Menstruation in Hindu Culture
This article is in no way meant to bash anyone’s views. I’m merely trying to provide a deeper understanding of menstruation in Hindu and Indian Culture.
Periods are ridiculous. I shouldn’t be punished for not being pregnant”- Unknown.
In honour of Hindu Heritage Month, this is one topic that more people should gain an understanding. Menstruation is a vast topic in Hinduism and is one that is often not talked about. Recently, situations have changed. Society is becoming more comfortable with the idea of menstruation. When it comes to menstruation, there are two perspectives. Many Hindus have shifted to a more liberal and modern view. However, in many rural areas, there are still believers in the traditional conservative ways. In many areas, women are considered “ a living goddess” and in other areas are believed to be giving “bad energy”. Menstruation time and time again proves to be based on perspective and beliefs. Throughout this article, I will explore different perspectives, ancient stories, menstruation’s connection to food, access to period products and more. Menstruation is not something to be looked down upon, and I hope that you gain a deeper understanding of other religious points of view with this article.
India (which is home to the most Hindus in the world!) is an incredibly diverse country, with many different views. Different views on everything varying from food, religion, nature, god and even menstruation. Menstruation being the one talked about least. Over the years, conversations about menstruation have become more common. In addition to these new conversations, some people have forgotten the older traditions. There are meaningful stories and traditions behind menstruation for Hindus. These stories help us understand menstruation’s role in Hindu culture and help us figure out how to adapt around our religion- for example, the story of how women got their period. The story goes that King Indra (King of Heaven) had committed a crime. He prayed to Lord Vishnu (Preserver of Earth) to help him and clean his mess up. After praying to Lord Vishnu for a year, Vishnu agreed to solve his problem. Vishnu then said that he would divide Indra’s burden on trees, earth, water and women. Each was given part of the burden and a blessing. Trees would be able to regrow, Earth would be able to heal, water would be able to purify other beings/objects and that is why water is still important for Hindus. As for women, they were given menstruation and their blessing was they would be able to clean themselves of their sins monthly, bear life inside them and some say be capable of more pleasure than men. There are hundreds of stories like these that we learn from. Many of our traditions originate from stories like these. While some traditions have been twisted, some traditions remain the same. In rural areas of India and West Nepal, these older traditions still take place. For many families, these traditions are sacred and must be followed. For example, In West Nepal one of the oldest traditions, Chhaupadi is still practiced today. While the Nepal government banned the practice in 2005, many isolated communities still practice it. The tradition says that women must leave their house or village and sit in a hut until their period is over or for the first five days. This comes from the belief that menstrual blood is impure and carries curses and sins that women have cleansed themselves of. These kinds of beliefs also depend on where you live. There are negatives and positives to this tradition, depending on your scenario and how you look at it. Some might say it is outdated and misogynistic.Some might say that it is a time of rest for women since they don't have to work and all food and water is given to them during this time. In some rural areas, Chhaupadi is dangerous, and women may die of animals or weather. In some areas, huts are warm, animal-safe and a time of rest for women. Some women may not be able to choose if they follow these traditions or not, it may be forced upon them and that is where the problem arises. While the government has tried to ban it, it comes under religious beliefs, it is hard to put a permanent end to. For such a risky tradition young women should get the option to decide if they feel ready to participate. While most of these traditions are not as extreme as Chhaupadi, they all hold significant power in the conversation about menstruation in Hinduism.
Depending on where you live, traditions during your menstrual cycle can differ as well. Typically bigger cities have more relaxed views, but that isn’t always true. In Southern India where views on menstruation are more conservative, one of 2019’s biggest news headlines took place. Normally women are not supposed to enter areas of worship while on their period for many reasons. Depending on who you ask, menstruating women are either considered “god-like” or “dirty”. Kerala (A state in Southern India) is home to Sabarimala Temple, one of the most influential temples in India attracting over 30 million people annually. On the first day of 2019, hundreds of women began a protest against Sabarimala Temple’s rules. According to their rule, no young woman had been inside the temple for centuries, no menstruating women are allowed in. That meant unless your cycle has permanently ended, you are not allowed inside. That means that no woman under the age of around 50 had been inside for centuries. A couple of months before the protest began, the Kerala government lifted the ban on menstruating women in the temple. Even though it had been a couple of months since the ban had been lifted, no women were allowed inside. In early 2019, women created a 650km wall of protest and demanded they be let inside. They were met by violent repercussions by men and women who were guarding the temple. One night, 2 women snuck into the temple at 4 am with help of some plain-clothed police officers. They made history as no women had been inside the temple for years. They were met with both riots and a flood of support. Women inside the temple are still very rare, yet they are working to change that. This is not the case for all temples, the Sabarimala Temple is the only temple in India to issue this law. In the riots, there were men and women and yet you would ask “wouldn’t women fight for each other?”. This leads us back to the idea that menstruation in Hinduism is all perspective. There is no right or wrong, and everyone has their reasons for their beliefs. Some men may be very liberal, and some women may be religious conservatives. It has nothing to do with your sex. Neither is wrong as the stories and traditions behind menstruation do not hold anyone guilty.
Another huge aspect of Hinduism is that Hindus hold many things sacred and holy. These things can vary from money, food, water, nature, animals, and so much more. While a woman is on her period, they are restricted from certain things. For example, they are not allowed to touch water (unless they are in the bath), touch religious foods (ladoos, Panchamirtham, etc.) or enter areas of worship. While many regions have stopped other traditions, these are the three that are still commonly practiced. I know many Hindus, not just in India, still practice at least 1 of these. The most sacred of all three of these are entering areas of worship. Different people believe this for various reasons, but in the end, most Hindus agree that a menstruating woman should not go into a temple on her cycle. Sinu Joseph, a menstrual-health activist travels throughout India to gain a deeper understanding of menstruation in Hinduism. She says in some areas, women are treated as a “goddess”. They are not allowed inside temples because they carry “heavenly energy” and if they enter, they may take the murtis energy (statues of gods). In Manipur, some women keep their first period cloth as a sign of good health. Meanwhile, In Jharkhand women aren’t allowed in temples because period blood is feared. While these are two very different reasons, they meet on the same outcome. This can go for a lot of other traditions as well. One that it does not work on is food and water. Water and certain foods are considered sacred and holy in Hinduism. Some people believe that if menstruating women touch the food, it becomes “impure”. Since certain Hindus believe that menstrual blood carries sins, they believe that it will curse the food they are eating. This belief also has two perspectives. While a woman might not be able to cook or touch certain foods, she will be served with comforting foods instead. She will not have to cook anything and will eat what she wants. While some might say that a woman should be able to eat whatever she wants, some would enjoy rest and being served during a painful time. Food has a deep-rooted connection to menstruation for not just Hindus, but all menstruators. For example, certain foods help cramps, while others induce them during one's cycle. In Hinduism, you may eat whatever you want but must refrain from touching sacred foods instead. Traditionally, women would be served food and water throughout their period. Times have changed recently and women now acquire their own food and water. Although women still receive rest from their daily house duties in certain rural areas and receive all food and water. Each Hindu’s views on menstruation differ, which affects how rigidly they follow “rules”. Although food and water are very sacred for Hinds, not all Hindus follow these traditions and that’s perfectly fine.
Menstruation has become a topic of interest over the past couple of decades. Starting in the late ’80s, many of the conversations about menstruation had changed. One thing that has yet to change is the access to period products. Hindu or not, many Indians don’t have access to proper period products. According to a 2019 survey, over 70% of India’s reproductive diseases are caused by poor menstrual hygiene. Many menstruators do not have access to period products as they are either too expensive or hard to find especially in rural and developing areas. Over 40% of Indian women still do not know what pads, tampons or cups are. Many still use cloth rags or napkins. These lead to daily hardships and a lot of pain. Many young women miss school due to their period as well. Missing 7-10 days of school per month adds up to anywhere between 84-120 days of school annually. Women, Hindu or not, should have safe access to sanitary products regardless of where they live. Although, change has been made. In 2010, only 10-20% of women used proper menstrual products. In 2019, that number has rose to 58%. Another amazing thing the Indian government is pushing for is period products to be distributed equally everywhere, and a tax reduction! If this comes true, so many menstruators will have easy access to products at a more affordable price. Although Hinduism does not say anything about period products, most Hindus believe in proper sanitary products as they will ease the pain menstruators must go through during this time. Hindus also believe in proper hygiene as staying “clean” is a very strong belief. Many countries similar to India are trying to implement change for period products. To help India, Hindus, and menstruators worldwide, you can contact charities, activists, and organizations to supply menstrual products.
Menstruation and how you deal with your period differs based on someone’s religion, personality, beliefs, etc. There is no right way, and there is no wrong way. As we’ve seen, it can depend on the person, their area, their family and more. Hinduism is one of the world’s oldest religions and has a very long history with menstruation. There are ancient texts and stories about menstruation, yet it’s something we choose not to talk about. Whichever traditions you choose to follow or not to follow, remember to embrace your history. Help the fight against period poverty and stigma in any way you can. Menstruation was a blessing in disguise that the gods have given women. Research the history behind periods, how everything is intertwined, figure out if you want to take part in traditions and if not that’s totally okay! It leads us back to the recurring theme which is “menstruation in Hinduism is all perspective” which is completely true. Although, I now believe I would like to change that theme to “menstruation and the beliefs that come with it are all perspectives”. Whether you are Hindu or not, everyone has their own views and based on your opinion, you make your decision. The only difference is in religious/cultural matters, you have a third option. Whatever your faith may be, remember to educate yourself and understand other’s beliefs. Supporting other menstruator’s beliefs is the first step towards change. Not one cycle, one person, one family or one religion is the same. Each menstruator will go on with their life differently, and that is the beauty of it. Menstruation can connect anyone regardless of religion, sex, race, gender or any other differentiating category. We all have one thing in common and that is;
No one else sees it
No one else wants to see it
Only she/he can
See the beauty in their blood