Menstruation – the price paid by women for Indra’s sin

I was ten when one of my friends first told me about menstruation. No, my mother had never told me about it, so as my friend talked I tried to grasp all the information she was giving us. Though I didn’t understand fifty percent of what she said, I was proud that I had learnt something new about my body. Of course I had seen my mother use sanitary napkins and had asked her what they were for, but my mother never gave me a clear answer. The first thing that my friend said to the group of girls about menstruation was that one should always be hush about it and that one should never talk about it openly. That day when I went home and asked my mother about it, she said, “Yes, girls bleed for five days every month until they reach a certain age.” I asked her why she hadn’t answered honestly when I had asked her about it. She said, “It is not something you talk about openly.” Well, that is what I learned first about menstruation, ‘DO NOT TALK ABOUT IT’.

The origin of this myth dates back to the Vedic times and is often been linked to Indra’s slaying of Vritras. When Indra ignored the sage Vrihaspati when he came to visit him, Vrihaspati felt insulted and went away. Without Vrihaspati to guide them, the Devas felt directionless. Indra went to look for him, but he could find him no where. Acting on the advice of Lord Brahma, the Devas installed Vishwarupa, the son of the God Tvashta as their new Guru. He was also a Brahmana renowned for his learning and yogic power. As time progressed,  Vishwarupa started to notice that Indra and the Devas spent an inordinate amount of time in pursuit of pleasure. Besides, his mother was a Asura woman, and his loyalty was divided. Secretly, he started giving a portion of the sacrificial oblations (Havis) to the Asuras. As a result, their strength increased.

When Indra came to know of this treachery, he became very angry. Without pausing to think the consequences of his actions, he struck off the three heads of Vishwarupa. Since he had killed a Brahmana, that too his Guru, he became guilty of the sin of Brahmana-Hatya(murder). However, he escaped his punishment by distributing the sin among the land, water, and women. In return for ridding Indra of the sin, earth got water to fill its empty holes, trees got re-growth of cut branches, water became purifying, and women obtained undiminished sexual desire. As a result of their share of the sin, earth has wastelands, trees have sap, waters have froth, and women have menstruation.

When I got my periods at the age of twelve, I was made to follow a list of ridiculous and senseless rules :

1 : Keep your periods a secret from people around you.

2: Do not enter any place of worship.

3: Do not go into the pantry or the kitchen.

4: Use a separate soap to clean yourself.

5: Do not do any type of physical activities that involve jumping.

6: Only sit on one chair and sleep in one bed. Wash the bed cover immediately after your periods is over.

There are a dozen more ridiculous rules that I can list, but I guess I have proved my point. I was fifteen when my biology teacher at school gave us the real talk on menstruation to bust myths. It was in her class that I understood the process of menstruation properly (without added made-up facts). From then onward I have never followed any rule that wasn’t backed up by science. Initially my mother revolted, but soon she got round to my way of thinking. She now understands how stupid the rules are and she often regrets following them for twenty years of her life.

In India cultural norms and religious taboos on menstruation are often compounded by traditional associations with evil spirits, shame and embarrassment surrounding sexual reproduction. Millions of Indian girls are told unscientific BS about their body by other ignorant female. They are forced to stay isolated when they menstruate and use unhygienic menstruation stuff, like old rag, leaves, ashes, paper and hay. They are kept in the shadow of oblivion and myths. NGOs and the media is trying to help girls like these. NGO workers go to towns, villages, schools and colleges to promote menstrual health and hygiene. Many movies and documentaries are made to spread awareness among masses. The government is providing packs of sanitary napkins to economically backward households so that the hygiene of women are not compromised. It is expected that within a few years time menstruation myths would be a thing of past in India.

Last year I remember asking for a napkin from the infirmary caretaker (The caretaker was a woman) at school. The lady took out a sanitary napkin, which she crumpled into a ball in her fist, she then covered it with a newspaper and gave it to me from under her sari. Honestly it felt as if she was smuggling me a pack of cocaine. “Is it drugs?” I joked as I took it from her, from her look I don’t think she got the joke.

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