Menstruation! It’s a word that has been shot with nails of stigma and misconceptions. For the longest time, periods have been considered a ‘taboo’ in India. While a large canopy of the country still seems to be immersed in the belief that period blood is ‘impure’, there is a Kerala temple which celebrates it! The Mahadeva Temple is located in Chengannur in the district of Alappuzha. Famous all over the world for celebrating the menstruation festival, the temple stands by the western bank of the holy river Pamba in a vast complex. With Goddess Parvati as the deity, the celebration of menstrual blood marks its own significance. It is especially notable in the Indian cultural context because for the longest time women have been banished from entering the temples while they are on their periods.
The celebration is known as “Thripputhu Aaraatt” and it attracts devotees from all over the world. During the festival, some people come down for its religious significance while some to observe this unique tradition. The festival is said to begin when the Goddess in the sanctum who is Parvati, starts to bleed. Once the menstrual cycle of the Goddess begins, the sanctums are shut for a period of three to five days. It is said that if a devotee prays during this time in all honesty, all his wishes can come true. The last day of the menstrual cycle which is usually believed to be the fourth day, the deity is taken to the river for the holy ablution with a great pomp and show. After the ceremonial observance at the river, the deity is then carried back on an elephant. At this point even the idol of Lord Shiva is brought together in the procession which is celebrated exuberantly.
Every time a girl bleeds, she is considered “impure” and in many cases even isolated. Apart from the fractional few, menstruating women even now have to go through a number of cultural subjugation and prejudice. One of the many restrictive taboos involves being outrightly denied entry in the places of worship even within the household. These prejudices take a major toll on the overall esteem of a girl by reinforcing the taboo that they suddenly become less human when on their periods. When such a socio-cultural life of a woman is so manifest in reality even today, a spin back to the age old tradition of celebrating menstruation of Goddesses plays a major role in combating regressive practises.
It is an acknowledged fact that everything must be looked at from the critical lens for an evolved understanding. People flock in large numbers to the Mahadeva temple that celebrates and embraces womanhood but somehow fail to acknowledge the same respect for women in real lives. What is, however, practiced in many households is the ablution part where it is made ‘obligatory’ for them to take a head bath on the last day of their periods to make them ‘pure’ again. It echoes the ablution of Goddess Parvati in the Mahadeva Temple on the fourth day or the last of the believed menstrual cycle.
Even today, excluding maybe a fractional percentage, women are ostracized from participating in activities that are considered “sacred”. The restrictive practices not just makes a woman feel ‘not enough’ but it also rips apart her social confidence in unimaginable ways. While it is true that It is still a long way from disinfecting menstruation from all taboos, this ancient Indian culture of worshiping menstruating Goddess sure comes off as an example that periods, if anything, are not ‘unholy’ and equally deserve respect and acknowledgement.