The stigma around menstruation is certainly puzzling – society celebrating a girl’s transition into womanhood yet making a menstruating woman untouchable!
Menstruation is a unique natural process that a woman is blessed with. The onset of this process is linked with many social beliefs and taboos. There are many places in the world where a unique tradition is followed celebrating a girl’s transition to womanhood. However, the barring of menstruating women from temples or any holy places is still not clear to me.
In India, Assam and few South Indian states seem to celebrate the onset of menstruation in grandeur. The girl gets clad in a beautiful sari or with their traditional wear, people from the neighbourhood are informed and they come to bless the girl with gifts. The girl is given healthy and extravagant food to eat.
In many other countries, they follow something similar. The tribes in Africa believe that a menstruating girl gets into divinity and holds some divine power with wisdom. They consider their blood sacred and celebrate the onset of puberty with annual events. The Japanese celebrate this occasion by eating red-colored rice and beans. Rice is precious and is eaten only during the celebration. This tradition is kept secret until the rice is served. Similarly, countries like Nepal, Australia have their own way of celebrating the first menstrual cycle of a woman.
We have seen how people from different regions celebrate the beginning of womanhood. Then on the other hand, why do these people prevent women from entering holy places or offering prayers? Why is their blood termed dirty and menstruating women treated as impure?
For example, in Japan, the followers of the religion Shinto pray to the Kami (the spirits they worship) and follow a strict rule for menstruating women for not entering the temples. They believe that the Kami don’t grant wishes for those who have traces of blood, dirt or death on them.
In Hindus, in many communities, menstruating women are asked not to involve themselves in any of the household activities. They are not entitled to enter either a temple or a kitchen. Some families even ask menstruating women to sleep on the floor rather than on their normal beds. They are given a separate room to stay in and even served their food in separate plates.
Confusing! On the one hand the onset of menstruation is celebrated! On the other hand, women are stigmatized for their menstruating cycles. If society feels proud and happy to announce the change to to womanhood, then why does it become ashamed of and stop women from going about their normal life during menstruation?
Even if it is for giving her ‘rest’, don’t you think that the girl should be the sole decision maker rather than society? I would really like to understand this ritual ambiguity associated with menstruation. Please share your thoughts and experiences so that we can understand it better.
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Published here earlier.
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