The Sabarimala Story: Can visiting temples affect menstruating women?

A lot has been written about the recent story of women in menstruating age group not being allowed entry to the Sabarimala temple. The write-ups either point to mythology to reason out the ban or present the feminist’s view of discriminating against women. However, the most pertinent question of how temples affect menstruating women has hardly (mostly, not at all) being written about.

Do we really think our forefathers conspired against women to suppress them and invented these rituals just to discriminate? If India was such a patriarchal country, we would not have lasted this long. As a woman who has travelled alone and worked across rural India more than most average women have, I have never felt safer and more respected than when I’m in villages where we claim patriarchy rules.

Asking the right questions

We’ve all been so busy trying to provide answers, that we’ve missed asking the right questions. This article is not an attempt to provide all answers to the Sabarimala issue, but hopes to point readers to a new direction wherein we are more likely to find answers. We also hope that with this article, readers will be able to point us to sources who can better answer these two questions:

1. What is the nature of the energy in Sabarimala?

2. What is the effect of this energy on women in the menstruating age?

Mythological Perspective

Many people try to explain the reason using mythology. So stories have come up of Ayyappa (the diety in Sabarimala) being celibate and that’s why women are not allowed to enter the temple. Mythology is nothing but a simplified story to make comman man follow things which are beyond his comprehension. Mythological stories are scripted to convey the spiritual aspects in a metaphorical way; and as such should not be taken literally.

We cannot understand issues without understanding the language and context in which it was set. In the context of the Sabarimala temple not allowing menstruating women, the mythological stories behind Ayyappa being celibate should be explored to understand what they point to.

Perspective of the Thantri’s family

Last week, our team travelled to Bhagavati temple in Chengannur (Kerala) to find some answers. We also interacted with Smt. Devika Devi, mother of the current Thantri (chief priest) in Sabarimala to understand her take on the whole story.

Smt. Devika Devi, aged around 80 years, told us something which confirmed what we were thinking. She said “Many women don’t realize that their health will be negatively impacted if they went to Sabarimala. Besides, if menstruating women went to the temple, the energy of the place will be reduced.”

Even if we didn’t care about the latter, shouldn’t all women be concerned about the first remark?

The energy spaces called Temples

There are complex sciences that go into building temples and the rituals involved in maintaining them. Ancient Indian knowledge systems such as Agama Shastra practiced by few Stapathis (Architects) are used in temple construction and involve complex geometry.

Very few people today, priests included, fully understand how temples impact people’s energy fields. Further, there is even lesser understanding of how temples affect menstruating women. Unfortunately, the whole reasoning has reduced to one of impurity, which is not the case. There are profound thoughts involved in designing ancient temples and they were not really places of religious devotion alone. The ancient sages who understood what it took to experience spiritual upliftment, provided a space for common man to experience some of it, via the temples they consecrated. But how can temples and stone idols impact human beings?

There are experiments which have proven that stones, crystals and water can hold memory and frequencies. The normal potential of an average person is between 30 – 100 milli volts. But, for super athletes and extraordinary thinkers, it was found to be around 2000 milli volts. For people who are depressed, it is around 5 milli volts. Being around stones which have been infused with a higher energy is bound to affect our own energy potential.

Apart from spiritual upliftment, most temples have energies which are known to heal or improve one’s health. For example, the Bhagawathi temple in Chengannur is famous for healing women suffering from fertility issues and menstrual disorders. Women who visit this temple (not while menstruating) might experience a shift in their menstrual cycle to find it syncing with Amavasya (new moon), which is considered to be a sign of a healthy cycle. I have experienced this and it can be easily verified by other women who have been here.

The prana prathistha, that is the process of consecrating a Murthi (Idol) was how the priests infused life and energy into the Murthi. The architecture of the temples further ensured that this energy could be stored and directed towards devotees. The interesting part which we learnt in conversation with Smt. Devika Devi is that every temple could have a different energy, even if the worshipped diety is the same. So only the Thantri or chief priest who was involved in consecrating the Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala would fully know what exactly he put in there. The Sankalpa, or the intention that is put into each Murthi is what decides the rituals to be performed for each temple. And simplied versions of explanations would be passed on to devotees so that the rituals performed would upkeep the energy intended.

If we look at the Sabarimala temple rituals, it is all about getting men to renounce worldly existence by maintaining celebacy (among other practices) and attaining spiritual enlightenment through this process. Perhaps, the entire temple at Sabarimala is consecrated to support this intention. So, what would happen if women entered such a space?

How temples affect menstruation

Ayurveda is based on the tridoshas (bio-energies) that govern the functions of the human body. Of the three types of doshas namely Vata, Pitta and Kapha, it is the Vata dosha that needs a closer look to explain menstruation. Or more precisely, the sub-type of Vata dosha called Apana Vayu.

apana

Apana Vayu is responsible for the downward movement of materials out of the body, including excretory processess. The downward movement of Apana Vayu is what causes menstrual flow also. Any disruption in this natural downward flow of Apana will also affect the motions that it controls.

All spiritual activity is aimed at uplifting our energy upwards. It is one of the reasons why we are told to not eat anything before a puja or a visit to the temple. The process of digesting food and dispelling it outwards necessitates the downward flow of Apana. If we interfere with this through spiritual activity on a full stomach, both our excretory movement downwards and the upliftment of energy upwards will be affected. In some cases, people who engage in continuous chanting for 5-6 hours, experience difficulty in passing motions as the Apana is turned upward. Those pursuing the spiritual path are therefore recommended to have light and raw diet of fruits so that there is minimal interference with Apana.

So how can spiritual activity interfere with the process of menstruation?

If Apana Vayu is forced upwards in menstruating women, they could experience physical pain and their flow could even stop. This is why menstruating women are told to abstain from all spaces where the energies would reverse the downward Apana. If menstruating women visited ancient temples (which are known to be powerful energy centres) repeatedly or performed certain types of Yogasanas (such as inverted postures) during their period, they will most likely observe a change and discomfort in their cycle.

Why Sabarimala restricts entry of all women who could menstruate?

Unlike other temples which only restrict menstruating women, the Sabarimala temple restricts entry to all women of the menstruating age (10 to 50 years). This is not just to be on the safer side in case menstruating women break the rule. To understand this, we need to understand what exactly happens when people pursue Brahmacharya or absolute celibacy, as is required of every devotee who wishes to enter the Sabarimala temple.

Brahmacharya is the state of transforming sexual energy with the intention of directing it upwards for spiritual enlightenment. It is different from the western understanding of celibacy which talks about mere abstinence from sexual activity.

Tantra substantiates its techniques of spiritual development on the control and channelising of sexual energy.

While in men, semen is the fluid containing the sexual energy, in women it is the menstrual blood. Both these have life giving properties and are considered potent. Practices which involve Brahmacharya and attainment of spiritual upliftment transform the sexual fluids into subtle energies which Ayurveda calls Ojas and Tejas. So if women followed Brahmacharya or came in contact with energies which helped to transform their sexual fluid into subtle energies, what could happen?

If women took to practices which transformed their sexual energy, the menstrual flow would reduce and ovulation might eventually stop. Obviosuly, this would affect their ability to reproduce. So while women can definitely pursue the path of renunciation and follow practices that the Ayyappas do, they should be aware and okay with the idea of not menstruating. If women stopped menstruating, life would come to a stop. Could this be the reason why women of menstruating age are denied entry into Sabarimala even if they are not menstruating?

The above explanation is not a “belief” to be dismissed or accepted. Afterall, if temples do negatively impact menstruating women, we need to be aware and not leave it to a question of following one religion or not. At least for the sake of curiosity if nothing else, let us dig deeper to really understand whether or not temples actually impact menstrual cycles. Let’s not reduce feminism to fighting for things which we have no knowledge about, and worse still, might actually cause us harm.

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26 comments

  1. This needs to be proof read by someone from the rationalists society. There’s no evidence that menstruating women are affected by temples. A lot of myths and half truths are considered facts in this article.

    • Nice and informative article. It is also to be remembered that all temples are not created for worship. There are certain temples which are created for totally different purpose . The Sani temple issue is another example. The energy space there may not be conducive for women and hence they were restrained from entering. I have also heard about a temple at Kallidaikurichi in Thirinelveli. The presiding diety is sadavudayar. Women don’t even venture near the temple. These energy spaces are created for various other practices which may or may not be practiced now. But as long as the temple is there, these energy spaces remain the same. Sometimes even after the temple is gone or demolished, some spaces may not be conducive to all or not conducive at all. Can all people stay or visit all places at all times in this planet earth? Have we not felt uncomfortable in certain spaces. It is not discrimination, but mere discretion. If people don’t understand the difference between discrimination and discretion, it is really unfortunate and the consequence could be fatal for those who undertake that mis-adventure.

  2. Thanks Mythri for such an informative, well connected and narrative article on the issue. People were only talking about constitutional rights, gender equality and freedom of choice in the issue. Now you people have gone beyond that taking it to scientific and biological reason for the cause. I agree with your findings. Even though for feminist activists it may seem that their hands are locked on the issue, there are other reasons too which they might try to understand. I am a devotee who has traveled more than a dozen times to Sabarimala. When taking the 41 days fasting and continence, we are trying our maximum to elude from woman, that includes wife too. After all we are humans, average man, not saints to have a greater control over our minds. So typically the process will be whose easier if we avoid contexts that mingle with woman. In such a situation I personally would prefer to avoid the presence of woman of such age group. I hope I am not hurting any one with my words.

  3. I’ve watched a couple of debates on TV and read several newspaper articles on this topic. Why exactly do women want to enter this particular temple, and that too when they have a period? I have always taken it as a rule made by the people who run the temple, that may or may not have a basis. There are enough temples to pray at, why insist on this one? All institutions have rules that everybody may not agree with. But isn’t it the prerogative of the people who own/run the place? So many practices are mere conventions, like men wearing ties with formal suits and women not doing so. I consider I have all the freedom I need, and if certain places are off bounds to me it doesn’t really matter. In Bangalore Club women are not allowed to enter the Men’s Bar. But there is a bar where women can have a drink, so why hanker after the Men’s Bar? Do I really want to fill my mind-space with this kind of inconsequential stuff? I applaud the girl in UP who refused to get into an arranged marriage with a man whose family home didn’t have a toilet. Now that is something worth fighting for, making toilets available to every woman (and man too – why should he use sidewalks and other public spaces?) in the country.

  4. I read your article and very much agree to the contents. If we feel all the science knowledge and accordingly set some practices as foolish and reject them, then why we need to go such places to disturb others who believe in. If one believes god is there and it is powerful place then you should obey the practices set.

  5. Vedic science personifies diversiry. That’s why more gods so people get absorbed at least in one or two who are closer to their hearts. Vedic science goes further to explain that such diversiry is possible only through consciousness and energy. Energy is matter. Imagine you are low in energy and how it affects you in office and at home more so your consciousness and mind. We are nothing but pure consciousness, and we are using our body to go to higher level of consciousness. When advocating such complicated principle our forefathers’ built temples such as sabarimala based on local environment, emphasising how by practising bramacharya one could increase the energy levels in the body. You see diffent principles in many temples across India. That’s the beauty of diversity. Normal logic can not be applied here.

    • Its a very relevant finding! I always have felt that our practices were related to religious beliefs instead of science. That too has been clarified with the information that it was done for the comman man to understand & follow. With science & technology developing, we can clarify such historical religious practices but shouldn’t affiliate with feminism. India was never against women emancipation, history says so :)..Thanks again for the more clear review!

  6. This is all the extremity of a few people. It is an age old tradition which need not be practiced in this technically advanced age.Pa

  7. If semen and menstrual blood both contain the sexual energy and both have life giving properties, then why does this energies affect only menstrual blood and not semen?

    • Unlike semen which can be released at will, the release of menstrual blood is involuntarily (unless she has mastered the required skills to change the course of bodily forces). While men can switch between celibacy and procreation, women can only have one of these at a time. If a woman is exposed to forces/energies that alter the natural flow of Apana, it will affect her ability to menstruate and consequently to reproduce. It is not so for men.

    • Sam, that’s a great question. To answer your question in a layman’s term, it is possible to control sexual energy in men by following celibacy. Whereas in women menstrual cycle, one cannot manually interfere. It is a well contained automated system. If you read the women’s menstrual/biological cycle and reproduction, it is a continual process through out the cycle.

    • There is a basic difference between the two. With regard to males, they can control themselves and maintain their austere living without any indulgence for any length of periods. The 42 day austere living includes this as well. Whereas women cannot control it and periods have to happen in monthly cycles unless there is a physical disorder. Since visiting sabarimala involves one mandala of pooja and austere living, women of procreating age are considered unfit to visit the place. If you can observe, no hindu woman who is mestruating will ever visit a local temple as well. It is not a restriction imposed by anyone. But they themselves won’t go. Moreover Sabarimala temple is in the middle of the forest where toilet facilities are not that comfortable. Allowing ladies there would be more uncomfortable to them.

  8. […] The above explanation is not a “belief” to be dismissed or accepted. Afterall, if temples do negatively impact menstruating women, we need to be aware and not leave it to a question of following one religion or not. At least for the sake of curiosity if nothing else, let us dig deeper to really understand whether or not temples actually impact menstrual cycles. Let’s not reduce feminism to fighting for things which we have no knowledge about, and worse still, might actually cause us harm. The Sabarimala Story: Can visiting temples affect menstruating women? […]

  9. what mythri says is confirmed by my Tai-chi Sensei Christopher Fernandes and even the ritual of making women sit in a rest room was for rest and renewal due to loss of blood. Following western lifestyles, urban women who exercise or follow normal routine today have huge health issues- PCOD (over 50% women today suffer from Fibroids), anaemia, backache, thyroid. also notions of purity in women or low caste as Shudras introduced by Indologists to divide and rule

  10. what mythri says my TaiChi sensei Christopher fernandes and kalaripayattu teacher also endorses. most significantly these rituals in Vedic Bharat were for rest and renewal. that is why today women esp in urban India following Western lifestyle whether during periods or post pregnancy going against their bio-rhythms are suffering from fibroids -PCOD (over 50% women suffer from this), anaemia, fatigues, vitamin deficiencies, thyroid etc. also the purity issue was introduced by indologists for divide and rule where they intorduced oppositional categories as they did with Shudras

  11. I always believed that the norms set by our ancestors were more based on science than religious beliefs. Neat and clinical article. Well written…

  12. A very impressive article.I wish those women trying to senselessly fight for entering temples are informed about this .I feel it is merely to gain fame that they are posing to fight to enter temples. They must be educated about the scientific aspects of spiritual facts. As you said, it would be beyond comprehension for them to understand about energies and how it would effect them. They should put their time and thoughts into something more useful and productive before they take to such uneducated acts of foolishness and then believe that it would make them famous. It fills me with disgust to watch those women behave like that.

  13. Very informative article.
    I like the various comments too.I am in agreement with what one of them has said about following rules in the various organizations. Now if a disco says that a particular dress code has to be adhered to people don’t object but when a place of worship has a dress code everyone is up in arms. Similarly nobody would have bothered about sabarimala if it was open to all. Don’t know why all this hungama is created!

  14. This is beautiful!! Finally one of the right reasons for debarring women from entering temples and Sabarimala temple to be specific is revealed!Very informative. Me being an ardent devotee of Ayyappan myself, was pissed off at so-called feminists for foolishly protesting against something of which they half or zero knowledge.

  15. An excellent article on the consecration of a temple through Mantra and Tantra into a Yantra using Sabarimala as a peg.

    But this will neither inspire nor educate India’s anti Dharmic judges and journalists who not only lack a conscience, but also lack erudition, arithmetic, integrity and cultural antecedents.

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