Disclaimer: The content of this article is strictly based on what has been gathered from various news reports. I as a blogger do not intend to disrespect or hurt any religious sentiments through this article.
It is the time when monsoons hit the country and Assam celebrates the Ambubachi Mela organized in the Kamakhya Temple. The mela is believed to be the celebration of the yearly menstruation cycle of Goddess Kamakhya, the most important deity of the Tantric cult.
There is no idol of the Goddess but a stone in the shape of a vagina that is worshipped, over which there flows a natural spring keeping it moist all the time.
The most interesting part of this festival is the idea of its Prasad which is distributed in two forms, i.e. Angodak which means the fluids of the body represented by the water from the eternal spring; and Angabastra – which is the piece of cloth used to cover the ‘yoni’ or vagina during the days of menstruation.
This year the festival is scheduled around 22nd June to 26th June.
Since Goddess Kamakhya Devi is believed to be going through her menstrual cycle, the temple remains closed for these three days.
When I learned about this festival, I heaved a sigh of relief thinking that at least somewhere in this country, menstruation is not a taboo. On the contrary, it is celebrated!
Well, when you live in a country where sanitary napkins are first wrapped into newspaper.
Then covered with a black polythene.
Then carried around hiding them deep down in the bags where they are not even minutely visible, it is hard to believe that there exists something like this.
However there are different notions attached to this festival.
Lakhs of people, not only from all over the country but across borders turn up to attend it. The devotees abstain from cooking, reading holy books and farming during these days. The three days that the Temple remains closed, it is due to the belief that the Goddess is unclean. It is only after the Goddess is bathed properly and other rituals performed that she is believed to have retrieved her ‘purity’ (as per a lot of media reports on the internet) and people are allowed to enter on the fourth day when the gates are reopened.
A counter belief of this is held by the locals who claim that the Goddess needs to rest during these days to relieve her from the pain and and discomfort. If this notion is true, then indeed it is a matter of celebration! Because not only menstruation is acknowledged but even worshipped. (Now, which one of the two versions is true, still remains unclear. It is indeed crucial for the air to be cleared around this subject.)
Until now we have only heard about how women are not even allowed inside temples while menstruating, forget being worshipped. Some temples clearly hang boards outside their premises which read ‘Menstruating women not allowed’ considering how the woman’s blood is deemed ‘impure’ during ‘those’ days.
There are various theories that in ancient times the daughter-in-law was given rest by their mother-in-law during ‘those’ days because as a woman she knew that these days were painful due to cramps or back pains. Prayers in the temples used to be elaborate practices and working in the kitchen also required effort. Therefore, women were excused from them while they were menstruating. But gradually the practice stemming from love turned into a noose around the neck!
The recent incident of Haji Ali are still fresh in our memory where all sorts of bizzare explanations were given to justify forbidding the entry of women into the shrines. This is not the only example. Various temples have followed the same path wherein not only were women barred from entering the premises, but when they forced their way in, a ‘purification ceremony’ was conducted later.
A lot of priests in different temples have even gone to the extent of talking about machines that could scan whether it is the ‘right time’ for a woman to enter the temple or not.
This is disheartening in a certain way because we come back to square one. Women are either simply shoved aside and prohibited entry into a temple or placed on a pedestal and worshipped as a Goddess.
But sadly, both ways, the notion of being ‘unclean’ remains.
It is still not clear as to which one of the notions about the festival is true. However, if the menstruating Goddess is celebrated (as per the belief of the locals), then this is a step in the right direction! Others need to follow.
I wonder, when menstruation can be celebrated so much in one part of the country, then why does the taboo still remain in other parts?
The dogma surrounding this concept needs to go! PERIOD (pun intended).
Menstruation is indeed a sign of being healthy and ensuring procreation (if this helps). It is as natural as the circulatory, respiratory and digestive systems of our body.
Then why hide it or be ashamed of it?
It needs to be embraced and celebrated!
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Views presented in the article are those of the author and not of ED.