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‘The Sabarimala Confusion: Menstruation Across Cultures: A Historical Perspective’ By Nithin Sridhar

The whole issue of menstruation and related matters came to the fore during the recent Supreme Court Judgement which allowed women of the reproductive age to enter the sacred hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala in the state of Kerala. The self branded liberal intellectuals viewed this judgement as a step towards the ‘empowerment’ and ‘emancipation’ of Hindu women. Women, especially those hailing from Kerala itself showed great resentment towards this judgement and initiated the ‘Ready to Wait’ Movement which was a clear indication that the Hindu women of the menstruating age had patience to visit the Sabarimala Temple after crossing this stage. There were a lot of misconceptions- many of them deliberately generated by the so called liberals about the Hindu view of menstruation and the entire issue of Sabarimala Temple Entry came to be linked to menstruation alone. Against the background of such rampant misconceptions Sri Nithin Sridhar’s book titled ‘Menstruation Across Cultures: A Historical Perspective’ has been published at the opportune moment to give a fitting reply to the wrong ideas associated with menstruation.

The best part of Nithin Sridhar’s book is that he has consulted all the original sources (the list is given towards the end of the book) to put forward his research. The use of original sources precludes any possibility of certain technical terms losing their original meanings in translation. At the very beginning of his book Nithin Sridhar delineates the tarnishing of the Hindu view on menstruation by two ways-

  1. Sabarimala issue is related to menstruation which Nithin Sridhar clearly asserts is not the case.
  2. Hinduism uses menstruation as a device to oppress women.

The author in a very logical and well researched manner refutes both the above assumptions. The author cites examples from television commercials which project menstruation as a hindrance to women’s independence and the recommendation of sanitary napkins as the ultimate panacea to all menstruation related problems. The author quotes Sinu Joseph of Mythri Speaks who clearly states that sanitary napkins or menstrual hygiene have no connection whatsoever with menstruation related disorders.

As far as the Hindu view on menstruation goes, Nithin Sridhar systematically provides evidence from the ancient Hindu texts on Ayurveda, Kamashastra and Jyotisha which clearly outline the relation of menstrual cycles and the moon- a fact which is unknown to many. The author also gives illustrations from the works of the 6th century CE Indian scientist Varahamihira’s works as well works like Anaga Ranga and Ratisastra (texts based on the science of eroticism) to highlight the same issue. As is the case with all aspects of Hindu Culture, the Hindu notions about menstruation have their origin in Veda Samhitas and Brahmanas. The Taittiriya Samhita of Krsna Yajur Veda and the Satapatha Brahmana contain the story of Indra slaying Visvarupa, the three-headed son of Tvastr and it is this story which highlights one of the earliest Hindu perceptions of menstruation. Nithin Sridhar has given this story in proper detail in his book and it is highly recommended to resort to the book under consideration. At the end of the narration, Nithin Sridhar presents the two hermeneutic principles-

  1. Menstruation is a natural process
  2. Menstruation as a sacred celebration

Nithin Sridhar, through his books makes it clear that in Hinduism menstruation is nothing that is impure but in fact a reassertion of the concerned woman’s fecundity. Fertility in all ancient cultures has been celebrated and this very much applies to our ancient Hindu civilization as well where figurines of mother goddesses and Yaksis have been worshipped for the bestowment of fertility and prosperity. The Sanskrit term for menstruation is Rajasraava which denotes not only the flow of menstrual blood out of the physical body but as Nithin Sridhar affirms is also the flow of the Rajo Guna from the vital body. Menstruation is thus regarded in Hinduism as a self purifying process and not as something filthy and repulsive. Further, menstruation is a time when a woman has to control her senses by refraining from adorning her body and this process thus enables her to achieve self control- both physical and emotional.

The Sakta Sampradaya, along with its Tantric foundations considers menstruation as something that is very sacred. Nithin Sridhar provides the example of the Devipuram Temple in Andhra Pradesh which is a major centre of Devi Worship in accordance with the Tantric tradition of Srividya. This temple is constructed like the Sri Cakra itself and the presiding deity is Lalita Tripurasundari. Sri Amritananda Sarasvati, the founder of this temple has been quoted by Nithin Sridhar to explain the restriction on women who have their menstrual cycles with respect to temple entry. A menstruating woman is a living Goddess herself and her entry into the temple may lead to the transmission of energy from the temple deity to her. This instance clearly shows that the Hindu perception about menstruation is far from considering it as impure but in fact is just the opposite. In Hinduism, all the prominent goddesses like Parvati, Lajja Gauri, Brahmacharini Durga, Bhuvashevari, Kamakhya, Harachandi and Bhu Devi are closely linked to menstruation and the consequent fertility.

Nithin Sridhar has very systematically incorporated the details of menstruation as they occur in texts related to Yoga and Ayurveda like Sushruta Samhita and Charaka Samhita. Not restricting his research to Hinduism alone, Nithin Sridhar delves into the ideas about menstruation appearing in other Indic religious traditions like Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. The Buddha while enouncing the first Arya Satya about Dukkha or suffering attaches five additional forms of suffering for women out of which one is menstruation. The Digambara Jainas are more conservative in their view on menstruation than the Shvetambaras. Sikhism allows its women followers entry into Gurudvaras even during their menstrual periods.

An outstanding feature of Nithin Sridhar’s book is the attention that he has given to other traditions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam with respect to their principles about menstruation and juxtaposed it with the Hindu view. The Jews and Christians both consider menstruation as a ‘State of Sin’ and associate it with the ‘Fall of Eve’. In Islam too, as Nithin Sridhar points out, menstruation is regarded as an impure condition. A review of menstruation related matters in other ancient cultures like Greek, Roman, Mesopotamian and Egyptian by the author completes the historical framework of the entire book.

Nithin Sridhar clearly points out that as per Hinduism; menstruation is something that is sacred and not impure and a natural process that deserves celebration and not negation. Nineteenth century ideas of the so called Victorian propriety imposed on Indians by the colonizers made us shun our own traditions and this applies to menstruation as well. The writer also draws the attention of the reader to the wrong ideas about menstruation as advocated and popularised by the media. Menstruation cannot be viewed just as a biological process and needs to be understood with all its cultural connotations. It is precisely these cultural and historical connotations that Nithin Sridhar enunciates throughout his thoroughly researched book. Another special feature of this book is the detailed notes and references provided by the author at the end of the book which highlight the in depth research that has gone into the making of this book.

This is book is a must read for everyone – whether man or woman because this book is the only work in the contemporary times which addresses the issue of menstruation in a holistic manner. Nithin Sridhar’s style is lucid and can be easily understood by everyone. I specially recommend this book to parents of adolescent girls and boys who are coming of age. A thorough reading of this book will certainly clear the deep rooted prejudices and misconceptions about menstruation and related matters. Our civilization is one such unique civilization that not only celebrates fecundity and regeneration but also places sexual intercourse within the frame work of Dharma and the four Purusarthas. Unlike the Abrahamic religions, Sanatana Dharma does not regard physical relations and the resultant regeneration as a sin but on the other hand considers the union of the male and female principles as the union of the two primordial principles of Dyau-Prithvi or Siva and Sakti or Purusa and Prakriti which leads to creation. To conclude, Nithin Sridhar’s ‘Menstruation Across Cultures: A Historical Perspective’ is highly recommended for all readers and is the best book of the present times which addresses the different dimensions of menstruation in a scientific, objective and engaging manner. Further, every public library must have at least one copy of this book. This book will certainly also enable the readers to understand the Sabarimala Issue in its macro and micro contexts and the emotions of the innumerable women who are a part of the ‘Ready to Wait’ Movement.

Book Title: The Sabrimala Confusion: Menstruation Across Cultures: A Historical Perspective

Author: Nithin Sridhar

Publisher: Vitasta

Available on Amazon and at all leading book stores

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