[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.
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