A look at the menstruation taboos that makes blood boil

Nov 10, 2018, 13:37 IST | Priyanka Dharwadkar and Rupsa Chakraborty

Another tradition-vs-law debate continues to simmer, after violent protests keep women devotees, wanting to pray at Sabarimala temple, at bay, despite an SC order in their favour. mid-day takes a look at the issue, the legend that started it all, and

A look at the menstruation taboos that makes blood boil
Graphic/Ravi Jadhav

The scenes at Sabarimala temple, since it opened its doors early last month for prayers and rituals, have been agonising and outrageous. The holy Hindu site has been besieged by protests and violence, as women devotees attempt to exercise a basic right - that of equality - after the Supreme Court lifted the 90s ban that had disallowed them from the entering the premises. Right-wing and religious organisations have, so far, refused to allow the police to implement the court order, citing tradition and legends that, they say, need to be upheld to keep menstruating women away from the temple.

My body, my rules!
Tina Kurian,
'When I was a little girl (according to the elders, a "big girl" because I'd had my period), friends and their mothers told me I could no longer take holy communion while menstruating, and I accepted that without question. However, as I grew up, I realised God was more concerned about the purity of my mind, heart and soul than that of my body. Menstruation shouldn't be grounds to deny a woman anything, be it the right to pray, play or work'

Sunita Mishra,
'Our inability to predict or control the future, or helplessness towards events unfolding, made us come up with the concept of 'God'. Gradually, it metamorphosed into religion. Having faith is a good thing, but that needn't have anything to do with religion. In today's times, everyone must be given the choice to do/not do what they believe in; religious practices were laid down by people like you and me; they needn't be treated as written in stone'

What religious texts say on menstruation
There is mention of avoiding sex and household tasks during menstruation, as well as segregation of menstruating women, in the holy scriptures, but, scholars explain, these do not stem from any belief that a menstruating girl/woman is unclean. It is merely advice, keeping the girl/woman's health and energy in mind during that period (pun intended). Segregation in the holy texts reportedly means leaving the woman undisturbed to spend those days in peace without any obligation to go out in public or tax herself with interactions.

The legend of Sabarimala
The erstwhile ban on women had nothing to do with them being considered impure or unclean. It is said to be out of respect for Lord Ayyappa, a staunch celibate. The legend goes that the lord set a woman free from a demon's curse, after which she professed her desire to marry him. The lord, however, said he would marry her the day kanni-swamis (new devotees) stopped visiting him with their prayers. The woman agreed to wait for him at a neighbouring temple. While one version says that out of respect for her love and sacrifice, the lord himself decided not to receive any menstruating women, another states it was his devotees who took that call, to honour the woman, worshipped today as Devi Maalikapurathamma.

Expert opinion
Dr Ganesh Shinde,
gynaecologist, Cooper Hospital
'Certain restrictions need to be done away now. Earlier, there were no sanitary pads; hence, menstruating women were asked to stay in a separate room. It had a rationale then but is conservative now. Its continued practice only ends up strengthening the myth that a menstruating woman is impure. When it comes to avoiding certain foods, however, there is science behind it. But the reason is hormonal imbalance some items cause, not religion'

Menstruation myths/taboos in India

  • Not allowed to mingle with men, even those from her own family
  • If married, not allowed to sleep in the same bed as her husband
  • Can't enter the kitchen or food will spoil
  • Mustn't touch pickle, or it will go bad
  • Shouldn't wash/cut hair the first two days
  • Can't enter temples and other places of worship
  • Considered dirty, impure

Bizarre beliefs across the world
Having sex when on your period will kill your partner. - Poland
You're not supposed to go camping, lest the bears smell it from far away! If you're a virgin, don't use tampons to stay pure! You can perm your hair only after your first period.  -US and UK
Don't touch flowers while menstruating; if you do, they'll die quicker. -Romania
Who doesn't want clear skin! And apparently, you'll get it if you wash your face with the first menstrual blood. - Phillippines 
You'll get cramps if you drink cold beverages during your period. - Colombia
Once a girl/woman starts menstruating, she is slapped across the face, so that she will have "beautiful red cheeks" for the rest of her life. - Israel
You must wash your blood-soaked pad before throwing it away, or ghosts will come and haunt you! - Malaysia

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