Hutted and Hushed No More – #PeriodPride

[I begin this post by referring to two different cultures in time and place and their ‘celebration’ of  ‘menstruation’. I take a critical view of the ritual, without meaning to offend any religious belief. My analysis is only for the purpose of understanding our habits and rituals concerning the monthly cycle of women. The two stories are followed by my take on ‘punishment’ in patriarchy and the idea of ‘taboo’. I end by asserting that every girl has the right to live a dignified life. It is time to accept this and talk.]

The Mayans story of Origin

Recalcitrant Po stands punished

Her love for Sun is taboo

Out of her blood 

The world is created….

A world of opposites-

Of diseases and of healing

Of the obvious and the hidden……

According to the Mayan mythology, the Moon-Goddess Po who was the daughter of Earth, consorted with Sun, and was discovered by her angry father. She was punished and her ‘disobedient’ blood was the cause of creation. A strange story about the origin of not just the world we inhabit, but also the beliefs that seep through across cultures and generations.

Nurturing Desire – The Goddess Kamakhya

Kamakhya sits untouched

She bleeds to nurture,

Part of Shakti, Goddess of desire

Purified before ‘worship’….

The story of Goddess Kamakhya (worshipped in Assam in India) is similar in one way to the story from Mayan mythology in that there is a rebellious daughter and an upset father. Sati is the daughter of Daksha and she chooses Shiva for her husband. Daksha is unhappy over the alliance. When there is a puja in the house, Daksha does not invite Shiva. Sati is enraged. She vents out her anger by throwing herself in the fire lit by her father for the puja. When Shiva finds this out, he performs Tandava holding Sati’s body. He vows to continue the dance until the body of Sati is completely decomposed. Vishnu, in order to save the entire world from destruction, uses his chakra to cut the body of Sati into pieces. Finally, Shiva has nothing to hold and he stops dancing. The pieces of Sati’s body fall on different places on Earth, and Kamakhya is the ‘womb’ – the part of procreation. Hence, the Goddess is worshipped in Assam as one who has nurturing power. She is the source of life. The ritual, however, is that of three days of forbidden entry to the temple as this is the time of her annual menstrual cycle (after which she will nourish the earth and make it sustainable for everyone.) Post the three-day hiatus, the Goddess is ‘bathed’, ‘purified’ and ‘worshiped’ again.

Punishment and Laying down the Rules

In both the mythological stories, the ‘female’ is initially the ‘dissident’ one. She has upset a certain ‘order’ in the patriarchal set-up. She is a threat which, if not thwarted, will cause anarchy. Po is punished by death and Sati kills herself out of provocation. But now, desire has to be placed in a sanctioned zone. It cannot be let loose again. So, Po’s blood becomes a symbol of both life and death. ‘Pure’ and ‘impure’, ‘disease’ and ‘medicine’ are segregated. Rules are laid. She can give power but she can be a deterrent too. A similar thing happens in the case of Sati too. She is literally cut to pieces and embodied again as a Goddess who bleeds, is not to be touched, first cleansed and then revered. A certain discipline has been imposed in both cases. This discipline imposes protocols on the subjects, in this case, the devotees. These devotees constitute our society. The rules have been set for the society. Unambiguous rules, backed in the name of worship.

 

Taboo

 

What is special about a menstrual cycle? It is nature’s way of telling that you are fertile now. The body is biologically getting ready. But from where comes the necessity of imposing taboo on what a girl/woman is supposed to do during that monthly cycle? Why does she need to be segregated and told she is impure and unclean? Why impose such meaning on something so natural? Why make her feel guilty for something that comes to her on its own, not something she has ‘brought about’ by any ‘fractious’ conduct? What is it but a means of putting her down yet again in the name of purity and impurity!

There is nothing pleasant about a period. It is a time of discomfort and unease which becomes habitual after a certain time. But it is also a necessary cycle. And one has the right to be prepared for it. Every girl/woman has the right to live with dignity every single day of her life, ‘those days’ included. Instead of ‘hutting’ them, (I am using this phrase after I read about menstrual huts – certain tribes across the world have special huts where ‘unclean’ women live during those days), the society ought to make ample provisions to help them live hygienically. Naari is trying to do precisely this. Rising above the taboo of  not talking about the periods, they have taken the initiative to instill in girls a sense of respect about their bodies. They tutor underprivileged girls on maintaining hygiene and on using nature-friendly products. A proper knowledge can ensure a healthy future for them. I was surprised when I read in the article on #PeriodPride shared by Write Tribe that

  • Chemicals like Dioxin which is found in disposable sanitary napkins is a known carcinogen and has been linked to ovarian cancer, abnormal growth in reproductive organs, impaired thyroid and immune dysfunction. Dioxin has even been added by WHO in their list of Dirty Dozen – List of 12 harmful chemicals.

 

It is imperative for each one of us to give the girls a chance to talk, so that they can articulate their concerns, their fears, and seek guidance. It was a time of utter ignorance when I had my first period. Having no knowledge about what was happening to me, I thought that I would die. I didn’t say all this but I think my mom knew what happens and  she handled it well and taught me how to take care during that time. Although she had not prepared me before, she helped me when the time came.

I really hope that each and every girl gets the chance to live with dignity throughout her life. I hope that provisions reach every corner of the earth so that terrified little hearts who know nothing about their bodies are calmed and comforted. They don’t need ‘hutting’ and ‘hurting’. They need love and interaction. They don’t need taboo. They need to talk.

 

Linking this post to Naari and Period Pride | Blogging Competition #PeriodPride via Write Tribe

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30 thoughts on “Hutted and Hushed No More – #PeriodPride

  1. Thats quite an exhaustive post. The Kamakshya Devi temple indeed isone of those rare temples with “mensuration” as part of its legend. But yes, the whole taboo around periods is something that needs to change. Hope the winds of change blow soon and the whole acceptance around it being a normal part of human kind comes about soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A mind blowing post, Sunaina. There are so many things that I was not aware like the history surrounding period in a women and high time for us to get rid of this misplaced and stupid patriarch ego. At least, cave people were better than us and we have the gall to call ourselves civilized.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The Mayan story I was not aware of. Like you said, in all the stories, menstruation is shown as punishment and hence to be endured in silence and be ashamed of. Forums like these will open up and break the taboos around menstruation. Well-written

    Liked by 1 person

    • True Lata…Thanks for visiting and sparing the time to read my post. My attempt was precisely to highlight the fact that prejudices and thought-processes are shaped through a certain belief-system we inherit and follow.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I spent my childhood in a traditional joint family. During the period (pun intended) women folk of the family were treated as untouchables and were quarantined. Of course now a days in our family we do not fallow those strictures.

    Coming to your post, You have made an in depth inquiry and included the mythological origin of the taboo to bring in the right perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for being here Corinne. We are social beings …the practices we partake of in a society are well in keeping with the structures it endorses…..Religion is an extremely important instrument which shapes us. I could have talked about periods in terms of my personal story but then I felt that it has been very similar for many of us…same taboos, same prohibitions, same instructions…..I wanted to read about how it all came into being….and was fascinated when I came across these stories…Had to share them here…..:)

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  5. Amazing post Sunaina. I must admit, the Mayan story was new for me as well as for other people here. Thank you for taking time, and sharing this with all of us.

    You are so right that each girl has the right to live with dignity and should not be ridiculed for something that is occurring naturally in her body. Don’t know why people fail to understand that all these traditional practices were perhaps true to that time for they were actually practiced to give rest to women’s bodies. They were never introduced to suppress women rather empower them. Its unfortunate that those practices took an ugly turn and women started to be treated as untouchables and discriminated openly in name of traditions and culture. And the worst part, women themselves encourage such practices.

    I am so glad people are changing, ideologies are changing and very hopeful that these taboos and stigmas will come to an end for good.

    Thank you for writing for #periodpride. It was lovely reading your post…:)

    Would love to hear from you again. Feel free to share your menstrual experiences or views with us at naari.wellness@gmail.com or post on https://www.facebook.com/NaariWomenWellnessProducts/

    Like

    • So glad and happy to see you here Anju……I wanted to bring in the role of practices in consolidating our belief-system in a given society. Hence I opted to write this post. People like you are doing commendable job in educating young girls of our country. They are future mothers and if they are aware, their kids will be raised better too. I extend my Thanks to you for all that you are doing. Will keep spreading the word about Naari…..I wish you success.

      Like

  6. Amazing post Sunaina.
    I must admit, the Mayan story was new for me too. Thank you for writing for #PeriodPride.
    And you rightly said, every woman has the right to live with dignity. and unfortunately menstruation is one such taboo that restricts them to do so. Women often have to face bias and discrimination owing to deep rooted Menstrual Myths.
    However, things are changing and I am so glad to see people refrain from supporting these myths and rather question the logic behind such practices. Hopeful for a better tomorrow.

    Would love to hear from you again. Feel free to share your Menstrual experiences or views with us at https://www.facebook.com/NaariWomenWellnessProducts/ or drop an email to naari.wellness@gmail.com

    Liked by 1 person

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