Menstruation in Indian Culture, Myths & Taboos

Menstruation in Hinduism and cultural Indian beliefs had several restrictions in the past because a woman was considered to be more susceptible or vulnerable physically, emotionally, and psychologically. It was recommended for Indian women to rest during menstruation.

According to history, menstruation in Indian culture and tradition had it that a woman during her menstrual cycle was not allowed to participate in prayer rituals, enter temples or places of worship. She was required to stay at home and rest until she was done with her periods.

Women in their periods were considered to be more sensitive and could even affect the energy world thus interfering with meditation. There were also hygiene issues involved since they did not have sanitary pads like those that we have today.

In India, there was also the presence of wild animals like the tigers and the smell of blood could attract them from a distance. This would make the women exposed to danger as there were reports of more women attacked and killed by wild animals during their periods.

During menstruation in Hinduism, there were shades and places outside the temple set for women who wanted to go and pray. They were not allowed to enter the temple and mingle with other people during their monthly periods.

 

Menstruation in Hinduism Culture
Menstruation in Hinduism Culture

Menstrual Taboos in Hinduism

A taboo can be easily defined as a negative impulse towards something. Menstrual taboo is described as a social restriction that is attached to women and it does not rely on one religion or practice.

Menstrual in Indian culture came with a lot of myths, beliefs, and taboos among Indians just like other communities.

Menstrual taboo in India came to be due to a Hindu belief in the impurity of menstrual blood thus considering women to be impure too. Below are some of the discussed menstrual taboos within Hinduism.

1. Women Are Banned from Worship

Menstruation in Indian culture and taboos also dictated that women should not be allowed to perform any religious activities.

This included attending the religious festivals was banned, worshiping from the Temple was banned, and also having special rooms for worship was banned.

All this was because they were considered impure and hence could not afford to come into contact with anything that could be given as an offering to” God.”  

The main reason for the above belief is the fact that Hindu women on their menses, due to the state of their heightened state of Rajas, have gotten into a temporary phase of Ashaucha thus making them ineligible to undertake religious activities and rituals. 

The above activities have been severally mentioned in the Angirasa Smriti (verse 37), stating that women not to engage in sacred activities.

2. Cooking Was Prohibited

During menstruation in Indian culture, women were considered to be impure which meant that they were not allowed within the kitchen premises believing that if the woman came into contact with the food it would have to goo bad.  

The above advice can be found in Vashita Dharma Sutras, Angirasa Smrithi and other books from their religion scripts.

Household activities were also not allowed for it was believed that excess physical activity may lead to an imbalance in the Doshas having bad effects on the health of the woman.

They also believed that the women who overworked themselves and never followed the instructions were punished by having a negative impact on the children they conceived.

3. No Bathing, Combing of Hair or Self-Adoring Activities

The Hindu also consider having menses as a period of austerity. The women have to refrain from performing self-adoring activities that they might have gotten attached to.

This is said to be done in order for women to attain self-purification by detaching themselves from the activities and giving them better control over their mind and senses.

The advice occurs in the Scripts like Yajurveda, Taittiriya, Samhita, or Sushruta Samhita. Principles guiding this are two-fold, they include austerity and also an imbalance of Doshas, the effects of not taking this seriously have adverse effects on the health of the woman and the children she may conceive.

Sleep is also considered as an attachment during menstruation in Indian culture hence the adaptation of not sleeping during the menses results in them becoming less attached to the comfort and less addiction to sleep. 

If the woman happened to also use Collyrium it was believed that the woman’s child will go blind.

Miserable children were also considered as a punishment for the woman who had a bath and used anointment, combing their hair during menses meant that the woman would conceive bald children and mentally ill children were considered as a punishment for women who did vigorous activities or hard work.

4. Food Restrictions

The Susruta Samhita text clearly states that Indian women on their menses should eat ‘Havishya Anna’ (this means food that is ideal for being offered at the fire ritual.) as well as to avoid eating any meat. Having this type of food is to have the digestive fire flared up.

The recipe for this includes basically the combination of ghee, milk and Shali rice. Barley and milk too, commonly known as ‘Yawaka’ are also another fit dish for women during menstruation in Indian culture.

The use of black salt during menstruation in Hinduism is also believed to have a role in igniting the digestive fire and should also be consumed during this period.

Sole purpose for the above food restrictions and regulations is to protect the health of the women who are on their menses. 

Imbalance of the Doshas can be caused by not following the above food regulations whilst on menses. Consumption of sattvik in less quantity is considered the ideal diet for women on menses.

5. No Sexual Intercourse

Abstaining from sexual Intercourse is also one of the most important pieces of advice from the Hindu Scriptures to the women on menses. Myths, facts, and taboos of menstruation in Indian culture stated that a woman was to keep away from intercourse.

If a woman copulates during her menses and it leads to conception, it may result in inter-uterine death, some form of deformity in the child, or even worse death of the child after a few days after the birth of the child.

It is said that there is no way to prevent the imbalance in the Doshas that will result from the copulation during menses.  It is also stated in the Hindu Scriptures that during menses one is to practice Brahmacharya which means celibacy.

During this time women are also considered impure and thus should avoid coming into contact with the husband as well as the relatives for not less than 14 days.

For a woman to be considered pure again she must have been purified before she can even go back to the husband. The women are considered to be bad for men during their menses.

6. Household Activities, Exercises and Vigorous Activities

The Hindu Scripture Angirasa Smriti advice against women performing household activities, exercises, or even vigorous activities as during this time of their menses is considered as a period of rest.

Excessive physical activities for a woman on her menses may lead to the imbalance of Doshas having adverse effect on the health of the woman.

Some of this adverse effects are such as having a child that is reckless and indecisive from a woman who runs during her menses or a mentally ill child from a woman who carries out vigorous work. 

Attending to a visitor is basically a woman’s job within the household but during her menses she is not allowed to attend to the visitors, having new clothes is also banned for the women on their menses as well as taking a peek at themselves on a mirror.

Can Indians Pray During Their Periods?

Indian Women cannot lead a normal life during their menstrual season. They are considered to be “impure” and before they can resume to their norms they must be “purified” so as to be allowed back into their families.

Restrictions to perform religious practices as well as spiritual activities is mentioned in the Angirasa Smriti (Verse 37) clearly asks women not to indulge in the above mentioned activities. 

This is no different from Vashishta Dharma Sutras also asking women not to come into contact with fire which is well associated with performing the fire ritual worship during this period.

For one to conduct the worship rituals one is asked to be physically clean as well as being in a calm and mentally pure state and above all have a Sattvik disposition at vital, physical and mental levels.

Hinduism considers women to have a heightened level of Rajas, all three inclusive thus the more reason for them not to be involved in Worship or religious practices.

At this time of menstruation, the blood emits a subtle or un-comfortable smell which Is considered to disturb and disrupt the Spiritual environment within the place of worship.

Entering the temple whilst on your menses is also believed to have an adverse effect of the health of the woman.

This is due to the interruption of the flow of Apana resulting in an imbalance of the Prakriti Doshas. Moreover, they are not allowed to have or enter the ‘puja’ room (a praying room aside from the temple) whilst in their menses period.

Is a Woman Unclean During Menstruation in Hinduism?

According to the Hindu’s religion, a woman is considered impure and cannot even come into contact with several things such as other people, the temple or puja room, utensils, pregnant women, or even come into contact with the kitchen.

This was mainly considered because the law of Manu says that a Brahman, was never to look at a woman whilst eating for her sins are catching up with her and this could easily pass on a curse from their “Gods.”

A woman was considered unclean thus might pollute others who came into contact with them.

The beginning of menses opens up a woman’s body to Shakti which is life energy viewed as an intentional, powerful allure in the vulva and the breast which can be very harmful if not controlled well.

When the above power is contained it results in an orderly, functional and happy world but when it is out of control it is believed to have the power to burn down a house.

The woman is not to come into contact with the relatives for 13 days consecutively and if the woman happens to be married, then it is with no exception that she should be separated from the husband during this period.

During this time the woman is also not allowed to bath thus bringing forth the aspect of her being unclean physically with even restrictions to use body anointments and other self-adoring activities.

Not only is the woman considered unclean but she is also perceived like a person who has a wound, having the body shed out the lining of the uterus is an indication of having a wound and having a wound that is not cleaned and taken care of can be considered as unclean within any society.

Menstruation According to Vedas

The term Vedas refers to a collection of ancient religious texts as well as hymns that originated in India between the years 1500and 1000 BCE.

These scripts include poems, prayers, formulas considered to be sacred and mythological accounts among others.

The Vedic texts were composed over different periods. The Rig-Veda deems to be the oldest texts of them all. The Vedas were further divided into four namely;

  1. The Rig-Veda – this means knowledge of the hymns of praise. They were only for recitation.
  2. Sama-Veda – this means knowledge of the melodies and they were to be chanted.
  3. Yajur-Veda – meaning knowledge of the sacrificial formulas and they were for the liturgy.
  4. Atharva-Veda – meaning knowledge of the magic formulas and it was named after a group of priests.

According to the four Vedas, there are no mentions of a woman’s body being impure or that during her menses she is not allowed to do poojas during this period.

They also never state anywhere that the woman is prohibited from entering the temple and castigation of the woman on menses.

The Vedas did have certain restrictions but they were only purely related to the woman’s health.

They could ban the woman from Sabarimala which was located deep within the forest. During these ancient times the woman was to be given a break from all the work and take her time to rest.  

When the ancient priests came along with the new texts they altered the religious ceremony rules in order to appease the Gods. The Vedas authority eventually diminished and paved the way for the new religious system in India.

Menstrual Cycle in Bhargava Gita

In the Bhagavad Gita, it clearly restricts women who are on their menses from various activities.

One of the major ones is sexual intercourse is prohibited during the menstrual cycle and if the woman decided to go ahead and break this belief then it was believed that it may lead to inter-uterine death or if a baby was born days after the child would die.

In other cases, we had a child born with a certain type of deformity. It is believed that a woman on her menses cannot be able to prevent the Doshas imbalance once she had sexual contact during the menses.

The Bhargava Gita also considers the period of a woman having menses as a purification process thus celibacy is advised on. Household activities and exercising are also prohibited due to the critical state of the woman’s heightened Rajas.

The woman is considered to be extremely sensitive thus no one is advised to indulge in vigorous activities.

Definition of Menstruation in Hinduism

Menstruation, in general, can be defined as the natural part of a woman’s reproductive cycle whereby there is blood flow from the uterus that finds its way to the vagina.

This process is normal for any girl that is basically in the age brackets of 11 and 14 years old with it being one of the signs of puberty among them.

Just like wearing turbans or eating pork among other traditions, the menstrual flow has always been met with secrecy and myths in various societies among the Hindu community.

Women have been left out of so many aspects of social and culture due to certain taboos in within the society.

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