Selected Writings -
The Banning of Menstruating Women
20 November 2000
The sun rose majestically over the Sabarimalai mountains in the central
Kerala. The sky was glittered with orange and yellow rays of the sun.
splendid 'Pampa' river - that runs through the valley of the
was calm and still. Five pot-bellied men, in their fifties, were seen
chanting and dipping in the pampa river . When they were done with their
ablution rites, they would don spotless white cloth , and apply holy ash
on their fore head.
These five vedic astrologers would then head to the
temple in Sabarimalai, and ensconce inside the sanctum sanctorum for
three days. Here, they would conduct a traditional exercise known as
DEVAPRASNAM - It means to " know the mind" of Lord on various issues,
including the ban of entry of menstruating women in to the temple. After
three days, they would come out and tell the world, that the
lord had indeed told them not to allow the menstruating women to visit
Pilgrimage to Sabarimalai
The sabarimalai Mandala / Makara Vilakku pooja has just started for
It will be officially over with the final festivities on Makarasanthi day. On this day,
millions of devotees will witness the mystic and sacred jothi (flame)
rising behind the mountains. For the next six to eight week millions of
Ayappa devotees will converge on the Sabarimalai to offer their prayers
to Ayappa. They will don all black clothes. Neither they will trim
their body hairs nor consume alcohol. They will practice celibacy during
this period. During the pilgrimage all the devotees are equal.
devotees will be mostly males with a small number of female devotees.
However, one section of the community will be absolutely barred from
entering the Ayappan temple- Menstruating Women
Before delving in to the subject matter of menstruating women, let me
give you a brief
history of Sabralimalai and the Ayappa temple. The Ayappa Temple is on
the Sabarimalai mountains, in the central part of Kerala.
Manikantha as the deity is called, is a concept derived from a deity
known in ancient Kerala as SASTHA and in ancient Tamil Nadu as
Sastha-Aiyannar worship become very prominent during the
sixth to eighth century. In Tamil Nadu He is a village deity, but in
Kerala He has
been regarded as an embodiment of rapprochement between Saivism and
Sabarimalai is associated with a a woman saint- Sabari- who
figures in the Ramayana. She is said to have lived close to these
Ayappa temple stands on a hillock, 6.5 kilometers from the Pampa river.
Tradition, which has many variations, tells how Lord Sastha came to take
up His abode here. When the ocean of milk was churned so that nectar
could come up from the depths, lord Vishnu assumed the form of an
entrancing woman, Mohini, in order to divert the attention of the demons
so that they would not seize the nectar. Lord Siva felt her attractions.
Out of this union was Sastha born.
Origins of Ayappa
One day a king of Pandalam , whose territory was Sabarimalai , went
hunting. While hunting, he saw a beautiful child along the banks of
Pampa. Since the king and queen were childless, they adopted him as
their son. Since he wore a blue diamond around his neck, he was called
'Manikanta'. It was Manikanta, who would later be called Ayapppa.
Meanwhile, the royal couple were blessed with their own son. The queen,
was very much in favor to install her own son on the throne. So one
day, the queen pretending to be ill, demanded the young Ayappa to go
the forest and bring the milk of the Tigress. She thought that Ayappa
would never return from this journey. The young Aiyappa promised her to
get the milk and went to the forest . Here, he met Indra, who was being
harassed by Mahishi, a demoness with the head of a buffalo. She had
obtained a promise from Brahma that only the son of Lord Shiva and Lord
Vishnu would be able to kill her. At Indira's request , Ayappa killed
her. In gratitude, Indira directed his followers to take the form of
tigers and tigresses with cubs to accompany with Ayappa and return to
palace. When the queen saw Ayappa with the tigers, she felt her mistake.
It was then that Ayappa revealed that he was God Sastha. At the king's
request, he took permanent abode on the Sabarimalai.
Menstruation: Is it a crime?
Now coming to the subject matter: God or the creator gave this world two
different sexes, male and female. In female, he created an organ known
as uterus (womb) , with a specific function of receiving and naturing
a fertilized ovum (egg plus sperm), which would grow in to an infant in
nine months. When this function is not carried out, the womb would shed
it's inner coat.
The curse on the women starts on the very first day she menstruates, a
period in which the girl's body is considered to be very hot and
polluting. It is also believed that the release of blood from a body
orifice (opening) - in this case from the vagina, attracts spirits and
demons that can devastate a family's happiness and it's power of
vitality. Women during this period are considered to be impure,
unclean, polluted and
Such ludicrous ideas were perpetrated by the male
dominated Hindu society to degrade the women and create a complex that
the women are inferior to men.
The main perpetrators of this crime were
none other than the Brahmins, who until the last century used to shut
their women in specially constructed houses within their colonies.
During this time, these women are not allowed to come out of their
houses. Since they wielded enormous influence over the population in
ancient times, they forced their beliefs on other communities.
Do Males Menstruate?
If society considers the blood coming out of a female orifice to be
what about the blood coming out of a male orifice? When males have
piles ( hemorrhoids) they drip blood from their posterior orifice
(rectum). In fact I would consider this blood to be more dirtier and
offensive than the menstrual blood because it is mixed with the feces.
Yet, the males visit their favorite gods while dripping blood on
their undergarments. Cancer of the male genitalia is more common among
Asian men. When you have this form of cancer, you drip blood from your
anterior orifice (urethra - tube through which urine comes out) .
India, this type of cancer is more common among a group of people
who are closely involved with the temple activities and it's
Yet, this group is allowed inside the sanctum sanctorum of
any temple to conduct various rites for the gods while dripping blood
from their anterior orifice. Do we consider this ` male blood 'to be
impure and polluting'? Where are the demons and spirits when males drip
blood from various orifices? How about the men who vomit blood (Hemet emesis)? Are these men forbidden from entering
I would say that the women are also partly responsible for the persistence of this appalling ignorance. I am personally aware of many
highly educated females , who would not step inside a temple during this
time. There is nothing to be shamed about menstruation , because it is
a normal physiological process.
Menstruation is a normal physiological process. This was created for a
specific function in women. Hence, there is nothing wrong or to ashamed
when women go through menstruation. It is utter ignorance to consider
the women to be impure and polluting during this time. It is ludicrous
to believe that gods do not want them to come
to their abodes - temples- during such times.
Pollution and pureness does not depend on the blood that any person
sheds from his or her orifices. It depends on your speech, action and
deeds. In Hindu philosophy , the main purpose of the soul is to attain
liberation. This primarily depends on the karma that each soul has
committed. Liberation of the soul neither depends on the sex of the soul nor on the blood that
the - temporary - physical body sheds.
does not matter to God whether you are either ugly or 'impure' physically
.God will accept any one as long as their minds and actions are pure.
After all it was Lord Shiva who gladly accepted meat from a low caste
hunter- Kannapa Nayanar- at Kalahasthi. I am absolutely convinced that
it would not matter to God whether one is menstruating or not.
Let Hindu women take a firm stand on this issue and give up the
ignorance that menstruation is awful. Let us make sure that the men do
not dictate terms with the female anatomy and physiology. Let the women
of Eelam take the lead on this issue and openly confront this ignorance
by going to the temples during this period. Only then the 'Creator' would smile upon them.