My friend’s daughter Sweta asked me a question: “Uncle, elders in my family are not allowing me to go to temple or to participate in poojas during periods(menstruation). If you say, I would agree as I believe you know better than them about Sanatan Dharma.”
A totally unexpected question. Women are not allowed to come into the puja room (prayer room) or enter the kitchen or eat the prasadam (offerings) or participate in the puja rituals during periods. (in India)
“My parents say that there should be some logic and science behind the taboo, but they don’t know. Is there any divine, logical or scientific explanation? Why did our ancestors insisted on this?” she asked again.
“I am not an authority to tell about this. You should go by your tradition” I said.
“I told Sweta that women would be impure during the periods, so you shouldn’t go to temple…All our sastras says that…Menstruating women are inauspicious because of the curse that was given to them” her grandmother said.
“Which sastra? What curse?”I asked.
“Don’t you know Uday? In Mahabharat, Draupadi was forced to come to the courtyard of King Drutrastra where Pandavas had lost her in gambling. Her menstruating blood fell on the floor and the curse killed Kauravas…”
“Amma (mother), she had been dragged to the court while having periods. But there is no mentioning of any curse related to menstruation. And Mahabharat is an epic, not sastra. The only mention about menstruation in any of the dharma sastra, to my knowledge, is in Manusmriti.”
“Aha, so Uday, you mean to say girls can go to temple during periods?” She angrily asked me. In fact, it is the senior females in the house who always bring about stringent rules for juniors! It’s an irony that the mothers and grandmothers suffer because of the existing myths and they make their daughters (or in-laws) follow the same restrictions and pass on the same discomfort.
“I didn’t say that… We have a lot of customs, rituals and taboos that we follow without knowing explanations. I also follow some traditions – for instance I wear traditional dress during my visit to temples…that’s part of our culture…There would be a reason for everything…” I said.
“Like what?” my friend asked.
“Women lived in a large family, so they had a lot of responsibilities and hard work. So they needed rest and this was the only time they used to get…” I said.
“No..it is impure, inauspicious and papa (sin), that’s why. God will curse if she enters into temple…” grandmother was still angry. Sweta looked at me for explanation. I was in a dilemma.
“Amma, medical experts say that biologically menstrual fluid is a mixture of tissues and blood vessels and there is nothing impure about it, it does not contain a smell of its own, it gives foul smell only after it comes in contact with air outside the body. (Just like your sweat – it doesn’t produce foul smell on its own) The fluid of a future child is completely pure” I said “Do you think God would discriminate? How can God have any objection to a female devotee wanting to worship? Our scriptures are not about “do’s and don’ts”. Nowhere in Hindu sacred texts you’ll find such “Rules and Regulations”.
“Temple and pooja room are the places where we should enter with purified mind and body…” my friend’s father said.
“Yes uncle. That’s why traditionally we take bath before going to temple. Similarly, with bath and modern hygienic practices how can you say a female is impure? This is a normal biological function of the female of every mammalian species. Cows wandering inside the temples also undergo “covert” menstruation.This is a necessary part of ovulation essential for child bearing….”I said.
“Would you allow your wife and daughters go to temple during periods…?” my friend’s wife who was silent till then asked.
“Even if I allow, they won’t go…this is the point I wanted to tell you…this tradition has gone deep into their psyche. And they develop a sort of guilty feeling if they go against the tradition.. The restrictions are imposed by the older generations for female members of the family. This is how the myths and beliefs are passed from one generation to the other, however bursting these myths are one’s personal choice and responsibility.”
“You talk big philosophy, why can’t you force them?” Sweta’s grandma teased me.
“I never force anybody to follow anything. The mind is conditioned from the childhood by elders like you, Amma. Nobody can go against the conditioned-mind. That would create friction or guilt conscience later. In short, when the life is controlled by the manifested-mind, belief has more strength than truth. If one goes against ones-belief and does something, it creates guilt and further conflict and can have psychological effects…Belief doesn’t need any logic and scientific basis..”
“So…?” Sweta asked.
“The interaction with the divine is strictly between individual and God. No one else has a say in that. So long as one does not feel uncomfortable or guilty, it is alright…” I reminded her that Hinduism values a woman as a form of energy or an aspect of Shakti (Shaktiswarupini). She is mata (the Mother Goddess) or Devi (the auspicious one). As a mother she is worthy of worship (matrudevobhava).
“Hmmm. So you mean to say there is no scientific logic or divine rule about it. Then why did people strictly follow this all over India?” her grandfather asked.
“Uncle, no god has ever said that females cannot enter temples during their periods. They always can. GOD never discriminated female or male. It is the modern society that tend to be either male chauvinistic or promoting women’s liberty…Nobody told women are not allowed to enter temples…. She is never barred by God. It is the society that attached all this stigmas” I said “However, this practice was somehow accepted by society at a particular period of time and place, may not be by force, but by choice.”
“So I can go…” the girl exclaimed!
“Sweta, going by today’s scientific knowledge (this may change tomorrow as science is not the final word), it is one of those many things which somehow started and followed generations after generation and eventually, we accepted that it must be written somewhere, though actually it is not….So it is up to you to decide…”
“If I don’t believe in such superstitions, can I go?”
“Why should you need anybody’s acknowledgement or certificate for your beliefs? It is purely a personal choice. Who am I to advise you on this? Honestly, I do many things that I don’t believe in – as part of my tradition and culture. For instance, I perform Matru Paksh Shraddh (mother’s death anniversary rituals) – I know for sure that those pindas (rice balls) won’t reach my mother. But I will do it – for, it has some symbolical, psychological and family values – where the next generation can learn many things about our dharma. Not only that – for me, most importantly, my mother believed in such rituals. I don’t believe, but for the love regards to my mother’s beliefs. So where ever I am, I come home during this day and perform the ritual..” ( https://udaypai.in/)
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