Unearthing Menstrual Wisdom – Why menstruating women don’t go to temples and follow many such practices : Part 4/5

Click here to read part 3.

7. Taking time off during menstruation

In Dakshina Kannada (Karnataka state), we came across a woman who explained to us the relevance of the Tulu festival called Keddasa. This festival is celebrated in the month of January or February for 3 days. This is a celebration of the beginning of mother earth’s fertility cycle which they believe is similar to the woman’s fertility cycle. During these 3 days, mother earth is given rest and no digging or harvesting happens during this time. On the fourth day, some oil and turmeric is sprinkled on the earth and then begins the process of sowing seeds.

Similarly, it is believed that women who are menstruating should also not be disturbed during her period and her natural cleansing and downward flow of energy should be allowed before her next fertile phase begins. Thus, these cultures saw a close connect with the cyclical nature of the earth and women’s cycles.

We also visited the temple of the Bhagwathi in Chengannur (Kerala) and the temple of Kamakhya Devi (Assam) where the Goddess too was believed to menstruate and followed similar rituals of menstrual seclusion, closing the temple for 3 days and then celebrating the end of her menstruation. In both these temples, the menstrual cloth is considered highly auspicious and is distributed among devotees. The idea of resting and not disturbing menstruating women, including a Goddess, does not arise from any superstitious belief. It is because of the thought that menstruation and the release of energy during this time should not be interrupted in any way. It is a natural cleansing process which helps women remain healthy, and should not be affected by external influences.

If these menstrual rituals were meant to suppress women, surely we would not be doing the same with the Goddess.

Here is some more information shared with me by Jayant Kalawar (author of The Advaita life practice, and an advisor to our Trust), when I wrote to him about why my menstrual cycle suddenly shifted by 13 days in the month of November 2014 and began on Nov 18th instead of Nov 6th. He writes:

“The fertility cycle on earth begins with each new moon: each of the first nine nights (nava-ratra, the nine nights of the Devi) after the occurrence of the new moon. These nights have a specific significance in what happens and what action needs to be done. This is connected intimately with when to sow seeds in the ground, when to add fertilizers and when to water the seeds etc. Ground water comes up to nourish the seeds / plants the most in the days between the end of the nava-ratra and full moon (approx 5 days / nights). This agri / farming / plants cycle needs to be re-discovered and re-instated through careful empirical study.

For women (i.e. human females), the fertility cycle comes to an end in the last four days / nights leading to the new moon. Hence the ideal menstruation period, which heralds the end of the fertility cycle, should be the last four days / nights leading to the occurrence of the new moon.

So if you started your menstruation period 4 days before the new moon (new moon in Bangalore in November 2014 is occurring at about 12 noon on the 22nd) i.e. on Tuesday Nov. 18th, it would be in alignment with the moon-earth-fertility cycle – according the hypotheses articulated above.”

More about this can be read in his blog – Menstrual Health and quest for Economic Freedom within the Moon-Earth Fertility cycle.

Cultural practices believed that it is necessary for a woman to align her cycles with that of the moon in order to ensure that her menstrual cycle and overall health is in balance. For women with menstrual problems, one of the corrective measures offered by traditional healers is to help them align their cycles with the moon cycle.

8. Restricting menstruating women to seclusion huts

Not all menstrual practices have their roots in Ayurveda or the knowledge of energy flow during menstruation. Some were for practical reasons: such as the concept of menstrual seclusion huts.

In October 2014, the local media created much noise about the Golla (shepherd) community’s menstrual practices, in particular the practice of secluding menstruating and pregnant women in separate huts.

We met and interacted with over 300 Gollas across 7 Hattis (hamlets) in Hassan and Chitradurga districts in Karnataka to understand the reason behind these practices. Here is what we learnt:

In one Gollarahatti in Arasikere (Hassan), the Panchayat president informed us that the Gollas live in small houses with multiple families, and also have the sheep under the same roof. Under such circumstances, a menstruating woman has little privacy and space to manage her period. They believed that menstruating women have lesser immunity and are more likely to contract the diseases of the sheep which live under the same roof. At the same time, they do not have the means to provide separate rooms in their homes for the comfort of menstruating women. Therefore, the community decided to build a separate hut (menstrual hut) where menstruating women could comfortably and privately manage their period. Traditionally, these huts were built out of herbal trees such as the neem and lined with medicinal plants which kept the women warm and prevented poisonous insects and snakes from entering.

Homes of the Gollas

While interacting with a village elder, he revealed some interesting aspects of why the menstrual seclusion practice began among the early. He said that the Gollas, being shepherds, were primarily nomadic in nature. The men travelled with the sheep, sometimes for months together, in search of work and food for the sheep. When they returned, they were naturally eager to have sex with the women, without a thought about the woman’s current condition (whether she was menstruating or pregnant). Therefore, in order to give women the needed rest during menstruation or pregnancy (especially since contraceptives were unavailable) and to make men more sensitive towards woman’s condition, the community decided to have menstrual seclusion huts. So, when the men returned after months, and if his woman was in the menstrual hut, he would know what state she was in.

The Golla women in Chitradurga, requesting for menstrual huts

While visiting a slum in Chitradurga, the women informed us that due to the latest media attention and the focus on getting rid of the menstrual huts, they were facing serious challenges. Since the women were not willing to let go of this practice and since the government was discouraging the use of menstrual huts, menstruating women were forced to be out on the streets. They had to bathe, change their menstrual cloth and do all ablutions out in the open. The women clearly said that even if the men in the community tell them to discontinue the practice, they will not let it go – such was their strong belief. They pleaded us to help them build menstrual huts.Here, we need to realize that these practices had a cultural relevance for this particular community. Forcing the community to discontinue the practice might cause more harm than good. A better way of approaching the problem would involve helping the community economically progress, through which they automatically let go of whatever is not relevant for them in the present times.

——to be continued…——

(earlier published on https://mythrispeaks.wordpress.com/)

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