Myths about Menstruation
Our Puranas describe the human body as the city of nine gates. These are the nine orifices in our body — two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, one mouth, and the two lower orifices. The seven above the navel are the gates through which the citadel of the body gets all the information necessary for its survival in the world. The two lower gates are primarily meant for elimination. The body is really a perfect organism. The processes of assimilation, digestion and elimination keep going on without our knowledge. We are mostly aware of the ingestion which takes place but not conscious of the digestion and elimination. But elimination is a most necessary part of the cleansing process which is absolutely essential to a healthy system. Imagine a house that is never swept or cleaned!
The best part of the food we eat is digested and assimilated and the waste is thrown out as faeces through the anus. The major portion of the water and liquids we drink is assimilated and the rest thrown out as urine. There are other processes of elimination like phlegm, spit, snot, sweat, farts etc. All these are the same for both males and females but the female body has been given an extra method of cleaning itself and that is through the process of menstruation when the unfertilised eggs and the impure blood in the body is expelled from the uterus. There are no myths connected with faeces, urine, spit and phlegm because these are common to both genders BUT there are a lot of misconceptions and taboos related to menstrual blood since men don’t have it. Since we have been living in a male dominated society for centuries these myths have been carried down from generation to generation and women have meekly accepted them. In this glorious age of women’s emancipation it is high time that someone tried to unravel these unnecessary misconceptions shrouding the very natural process of menstruation. The great controversy going around the entry of women into the temple of Sabarimala seems to be the right time to write an article to clear up these misconceptions.
Why are women forbidden to enter all Hindu temples during the three days of the menstrual period? The first and obvious answer is that everything that the body eliminates is considered dirty by all humans. Though food is clean, shit is not, though water is clean, urine is not, similarly though blood is clean, menstrual blood is not. The same is true of the snot that comes out of the nostrils, phlegm that come out of the throat, the tears from the eyes, the spit from the mouth, wax from the ears etc. Though hair looks lovely on the head, we would immediately remove it from our food if it happened to fall into it. Thus everything that the body throws out of itself is considered unclean and impure by all of us. Not only are they considered unclean but they are also considered as being carriers of disease. This is one of the reasons for which our culture kept certain rules regulating all things that the body eliminates. Nobody would think of shitting or pissing in the temple premises or combing their head and leaving strands all over the place. So also when a woman is having her menstrual period it is best for her not to enter a holy place just as it is advisable for a person having diarrhoea not go to a place of worship or even a party. To a certain extent we can control our urge to defecate or urinate but this is not the case with menstruation. It is totally beyond the control of the woman. If blood suddenly starts to flow down her thighs in a temple or some public place it would certainly cause a lot of embarrassment to her as well as to those around her. It would be as embarrassing as having uncontrollable diarrhoea and shitting in our pants in public. As we know even farting is considered pretty unclean and unhealthy if it is done in public! In fact everything that the body eliminates is considered unpleasant and unhealthy by everyone. Actually menstrual blood is not as impure as all the other things which we have been discussing. It is a method by which nature ensures the birth of a new generation. If menstrual blood is considered impure, the semen from the male should also be considered impure. So the reason our culture forbade the entrance of women to temples during menstruation has nothing to do with purity or impurity. It is only a social inconvenience as mentioned above.
Another point to be noted is that everyone likes to be private when anything is eliminated from their body. It is normally never done in public even though many men have no such inhibitions when they want to urinate! Spit is known to be a carrier of germs yet in India nobody thinks anything of spitting all over the place! How healthy or impure is that!! However even in India no one would tolerate if a person started coughing and spitting all over the place in the midst of a theatre or music performance! This is all pretty obvious to everyone but since menstruation is one thing which is unique to women, men have made a big fetish about it and woven all sorts of superstitious nonsense around it.
This is of course the obvious answer but as with everything in the Sanathana Dharma, there is a very good scientific and humanitarian reason for keeping women away from public places during her monthly periods.
Our culture has always recognised the unique role played by women in the production of the new generation. Every society has to take utmost heed to ensure that the future generations are taken care of, if the culture has to be preserved. This has always been recognised in the Sanatana Dharma. Thus every effort was made to protect and look after the woman especially during the season of her monthly periods and during the ten months of gestation and for another three months after the baby was born. This was done with the purest of intentions but modern women have been so influenced by western thought that they think that this was all done by a male dominated society to suppress and depress them.
Now let us examine the scientific reasons for women not entering temples during menstruation. The human body has five forces called “vayus” or “winds” which are responsible various different processes in our body, like digestion, assimilation and ejection. These are called prana, apana, udana, vyana and samana. Each of these has its own function and area of control. Prana is the life force, taken in with every inhalation that courses through our body through certain pathways called “nadis.” These are subtle forces that actually run parallel to our nervous system. The “vayu” or energy known as “samana” is responsible for absorbing the food we take. This refers not just to physical food but also to the knowledge that we intake through the five senses. Vyana distributes the nutrients to the different parts of the body as and when required. Apana is the downward wind that is in charge of the excretory functions. It removes carbon dioxide, urine and faeces. Udana connects the brain stem with the cardiac plexus.
Apart from these main “vayus” or “winds”, the body also has something called “upavayus” which are subsidiary to the major five and take care of certain special functions especially in the female body. The upavayu called “prasoothi” is found in the uterus and female genitals. It exerts a strong downward force during menstruation and at the time of the birth of a baby. Actually it starts to function from the eighth month onwards and brings the head of the foetus downwards and of course creates the strong force which eventually pushes the baby out at the time of birth.
Temples are places where the pranic current is very active and allow our minds and energies to rise upward towards the higher chakras or wheels of psychic energy. When we go to the temple during the times when the pranic current called “prasoothi” is active, we will be setting up a counter and downward force which according to our rishis would result in infertility, endometriosis, blocking of tubes etc. This is one of the scientific reasons for forbidding menstruating women and pregnant women over eight months from going to temples or places of worship. So our ancient taboos against temple entry have nothing to do with the defiling of the deity or the impurity of the woman. It was only meant as a protection for her own health. Since most people are reluctant to take any advice given for health reasons, in olden days they were made into taboos which later started accumulating sinister touches like impurity etc. I’m sure that ignorant men who knew nothing about our ancient culture took this as an opportunity to suppress and control women!! We must understand that these rules apply not just to Sabarimala but to all Hindu temples but in all temples it was left to the discretion of the woman whereas in Sabarimala, the rules were made stringent.
It is absurd to suppose that a deity, that is the essence of purity, can ever be defiled. No doubt male arrogance and desire to prove himself superior in all ways to women encouraged the creation of such ridiculous superstitions and taboos that exist today.
It is high time that all people should be educated about the truth of the extremely pure state of menstruation and this education should also be given to our girls so that they are never made to feel unclean or dirty during that period and are given the freedom to choose whether they want to follow the rules pertaining to their own health which our wise culture has given from ancient times. They can chant their own mantras at all times but should refrain from taking part in any strenuous sadhana like yogasanas.
Let all women understand that menstruation is the miracle that ensures the birth of a new and healthy generation and it is the solemn duty of every woman to protect and perfect a new life which only she is capable of protecting!
Hari Aum Tat Sat