting together!

    2. The menstrual blood is very powerful and can be misused in the temples where black magic practices are performed. So to protect a woman from such situations better not to go to any temple, was a precautionary norm created by the society.

    Hope this throws some light onto the queries of the younger generation.

    Bharati

  18. In old times the there was no sanitary napkins or even undergarment that would hold any piece of cloth in place. Hence Menstruating Women refrained from entering the temple or doing any household work infact they were made to sit in some designated corner on floor over old matress, infact old times the women would be seated on mud floor so any dropping gets absorbed by the surface. This is the only logical conclusion where in to avoid blood staining in the house or in temples it was considered best to just lay around in one area & just rest.

  19. I enjoyed reading the article. I honestly did not know about these stories, but one always knew that all our myths and beliefs and superstitions had some scientific or logical explanation. For example, why do we say, ‘don’t cut your nails at home or at night’, or ‘wash your feet when you come home from the outside’ and we at home still practice many of these rituals/ myths/ practices, call it what you will. The idea of actually trying to research it and present it here is a very good one. We must at the end of it read it and decide what we want to do with this kind of knowledge. Do we pass it on, read some more, get into online fights about religion and so on :). For me personally, I enjoyed reading it. Thank you for sharing.

  20. I’ve always wondered about how such customs could have originally started out. That was very educating. A back story to all those so called superstitions. Great post! 🙂

  21. Reblogged this on Open Book!! and commented:
    Very sensibly n beautifully written. Something everyone must read n understand. When I clean the while house all day without taking a shower or eating my food I thought. . It’s just me. When I get all cranky ,annoyed, during pms I thought. . It’s just me. . But After reading this wonderful piece of article I gotta know.. It’s Not just me! It’s How we are! Very educative indeed!!

  22. Dear Sinu Joseph,

    It’s an interesting piece to read and very informative indeed. You have gone great lengths to extract related stories, beliefs and practices from across the world. Kudos to your research effort and presentation of your perspective.

    I always tried to reason out these practices/rituals with the elders and the learned I’d come across but found very little convincing answers. You see the past couple of generations in many Indian families were forced to follow practices/rituals without getting an explanation. “You will do as told without questioning your elders….” was an irritating response for younger generation of all ages. This was the culprit in not passing relevant reasoning for our practices down the generation and so the significance was lost. Many a times the reasons become irrelevant to modern times but still practiced. Sometimes the reasons are unknown to the older generation themselves and are followed blindly which would be an embarrassment if found out by youngsters. Present age people are better educated, more aware of their practices, have a better freedom of choice and want to understand the significance of their deeds to a greater extent. Hence also the gap in understanding rituals/practices. So it’s left to the present educated, technologically enabled and globally connected individuals to reassess the validity of these belief systems.

    Indian public has come a long way in their lifestyle when compared to that say about 40-50 years ago. In normal cities/town people now have better living quarters, hygiene, buying power, healthy eating, access to medicare, etc. But there are still some villages which would mirror the general living conditions and socio-economic strata of an average Indian commoner of yesteryears viz. large population of joint family, earnings just to make ends meet, poor infrastructure within households (like well being the sole water source, no taps, public/open baths, open defecation, one common toilet area for a cluster of houses, common cooking and prayer rooms in some villages), lack of modern medicare but excess use of home remedies for diseases/ailments, high mortality rate due to diseases and childbirth and many more such examples that cannot all be listed here.

    In Hindu families, hygiene was (and has been till date) given huge importance to counter such health issues arising out of lack of hygiene. Areas within the house like kitchen, prayer rooms and water sources like wells were to be kept very clean, tidy and pure. People entering these zones should be bathed, wear washed clothes, fill fresh water for drinking and cooking, etc. Women of the house were very hardworking in terms of physical labour. Drawing water from wells, cooking in wood/coal fire, washing household clothes daily (no washing machine then and no taps), cleaning houses (not all had maid service), tending to children and elders in the family.

    Seclusion during mensus meant women would get 3-4 days of full rest while they would work hard all the 26 odd days of the month. No weekly offs!! Sanitary napkins entered our societies sometime in the 70s or so. Earlier women used cloth and so anyone can imagine hygiene issues with cloth viz. low absorption, washing/disposal issues, availability of sufficient clothes for this purpose, related gynae problems, etc. One can see similar cases in some villages even today. In some instances, women were not supposed to take bath (use of common baths n associated cleanliness) during their periods which is practiced in some places even today. In such situations, entry to kitchens and prayer rooms had to be banned. That society may not have been aware of microorganisms and their contamination capabilities but they were surely aware of related phenomena. Cooking was a daily practice and people would eat only freshly prepared food. However, items like pickles were made with preservatives to last all the year. Making pickles with seasonal produce has always been a big deal and is even now. Great care was taken in making, preserving them and usage. (No fridge then) Hence the prevention in touching of pickles lest they would get spoilt if contaminated and all effort go waste.

    These are my take on social reasons for such practices. I have not touched upon the religious reasons. Your inputs on the religious front does give some food for thought in terms of varying energy levels in menstruating women vs. their surroundings. Effect of vibrations generated from chanting holy mantras in temples on humans in general and esp. on menstruating women need to be studied in-depth. We know that each one of us has an aura around us (energy shields) and it does get influenced (positively or negatively) when we come in contact with other individuals. Could it be a reason for seclusion…. to protect from getting negatively affected by negative minded people? It is known that hormone secretions get impacted with high levels of physical, mental n emotional stress. Could that also be a factor in these impositions? I have no idea about the beliefs n practices in other faiths (christianity, muslims etc.) on the subject. Your inputs have got me interested.

    I feel your effort to educate adolescent girls in rural India is commendable. I wish you gud luck in your quest and hope to see more inputs on your blog on the subject.

    • I agree with your points. I too have always felt that there would have been scientific and/or logical reasons behind these practices that, due to whatever reasons, were not elucidated and just laid down as norms, leading to blind following and somewhat twisting of the norm such that with time the practices became quite removed from the original intentions and current modern scenarios.

  23. Thanks for the bit about birthing…although maybe considered a digression, I found it very useful and will look into it further.

  24. Dear Sinu Joseph,
    Very informative and expressed with sensitivity to, as you call the mass of so called non elitists too. I have understood menstrual practices in the context of hygiene as explained by Vijaya Rao. Your research added more insights. I would like to urge you to also look at reasons for forbidding pregnant women from visiting homes or touching new borns for the first few months. Or touching of plants like tulsi plants etc. They apparently cause illnesses to children, and also cause these plants to wilt. I have been unable to explain it other than the same hygiene expectations.

  25. Interesting article. Gave me a lot of food for thought…
    But more than the article, I’d like to appreciate and applaud your intentions and efforts towards this noble cause.

  26. This is for the first time I came to know some really scientific or logical things about menstrual retuals. Thanks for sharing this knowledge. I would like to ask you, as this research is done during the ancient time of history…nowadays, our surrounding environment, our lifestyle, social contact, and specially life of modern women has changed drastically. So in this situation do really women need to follow these rituals? If not followed are there really abr side effects? And if a woman is being forced for following this and she is not really willing to follow what she should do?

  27. Hi, I have a question relating to this. What about the body’s natural suppression of menstruation which occurs after birth? Sure, there’s the initial lochia which can take a couple of weeks to dissipate, but the menstrual cycle can take ages to return when she continues to breastfeed on demand. What is happening to the woman’s body then? What is the significance of this for her? I ask this because I have been breastfeeding my son whenever he asks, and my menstrual cycle didn’t return until 17.5 months postpartum. Why the delay in cycle?

  28. Their is faith involved in trying to understand anything, even the modern science. But, we in general adopt a double standard by out rightly rejecting any thing our acarayas or anti-material scientist have led down. I appreciate that you have the honest and sincere inquisitiveness in this direction. Just because some people going to temple do mischievous things, it is wrong to say why to go to temple. As it wrong to say that some(!) scientist manipulate results or publish useless papers, stop all publications in the scientific community.

  29. A Very nice write up maam… U have done a deep study and research on this. U would like to talk to u more and share my experiences.. It wud be great if u provide ur email ID

  30. u cleared d junk off my brain!! i can now concentrate over my studies without feeling dirty or impure or something like that!! 🙂
    thankful to you!!

  31. thanks a lot for giving convincing explanation for most of my question around MC. I am from village background I disallowed entering temples I was fyn bcoz it didn’t mattered much but as I grow up n our family visiting temples around south India I was kept saperated I hutted to the core from that day I decided to find y I was not allowed I had plain explanation in my mind dt I am god creation y I suddenly becum impure n wanted to people starting luking or treating me lyk I m alien in dt group. I decided I should find ans somewer I found parvati wife of god Shiva had periods during her marriage( a story) so from dt I removed that thought n stopped thinking I m guilty being entered into temples. ( sometyms dt thinking haunt me lyk I dnt have valid explanation.) recently in class room we had a seminar here he talked abt keeping gal away from temple during periods when I protested he made fun of me n embarrassed in class I dint had any explanation regarding my belief now I have one to explain myself n to one who question n make change in thoughts. thanks a ton akka

    • Dear Renu,

      Thank you for writing to me and for expressing your thoughts and concerns. You are right that there is nothing wrong with a menstruating woman and she is certainly not impure. I admire your courage to stand up for yourself!

      Let me know which village you are from. Maybe I will travel there someday 🙂

      Warm Regards,
      Sinu

  32. I have not read it in full, But by glancing, I could understand that it is a very interesting write up. It took me to the days of my chittappa Dr.V.S.very affly called as Subbu by his family and native people, and fondly remembered as Vibhoothi by his friends from official circle, who had visited this Holy Kamakkya Temple in Gauhati of Assam State and elaborated about the visit to the temple. He said she was Kamakshi and if my memory goes right he was calling or even named one of his grand- daughter as Kamakkya.

    Thanks.
    simha

  33. It also a very educative summary for men and boys to understand the process and significance. In the age old days scientific information was made into religious practice or ceremonies as it wad difficult for common people to understand, great work

  34. Hi Sinu!

    I am planning to make a documentary on the myths related to menstruation.
    I am a Fashion Designer by profession and live in Delhi. I feel very sad about these myths prevailing in the world and strongly wish to eradicate them, at least for the coming generation. I would love to be a part of your journey.
    I also wanted to know where you are from, since i wanted to discuss elaboratily about some points for my documentary.

    Regards,
    Timsy

  35. I have also heard that mensturating women were not allowed to go to temples because before the invention of pads/tampons in the ancient times, the woman’s blood would leak on the floor, and it could stain on the floor. So therefore women didn’t go to public places or where large crowds were gathered like temples because of this problem.

  36. On a lighter note, I have only faced minor issues, such as not going to temples during my periods. Since I get seriously painful cramps, it never bothers me! However, I would like to point out that the first instance of having menstrual bleeding is a cause for celebration in many Hindu societies. Someone seemed to have commented above that Hinduism has a lot of restrictions or something to that effect. It is not always the case. With several points put forward I do not wish to delve into them. These celebrations are in the form of “little weddings” where the only things missing are a groom and the accompanying rituals. Although girls are kept isolated, it could be because many have excessive bleeding the first time.

    Food is a big deal for me. I ended up being told that I have to go veggie in my holidays. Luckily my dad came to my rescue and allowed me to eat whatever I wanted with no restriction.I got a box full of sweets, I remember fondly! It was fun for many too. My friend had to eat everything raw for 2 weeks. Thank god I was spared that!!!

    Many of the restrictions may have roots in hygiene too. Women used soiled clothes and they had germs that could be harmful for the rest of the family, probably. My family was quite open-minded so never face this problem. Although for starters I had to go the granny way of soft cotton cloth. i chucked it out promptly as soon as I could though. Thank god for sanitary pads. My aunt had this weird idea that sanitary pads would suck out all the blood from my body. (Gave me quite a few nightmares and the ads with ‘super absorb’ systems were not helping either!)

    Menstrual periods are double edged swords. If you have them its a problem to you, if you don’t it is to the society.

  37. Great info.. even i am on a mission to search justifiable reasons behind these rituals.. we have westernised definately but shouldnt forget our roots and traditional values.. most of them now are screwed and modified.. i flolow the grey zone..ought to follow few at home, and keep looking for reasons as to why our ancestors had to come up with something like this.. not only menstruation but the rituals we follow in weddings, festivals etc.. admitted most of it doesnt make any sense now, but they were created for a reason.. anyways kuddos for your thesis, it was informative..

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