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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings - Shan Ranjit  > Sabarimalai: The banning of Menstruating Women

Selected Writings - Shan Ranjit

Sabarimalai: 
The Banning of Menstruating Women

20 November 2000

The sun rose majestically over the Sabarimalai mountains in the central part of Kerala. The sky was glittered with orange and yellow rays of the sun. The splendid 'Pampa' river - that runs through the valley of the Sabarimalai - 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 customary 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 famous Ayapppa 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 him.


Pilgrimage to Sabarimalai

The sabarimalai Mandala / Makara Vilakku pooja has just started for this year. 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. 

The 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


Sabarimalai History

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. 

Ayappa or 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 AIYANAR. 

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 Vaishnavism. 

Sabarimalai is associated with a a woman saint- Sabari- who figures in the Ramayana. She is said to have lived close to these mountains. 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 his 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 contaminated. 

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 impure, 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 the Asian men. When you have this form of cancer, you drip blood from your anterior orifice (urethra - tube through which urine comes out) . 

In India, this type of cancer is more common among a group of people who are closely involved with the temple activities and it's environments. 

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 Hindu Temples?

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.


Conclusion

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. 

It 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.

 

 

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