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One of the debated topic related to Hinduism is menstruation and related matters. There are some texts including smritis which seem to depict menstruation with antipathy.

In some of the regions and communities it is something like a taboo even today. Whereas some communities and regions are liberal about it. I want to know what exactly is the overall view of Hinduism on this subject? With respect to scriptures as well as traditional, social, and cultural aspects.

There are various threads on this forum regarding women and entry in temples during menses and performance of pooja during menses etc. ?

What are the various views on this subject from religions, scriptural and cultural point of view ?

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There is also a belief that menstruation was not initially happening in women but it started as a result of sin of Indra which was shared by women. However, then a bigger question arises. What about other mammalian species of animals and birds which exhibit this phenomenon? So it looks like menses is not a later day phenomenon but a part of human physiology since the beginning which is also supported by Ayurveda.

Vedas were indeed silent on this because, this being a natural phenomenon, nobody thought it fit to raise such issues. But the extra-vedic literatures like smritis and the extra- Upanishads think otherwise. Let us see what the smritis have to say about menses:

Aangirasa smriti & Aapasthamba smriti (as also quite a few other smritis) say that Prathamehani caandaali dviteeye brahmaghatini trteeye rajakee proktha caturthe hani shudhyati

A woman in the first day of her courses is known as an outcaste, in the second day murderer of a Brahmin, in the third day she is known as a washer woman and on the fourth day she gets purified!

You know how a woman should conduct herself during these days? Vyaasa smriti

Sarvairalakshitaa sheeghram lajjitaantargrhe vaset|

ekaambaraavrtaa deena snaanaalankaara varjitha ||

mouninyadhomukhee chakshushpaani padbhirachanchalaa |

ashneeyaath kevalam bhaktham naktham mrnmaya bhaajane ||

Unseen by everybody, she with lajja should at once go to the antargrham (cow shed?). She should wear only one cloth throughout. She should avoid bathing and decorating herself. She should not speak, her face should be downwards looking, her eyes and limbs totally immobilized. She should not eat. Eat she must only in the night, food cooked in an earthen vessel!

Svaped bhoomau apramattaa kshapedevamahastrayam |

snaayeetaa saa triraatraante sachailamuditeravou ||

vilokhya bhartrvadanam shudha bhavati dharmatah |

krtaa shouche puna: karma purvavachhasamaacaret ||

She should lie down on the floor and fast for 3 days. After the end of 3 nights she should bathe with her dress at sunrise. Thereafter, after seeing her husband’s face, she becomes pure!

Udakyaayah karenaatha bhungtvaa chaandraayanam chareth – If one happens to eat food cooked by a menstruating women, one should perform the chaandraayana vow.

After seeing a women in her courses if one takes his food, he should immediately vomit it and then drink water purified by kusa grass.

Now let us see other contrary views related to this in the scriptures.

Temples and menstruation:

The Ambubachi Mela is an annual Hindu mela held at Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati, Assam. This yearly mela is celebrated during the monsoon season that happens to fall during the Assamese month Ahaar, around the middle of June when sun transit to the zodiac of Mithuna, when the Brahmaputra river is in spate. It is the celebration of the yearly menstruation course of goddess Kamakhya. It is believed that the presiding goddess of the temple, Devi Kamakhya, the Mother Shakti, goes through her annual cycle of menstruation during this time stretch.2 It is also believed that during the monsoon rains the creative and nurturing power of the 'menses' of Mother Earth becomes accessible to devotees at this site during the mela. There is no idol of the presiding deity but she is worshipped in the form of a yoni-like stone instead over which a natural spring flows.

There is another temple in Kerala, The remarkable aspect of this Bhagwati temple at Chengannur is that the phenomenon of the goddess getting her periods still continues even though the deity is cast in the five metals (panchaloha) The temple therefore follows a unique ritual where the chief priest or his assistant (kizhusanti) on opening the Srikoil early morning removes the nirmalyam (previous day's decoration of the deity) and hands it over to the Varrier attendant along with the white udayada (petticoat) without looking at it. The Varrier examines the dress closely and if there are signs of bleeding sends it to Thazhamon Matham, the traditional residence of the temple Tantri. There the lady of the house scrutinises the cloth again and confirms the menses.The udayada, after the occurrence of the menses is available for sale to the public. Though the rate fixed by the Devaswom is only Rs. 10/- due to its being a rarity it is grabbed by devotees by paying hundreds of rupees who book it well in advance

Cultural and traditional point of view:

In many south Indian and East Indian states, the first menstruation of the girl is celebrated by the family. It is known as ritushuddhi or ritu kaala samskara.

Ritushuddhi is a Hindu samskara associated with a girl’s first menstruation. Hindus in India tend to view first menstruation or menarche, as a positive aspect of a girl's life. This samskara is usually the 13th of hindu samskara. For boys, a similar samskara is conducted which is called keshAnta samskAra (first shaving of the beard).

This milestone in a girl's life is observed by her family and friends, with gifts and her wearing a sari for the ritual.The rite of passage is celebrated, in modern times, as a "half-saree party" where the female relatives and friends of the girl gather, and she receives and wears a half-saree and other gifts. Thereafter, at ceremonious events, she wears the half-sarees, until her marriage when she puts on a full sari.

In the state of Orissa, Menstruation and womanhood is celebrated every year in a very grand manner as a four day fest across the state.

Raja or Raja Parba or Mithuna Sankranti is a three-day-long festival and the second day signifies beginning of the solar month of Mithuna from, which the season of rains starts. It inaugurates and welcomes the agricultural year all over Odisha, which marks, through biological symbolism, the moistening of the sun dried soil with the first showers of the monsoon in mid-June thus making it ready for productivity

It is believed that the mother goddess Earth or the divine wife of Lord Vishnu undergoes menstruation during the first three days. The fourth day is called as Vasumati gadhua or ceremonial bath of Bhudevi. The term Raja has come from Rajaswala (meaning a menstruating woman) and during medieval period the festival became more popular as an agricultural holiday remarking the worship of Bhudevi, who is the wife of lord Jagannath. A silver idol of Bhudevi is still found in Puri Temple aside Lord Jagannatha.

During the three days women are given a break from household work and time to play indoor games. Girls decorate themselves with new fashion or traditional Saree and Alatha in feet. All people abstain from walking barefoot on earth. Generally various Pithas are made of which Podopitha,and Chakuli Pitha are main. People play a lot of indoor and outdoor games. Girls play swings tied on tree branches whereas aged ladies play Cards and Ludo. Many villages organise Kabbadi matches among young men.

Apart from Indian culture, the first menses are also celebrated in various cultures of the world such as:

• The Nootka people of Canada had a big party right after a girl’s first period. Then she underwent an endurance ritual in which she was taken far out to sea and left to make her way home by swimming back to land. When she arrived onshore, she was greeted by her entire village.

• Among the Dagara people of West Africa, the initiation of girls is performed once per year for all the girls who have started to menstruate in the preceding year. This ceremony is the beginning of a long period of mentoring that includes information about sex, intimacy, and the special healing powers of the menstruating woman.

• Many Navaho people still practice their puberty ritual for girls, the kinaalda. According to menstrual researcher Lara Owen, this is considered to be the most important of all their rituals because it brings new life to the tribe. In the month after a girl gets her first period, her entire extended family gathers together for a ceremony that takes place over four days.

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Ayurveda:

From Ayurvedic point of view, among various basic principles and physiologies described in Ayurveda Rutuchakra i.e. Menstruation. Various terms are used in classic to denote menstrual blood and ovum at different places ie. Artava, Raja, Shonita, Lohita, Pushpa, Bija. Also has mentioned role of Doshas on menstruation i.e. like all other physiological processes menstruation is also governed by three Doshas viz. Vata, Pitta and Kapha.

Rutukala- This phase is mainly influenced by Kapha. It is a period of resembling proloferative phase.

• Rutuvyatita-kala- This phase is influenced mainly by Pitta. Therefore this phase resembles the secretory phase.

• Rajahsrava-kaala- This phase is mainly influenced by Vata. Vata always act through Dhamanees. In the phase of menstruation the spasm in the straight stem arterioles as a causative phenomenon of bleeding

Ayurveda has also given mode of living in menstruation. Right from the beginning of menstrual flow, Woman should observe Brahamacharya (sexual abstinence), She should avoid cold bath, Should not sleep during day time, should avoid exertion. Her diet should be light. The female is also advised to live in a happy calm mood.

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Scriptural point of view:

LXXI. — Soma gave them purification; the Gandharva, sweet speech; Agni, perfect purity; therefore verily women are always pure. — Yajnavalkaya smriti 71.

Women (possess) an unequalled means of purification; they never become (entirely) foul. For month by month their temporary uncleanness removes their sins. (Vashistha Dharmasutra 28.4)

Women belong first to three gods, Soma (the moon), the Gandharva, and Fire, and come afterwards into the possession of men; according to the law they cannot be contaminated. (Vashistha Dharmasutra 28.5)

Soma gave them cleanliness, the Gandharva their melodious voice, and Fire purity of all (limbs); therefore women are free from stains (Vashistha Dharmasutra 28.6)

Pure is the mouth of a goat and of a horse, pure is the back of a cow, pure are the feet of a Brâhmana, but women are pure in all (limbs). (Vashistha Dharmasutra 28.9)

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Scriptures also say that the process of menstruation also cleanses their acquired sins and impurities in this monthly process.

The optional Vedic sacrifices, the Pashuyaga, Soma sacrifice etc. are barred in the absence of wife. If she is absent in the sacrifice due to monthly periods she would get all the fruits of the sacrifice. KAtyAyaya, however, mentions that if she attains menses during the soma sacrifice, she should continue wearing her Deeksha garments, stay in the sand during the emission, and should finally take her baths on the fourth day before the altar during the morning and evening. (samskAra paddhati 1, 20-21).

SamskAramaYukha quotes vrrdha-gArgya to show that the vrriddhi shraddha may be performed by her even during the monthly cycles.

However, Agamas (shakta) have a different perspective which is quite opposite to those found in some of the smritis and related literature.

From shAktagamic point of view, menstruation is not viewd as something inauspicious or impure but is actually celebrated and also considered embodiment of auspiciousness/sanctity.

They are very clear about their views on woman and their divinity.

In both Kulachudamani Tantra and the Brihad Nila Tantra, the Kaula (sAdhaka) is instructed to recite a mantra inwardly whenever he sees a woman.

In mAtrikabheda tantra, the menstrual discharge is looked upon as something very powerful and divine.

Matrikabheda Tantra

(English translation Indological Book House 1990) describes the different types:--

"Lord Shankara said: The first menses appearing in a woman who has lost her virginity is Svayambhu blood. In a maiden born of a married woman and begotten by another man, that which arises is Kunda menses, the substance causing the granting of any desire.

Deveshi, a maiden begotten by a widow gives rise to Gola menses, which subdues gods. The menses arising in the first period after a virgin becomes a married woman is the all bewildering Svapushpa." (MT, Patala 8)

The very first chapter of the MT mentions a substance called sambal, described in the commentary as a woman's menstrual discharge. This substance allows the tantrik adept to perform various sorts of alchemical operations.

Further, kankAlamAlini tantra also mentions use of menstrual discharge (swayambhu) for making kavacha (for protection).

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To conclude, it looks like as such there is not much in the Vedic literature against menstruation. Further, agamas also do not have any taboo with respect to menstruation. Even cultural festivals and temples have positivity related to menses. So the anti-menses quotes in some extra-vedic scriptures could be later interpolations. It is also a topic of research about the contradicting views of such scriptures. As such the main texts do not criticize menses and participation of menstruating women in social/religious activities.

They are asked to avoid painstaking activities if they are not comfortable. However, it should be made as a rule that all women should avoid every activity. It should be decided by them if they want to participate or not. If they wish to do something it should not be forbidden. After all, in the present day we have all hygienic measures and sanitation etc.

  • Good answer. But I can't tell which are your own words and which are sourced from other articles. Can you use blockquotes consistently? – sv. Sep 22 '17 at 18:38

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