Three Days of Impurity: Menstruation and (In)Auspiciousness


Author’s Note: Thank you for your interesting feedback and comments on this article over the years! For related work, see this article by Garima Garg (The Hindu)  where I was quoted on this subject, and listen to this podcast for Jac Digital where I was interviewed by Anna Levy.

One of the greatest confusions most Hindu women face is between hearing that women are highly regarded as embodiments of Shakti (‘the feminine principle’), but that women are also impure, unfit to perform puja, and in some cases, not allowed to interact with their own family during the period of menstruation. Women are often treated as if they are inauspicious and dirty during the time of menstruation. Manusmriti gives the instruction that until a woman’s menstruation has ceased to flow (some say this is after the third day, while others say after the fifth, seventh, or even ninth day), her body is impure. Women are discouraged to do puja or to pray. They usually are not allowed to enter temples, and in some cases, are not allowed to cook or are kept separately from those in the rest of the village.

Some have given the reasoning that this is so that women can rest during menstruation. This would seem to make sense for the day before or day of menstruation, when one’s energy might be low. But unless if you are anemic or have low blood pressure, you usually will not have problems past the first day. Some women do not experience fatigue at all. And with the advent of anti-pain medication and pills that even regulate menstrual flow, what place do these customs have, if they have any place at all?

Why would Hindu dharma, which seems to place women on a pedestal (in most cases), have these rules which seem to treat women unfairly?

Whether or not we agree that there is some basis to these practices, the core issue here seems to be a conflation that Hindus seemed to have developed between the terms “impure” and “inauspicious.” In other words, the perception that practices surrounding menstruation are unfair comes from the faulty (mostly unconscious) assumption by most of us that impure and inauspicious mean the same thing.

While the Abrahamic religions certainly use these terms interchangeably (at least in popular practice), most followers of the dharmic traditions, once they look into our shastras, would most likely discourage the use of these words as synonymous. According to Hinduism, at least, that which is “ritually impure” is not necessarily inauspicious at all.

Just to clarify, we are speaking mostly of physical and mental impurity or inauspiciousness here, rather than a deeper sense of impurity or inauspiciousness. By no means do I think dharma indicates that during menstruation, a woman is “at the core of her being” impure. Practices surrounding menstruation have to do with physical and mental conditions. The condition of one’s innermost being, or sadchidananda, is beyond any label of impurity or purity, inauspiciousness or auspiciousness.

Menstruation Practices

It is true that during menstruation, women are encouraged not to perform puja or participate in most religious activities (even handling the offerings). As mentioned before, Manusmriti does give this suggestion. While there is some controversy over the authority of Manusmriti, as there is evidence that certain sections have been interpolated or adulterated (some research on interpolations within Manusmriti are cited here, though it is very hard to find anything on the internet without some sort of bias), it is most likely true that there is a suggestion against women performing puja and homa during menstruation. There seem to be other beliefs and practices which give some understanding as to why this seemingly hypocritical practice may be in place.

(Author’s Note: Sadly, though I have spent much time doing research and reading on this subject, I have had much trouble coming up with primary sources which I could cite to give examples on practices surrounding menstruation. Most of the examples of customs in this article are based on personal experiences and informal interviews with Hindus from as many different communities as I could interact with. Please do email me or write a comment if you have anything to add!)

There are two slightly controversial explanations for this that can be provided, which most of you may or may not accept or agree with.

The first is that within our body is contained five Pranas. Prana can mean breath, energy, life, air, respiration or vitality – for now, we will just take its meaning as “energy.” There are five Pranas in the body:  prana, which takes things in; apana, which takes things out; samana, which assimilates; vyana, which circulates and distributes; and udana, which expresses, especially in speech. Any obstruction to the free flow of any of these pranas causes imbalance and disease (e.g. obstruction to samana would appear to be a metabolic disorder, or perhaps a learning disorder). During puja and homa, a release of “pent up” Prana happens. Pranayama, or the practice by which Prana is controlled (yama), is also a means by which the movement of all five Pranas (or by which a single one of the five, depending on the needs of the practitioner) can be brought to balance. (More on the five pranas can be found in an easily accessible and brief Vedantic text, Tattva Bodha, though they are mentioned in a variety of other shastras as well.)

It is believed that menstruation is a time in which apana in the body is naturally predominant, and for good reason. It allows for the outward flow of impure physical elements (e.g. uterine tissue), as well as for repressed emotions (e.g. mood swings during PMS). Since puja etc. are meant to balance the Prana-s, it is not necessarily the best thing for one to engage in religious practices during menstruation when the body naturally needs apana to be dominant. (Here it is worth noting that by most accounts, mental japa and manas puja are usually considered to be allowed during menstruation. This may vary by sampradaya or your own personal belief.)

Women are lucky, in this regard, that they have at least twelve times in a year in which repressed emotions come to the surface for us to release. It is sad that most women do not take this time to be aware of, or present with, and consciously feel these emotions as they are released. We meet the anxiety, anger, or depression that might surface during or before menstruation with comments like, “Ugh, I wish I was a man.” We wish not to be bothered with our scary, strange, and irrational emotions, even just once a month. But by regarding this release of emotions also as a part of our natural detoxification process, and allowing these emotions to resurface and be felt (without acting on them or hurting others, of couse), we are actually engaging in a potent form of psychological healing.

Symptoms of emotional disturbance indicate that there is some conflict between conscious demands put upon the self and one’s unconscious nature. The necessity many women experience during this time to withdraw from external life (and become more introverted) allow, if the chance is taken with awareness, to re-establish contact with the deeper part of one’s own nature.

No pain, no gain. This isn’t simply “taking a break” from physically/psychically taxing situations. This is real “turning in,” a rest which can prove to be depleting before the eventual reward of opening to a fuller part of one’s nature. Facing tough emotions are part of developing emotional and spiritual maturity. Through this emotional processing, energy spent pushing against the unconscious and its “irrational emotions” reverts its flow into carrying one along with one’s own instinctual energy. This can lead to deepening significant relationships, or finding an outlet in creative work. But continuing the push against the unconscious will only lead one into a deeper rut, and a feeling of “being stuck” in the same distressing situations and relationships over and over again.

Without conscious involvement, PMS is degraded to simply being a period of time in which eating extra ice cream is okay, rather than the blessing of an inborn “self-therapy” mechanism that it really is.

Here it may also be worthwhile to note that purity rules exist for both sexes. Apana exists in every living being, so men also abide by ritual purity rules. Men should not release any sexual fluids before (or during) puja or homa is to be performed. This includes voluntary and involuntary ejaculation, with or without contact with women. (Look into beliefs surrounding ojas for more information.) Both sexes abide by rules concerning sickness and excretion of mucous, which is also a pranic excretory process.

The second explanation given is that when we make any offering, whether as prasadam or homa, we are offering it to the deva-s to enjoy by all five senses. For example, if it is a mango that we are offering, it should be very full, round, and reddish-yellow (i.e. not unripe or rotten in appearance); should be fragrant; it should feel ripe (e.g. one should try their best to make sure that it will taste sweet without actually tasting it themselves); should be clean and should be of an appropriate texture. I’m not sure how sound applies to the offering of a fruit, though I know that psychologically, sound plays a lot into one’s enjoyment of a food. For example, snack companies put a lot of research into the exact sound of the crunch a chip will make once you bite into it. There is a certain level of pleasure we get from hearing that crunch. I’m sure something like this applies to other foods – we wouldn’t want our mango to make a “gloopy” or “crackling” sound when we bite into it. Menstruation plays into this because there is a certain smell produced by menses which most will agree is unfavorable. When this smell becomes attached to the offering, it becomes less fit to be offered. This second explanation is probably offensive to most women, or feels strange to people who are not sure about the existence of ethereal beings, but this explanation is there and is worth at least taking into consideration as a possibility.

There are also customs surrounding not touching women, or keeping women in seclusion, during menstruation. This would seem extreme to most women in the contemporary world, and perhaps even impossible in terms of still keeping one’s place in the work and family environment. But one can still become aware of the suggested explanation for this custom. Frederique Apffel-Marglin, in her book “Rhythms of Life: Enacting the World with the Goddesses of Orissa,” recounts a story told to her by women of a village in Orissa, India. The cycle of women being “touchable” outside of menses and “untouchable” during menses mirrors the cycle of the joining of sky and earth between the rainy and dry seasons. During the dry season, which is associated with menstruation, there is no rain – that is, the earth and sky do not “touch.” This is the natural order of things. During the rainy season, the sky and earth may touch again. Sky, in many cultures, represents the masculine, while earth represents the feminine. It is by keeping these rhythms in order that ritual reenacts nature, or on a broader scale, all of existence. Menstrual taboos surrounding being touched or simply kept in solitude are meant to harmonize women with the rhythms of the earth.

This can be discussed as a topic of its own, but touching is believed to always carry some sort of transfer of energy. This is why so much emphasis is placed on mudras and which fingers we use during puja. During menstruation, when women have shakti so easily “accessible” to their conscious minds and “flowing” through their bodies, being touched and touching others will invariably be a more sensitive experience.

An example of how forcibly bringing a woman out of balance with the earth can lead to suffering is given in a famous episode from the Mahabharata. A woman interviewed by Apffel-Marglin recounts that Duhshasana’s violent end, and the destruction of his entire clan, was unavoidable because he violated the menses of Draupadi by touching her and attempting to disrobe her (and intending to rape her) during her menstrual period. She explains that we know Draupadi was on her menses because she was brought from solitude, and because her hair was undone/not tied up, both cultural signs associated with menstruation. From the moment of her attempted rape onwards, Draupadi kept her hair untied. She ominously spoke, “When I see your blood, then I will bind my hair.” Perhaps this is alluding to his disruption of her “bleeding.”

Again, none of these explanations are meant to be offensive, and perhaps none of this can even be offensive as long as one removes, or at least brings awareness to, the conflation between impurity and inauspiciousness within one’s mind.

Moon Cycle

As an aside, many women have heard that there is a connection between the cycles of the moon and the menstrual cycle. While current research shows no correlation between the moon’s phases and women’s menstrual cycles, it may be possible that there was some correlation at some time in ancient history when there was some evolutionary benefit to menstrual cycles “syncing together,” or to when there was some greater regard and connection for nature. Research does show some effect of moonlight on menstruation (i.e. being exposed to moonlight while sleeping during menstruation – see studies on nightlighting). And many have noted the correlation between the lunar phases (twenty-eight days for a full lunar month) and the average length of the menstrual cycle (twenty-eight days).

Esther Harding, a well-known Jungian psychoanalyst, did research on social customs surrounding menstruation and beliefs about the moon and femininity.

“An examination of social customs reveals the fact [that] in all parts of the world and among all peoples, with the single exception of the more ‘highly educated white races’, women during menstruation are considered to be taboo. Taboo is a curious word. It means, variously, unclean, holy, or set apart, and we find that during the period of their sickness, women of many tribes are considered to be in a state so peculiar that any object they touch is defiled or loses its efficiency. For this reason when a woman is menstruating she cannot remain with other people, go near fire, nor go about her usual occupations…the taboos were mostly intended to protect the community from the destructive effect of the woman’s mana [spiritual energy, linked in some cultures to the Divine Feminine], but on certain occasions, the magic power of menstrual blood was used for other purposes…The ancient Hindus considered menstruation to be an evidence that a woman was peculiarly under the influence of the moon. There is a Vedic text to this effect which reads, ‘The blood of the woman is a form of Agni and therefore no one should despise it.’ Menstruation is here connected with fire, for Agni is the fire-god and is closely related to the light of the moon. In this text, the menstrual blood is definitely stated to be sacred, because it is a manifestation of him.

“In India, the Mother Goddess is thought to menstruate regularly; during these times, the statues of the Goddess are secluded (or temples are closed) and ‘bloodstained cloths’ are displayed as evidence that she has had her sickness.

“The days spent alone, fasting and performing other purificatory rites is, perhaps, equivalent to the initiation ceremonies which are so generally practiced by the men and boys at puberty…the similarity is so consistent that can hardly be accidental. The ordeal of the initiation ceremony is designed to bring the initiant into direct touch with the deeper layers of the unconscious [through messages received through dreams, ritual symbolism, etc.]. But women, so far as we know, do not formulate, either in picture or in idea, the message which they gain from the unconscious during their seclusion. This is perhaps understandable since woman is, in a sense, closer to nature than man. The voice of nature speaks to her so closely in her own person, that a higher state of consciousness is necessary before a woman [can start to understand what she has learned].”

Harding hints at the meaning behind all of our menstrual taboos. At the time of menstruation, what many other “primitive” cultures referred to as mana is closer to what we refer to as Shakti today. Shakti is so nearly tangible, so close to total manifestation in women during the menstrual period that women are capable of rendering those around them powerless. In other words, menstruation is a time of such great power that it affects those around us.

She also emphasizes the same point that introspection is encouraged, or was at least expected during this period of seclusion.

Auspiciousness versus Impurity

Leviticus 15:28-30 requires that women make “atonements for their [menstrual] discharge.” Though, as far as I know, most people in contemporary Western society of Abrahamic ancestry or belief do not actively or consciously believe this to be true, one can argue that remnants of the beliefs that date back to the Old Testament which equate different aspects of womanhood to both impurity and inauspiciousness still survive in Western society today. It would seem that atonements would only be necessary for that which is sinful. Women are associated with that which leads men away from God, the “fall out of Eden.”

It most likely is not the proclamation of female ritual impurity in the Abrahamic traditions themselves that lead to a belief that women are dangerous to one’s spiritual life – it is the patriarchal lens that shaped later Christian society that has lead to many of the issues women face in Western society today, and furthermore, how the West chooses to interpret the East through a Western point of view. While this patriarchal lens may have touched the interpretation of Muslim texts as well, the influence of Islam in Western culture is and has been much less than Christianity.

It was not until later decrees in Christian law that women were seen as inauspicious, or unfit for baptism, being ordained as ministers, etc. Again, while many Christians these days might not agree with these decrees, these patriarchal beliefs shrouded in religion used to control women are still exerting their force on women through law and social issues today. One does not have to go far to hear about how mostly male legislative bodies are trying to pass seemingly unfair laws on abortions, how sex is taught in schools, etc.

But what does this have to do with dharma?

Historical points aside, because most of us were brought up in a country that still “defaults” to a Abrahamic point of view, we sometimes do not realize how certain patterns of thinking which are perhaps not centered in a dharmic point of view might become a part of how we view dharma. For example, we might have no problem with translating the word paapa as “sin.” We tend to think that “sin” just means “something you shouldn’t do.” But the meaning of “sin” is much deeper than that. An eternity spent in Hell has nothing to do with paapa, but it has a lot to do with sinyet, we don’t realize this when we use these words.

A general understanding of Abrahamic belief which shapes Western thought is also one of duality. God is good, (d)evil is bad. God is light, evil is dark. God is pure, evil is impure.

Once we become angry upon hearing that a woman is impure during her menstruation, we are not understanding the meaning of impurity within the dharmic context. For in the dharmic context, the Divine is both nothing and everything. God is good, God is bad, and neither good nor bad exist. The Rg Veda contains epithets to Surya Deva, the Sun God, as well as Ratri Suktam, the hymn to the Goddess of the Night. Shiva resides peacefully as Shankara in the pure, white snow of the Himalayas; He laughs as we anxiously rush past graveyards and cremation grounds, because we forget that He resides there as Rudra, too. God is beautiful, God is repulsive. Love protects as love can be frightening. God is in purity, God is in impurity. And God is also none of these things.

While the death of a parent, menstruation, and a variety of other things may render one (ritually) impure, these actions or incidents are still wholly auspicious and meaningful.

What we perceive as impure is just as auspicious as what we perceive as pure.

Impurity as Auspiciousness

Here are just a few examples from Sridurgasaptashati (Devi Mahatmyam), Lalita Sahasranama, Vedoktam Ratri Suktam (Rgveda X. 127.1-8), and Tantroktam Ratrisuktam.

Pañcapretamañcādhiśāyinī, “She rests on a couch made of five corpses.” We generally observe ritual impurity at the time of interacting with corpses (i.e. death of a family member or during a funeral). Those who have had a parent die do not enter a temple for a period of time due to ritual impurity. There are also various purificatory rituals observed after being near a dead body, handling a dead body, or being at a funeral. However, the Goddess also rests in this “impure” place, right upon that thing that reminds us of our mortality and frightens us the most. We are also reminded of Kali and Tara, goddesses who reside in the samshaan, or cremation grounds. The embodiment of auspiciousness itself resides even in the most “impure” places.

Yā devī sarvabhūteṣu tṛṣnārūpeṇa saṁsthitā, “To the goddess who abides in all beings in the form of attachment.”Here, the Goddess is referred to not as desire that creates, but also as desire that attaches us to this world and to material things. She is there is that which binds us further to the cycle of life and death, and that which makes us forget our divinity and inner worthiness. Similarly, Durgamohā, “She who causes impenetrable delusion.” She is there even in what makes us get lost. The embodiment of auspiciousness itself resides in even the most “impure” thoughts.

Yā devī sarvabhūteṣu lajjārūpeṇa saṁsthitā, “To the goddess who abides in all beings in the form of shame.” Shame isn’t only “pretty shame,” the one where you feel kind of embarrassed that the person you’re attracted you caught you looking at them. In that deep feeling of self-hatred where you feel like you “just want to die” – She is there, too. The embodiment of auspiciousness itself resides even in the most “impure” actions.

Specific examples are also available related to menstruation. In the texts of the yogini Lakshminkara, she instructs practitioners to draw Devi mandalas with vermillion, “the menstrual blood of the earth.” And imagine the reaction of most Hindus today at reading this quote from Chandamaharoshana-tantra: “A man should regard every substance discharged from a woman’s body as pure and should be willing to touch it and ingest it if requested to do so.” Whether this is meant to be taken literally or as a statement meant to “shake up” those of us going through the motions of this patriarchal society is up for one’s own interpretation. However, it is clear that numinosity is associated with menstrual fluids, as well as the body’s other excretions.

In practical terms, how do we find auspiciousness even in the impurity? David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri) explains through an example in his book, Inner Tantric Yoga:

Prana is the Goddess within us…worshipping prana as Shakti is perhaps the highest form of worship in which life becomes a sacred ritual and thought itself becomes prayer and mantra…Our urinary and excretory organs [are the mode by which the body expresses] the purificatory side of the water and earth elements.

“In this meditation, focus on the power that allows you to remove water through the body by the process of urination. Do the same with the power of excretion. What is the source of the impulse from which urination and other vital urges arise? It is a pranic urge, much like an electrical impulse. From what point does that impulse enter into the mind? Where does that energy remain in potential when these vital urges are not active? Learn to contact that pranic force…Recognize the energy of creation in all reproductive processes [including menstruation]. Learn to hold to that creative energy and let go of the forms that it creates. Let that creative energy renew both your body and your mind. The energy belongs to prana, not simply to the motor organs which are but instruments.”

Frederique Apffel-Marglin, in her study of Hindus in a region of Orissa, India, uncovered some very interesting views from males in this area.  A villager tells of the meaning of a festival, Raja Parba, surrounding the believed time of menstruation of a goddess Harachandi: “The Mother, the earth, is bleeding…We think that women are bleeding too at that time, not really, but symbolically, and that the Mother bleeds through them. During the menses of the earth, women do no work; they play and sing with their friends. The sole reason is for them to rest, just like during their monthly periods, when they do not work and must not be disturbed, they should not be touched. When the Goddess is bleeding, we also stop all work in the fields, and not only we farmers, but all the other men…it is incumbent upon us that we should please the Goddess and women at this time. Young women celebrate Raja because they are the centre of creation, and we want to make them happy and please them.”

An interesting view on menstruation is also presented here by the women of the village. They claim that menstruation is an action, rather than as something that happens to them. Menstruation is not experienced passively as something their body “does to them,” but as something they actively do that “harmonizes them with cosmic rhythms.”

Understanding it all

Seeing women as impure during menstruation is not really the problem. Seeing women as objects which incite “impure and inauspicious thoughts,” or as inauspiciousness in themselves, is what creates a problem. Women become objects of vice – they incite inauspiciousness.

Discomfort with our own inner feminine leads to greater repression and avoidance of a huge part of ourselves, and to greater unconscious “push-back” in the form of psychological distress. Becoming passive players in the motions of our beings’ dance with creation can only lead to further disconnect between the persona and the universe’s collective wisdom.

“The sun is constant and a reliable source of light and heat…The moon follows a different order. She does not shine in the day but is ruler of the night…Sometimes it is true, she shines, as at full moon, but at other seasons her light is withdrawn and the night is left completely dark…When the sun sets the moon also may be about the set. On other nights, she does not rise until the hours of darkness are almost past. And most anomalous than all else besides, at certain times her pale face may be visible hanging in the sky, at midday…In the unaccountable qualities of the moon, man has seen a symbol of woman’s nature which to him appears erratic, changeable, fickle, not to be relied on. But the symbolism can be carried further: just as, in the case of the moon, an order or rule underlies her conduct, so with woman also a rule or law underlies her apparent fickleness…To man, her dependence on an inner principle whose chief characteristic is change must make her appear fickle and unreliable.”

Observing and meeting equinanimously that which we do not understand, without trying to exert control, analyze it, or dissect it, is part of coming to peace with our inner feminine and everything associated with it. Again, this is necessary for both men and women, as both sexes, in the present time, tend to place more value and self-worth in logic rather than intuition and knowing-through-feeling.

In addition, it is worth contemplating on how our societal attitudes toward women reflect our attitudes toward menstruation as well: “bothersome, fickle.” While there are certainly some aspects to menstruation rules that are superstitious, and even extend the hand of patriarchal rule over the psyche of women, it does not necessarily follow that all menstrual “taboos” be discarded. Our modern attitude that tends to discard these ancient practices may come back with a vengeance if we do not first examine the psychological mechanisms behind the superstitious elements first. We degrade the feminine as being “bothersome and fickle” just because we are too afraid to delve into it. Delving into the feminine requires one of the scariest words in the English language: surrender.

Emotional processing, or staying aware while waves of anger, shame, fear, and depression come up from the unconscious for seemingly no reason, is difficult, but perhaps not as much as it seems. We generally are afraid of these emotions because we are afraid of getting carried away by them. We think that surrender means “weakness.” This fear stems from childhood, where we indeed did get overwhelmed by these emotions. However, we are more aware now, and these feelings need not (and cannot) overwhelm us anymore. Nothing will be sent up by the unconscious that we cannot handle. This also requires a level of self-trust, and perhaps a little faith that underneath everything, you will always be “okay”, and you always are “okay” (a simplistic rephrasing of the concept of sadchidananda).

Menstruation reminds us of the dangerous qualities of the divine feminine: mysteriousness, pain, and instinct (as opposed to logic). As we avoid menstruation, we avoid that which confuses us, that which is painful, and that which is intuitive. When we become aware that mystery, pain, and instinct are not to be avoided, but can actually lead to greater spiritual and psychological growth, we also free ourselves from the binds of the superstitions created to control against these fearful elements.

This also needs to be taken into account in the general picture of attachment to impurity we have in our culture. This is not all about menstruation – this is about our attachment to judging things as impure (and worthless), and the insecurities that might fuel some of the customs surrounding impurity.

But how do we decide which customs to keep and which to discard? This comes with a level of personal introspection. In addition, it seems that women in every community or even every family have different rules surrounding menstruation, so this can be an opportunity for dialogue with the women closest to you.

The most important thing is in separating (1) that which was derived from patriarchy, desire for control, and fear, and (2) that which has some substantial backing in terms of emotional, spiritual, psychological health, and a deeper understanding of female psychology. Harding notes, “The social customs which prevail in so many parts of the world in relation to the woman’s cycle were developed in part on account of man’s fear of that in woman which he did not understand. His fear doubtless contributed its share also to the development of the taboos controlling this aspect of feminine nature. For her sexual cycle had an uncanny power over him, arousing at once his own instinct and dread of its power. This was naturally projected to the woman whose condition made him aware of his helplessness in face of his own instinctive desire. Women themselves cannot have been entirely under compulsion in this matter, however, but must have cooperated in developing a social custom which depended so largely for its observance on the individual woman’s submission to the law of her own nature. In some cases the customs were initiated by the women themselves, as a protection from the insistent sexual demands of the men, for rest and rejuvenation, and to preserve their woman’s values.”

In this way, customs surrounding menstruation can also be used as a time to come into greater contact with the instinctual and intuitive powers that women have such easy access to as embodiments of the Divine Feminine. Have you ever tried to tell your body when to have your period and had it “listen” to you? For example, a woman who is expecting to have her period on Saturday, but knows she has some sort of busy day on Saturday, might “ask” her body, “Can I please have my period on Sunday instead?” There surely are many women who can relate to this and could say that this has worked! This is a phenomenon experienced by many women, too repetitively to be coincidence. There seems to be some sort of body-wisdom that menstruation is capable of connecting us to, besides the emotional and physical detoxification. Edit: It is worth noting that there is always the option, upon learning all of this, to still not follow these customs, all of which is okay within the larger dharmic paradigm. No one is compelled to follow or not follow either way.

In terms of menstruation customs, where does this put men? Men are just as responsible for perpetuating a patriarchal bias as women are (arguably more so than women), so menstruation (and general impurity) customs are an issue that men need to think about just as much as women do. If men are left confused as to what to do at their woman’s “time-of-the-month,” just remember one word: empathy. There is no one rule to follow. Some women need space, some women need to be held. Some women go through a lot of pain, some women do not. Completely avoiding your partner during this time of the month, and even worse, attributing every annoyance of hers to PMS, is definitely not the right answer. Empathy can’t hurt – it can only be healthy for your relationship!

You do not have to collect all of your bodily excretions in a jar and worship it every morning. But perhaps that is much less harmful than succumbing to the self-hate-cultivating attitude that the pain associated with menstruation is unnecessary, not useful, and disgusting. There is a place of balance that can be found where the body and everything it does can be regarded as sacred and important, without having to obsess over it negatively or praise it to the point of over-attachment.

It is easy to see the divine in all the beauty of this universe, to “kiss the roses” in the garden of creation. But it is seeing the divine even in the repulsive, excruciating, and confusing parts that teaches us how to grow through our tenderness and vulnerability.

Koi naavaaqif-e-aadaab-e-chaman aayaa thaa
maine kaanton par bhi honton ke nishaan dekhe hain

Someone unfamiliar of the etiquette of the garden came:
I saw on the thorns, too, kiss marks.


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  6. Amarjit Singh bamrah

    Amarjit Singh Bamrah I studied under my Mantra Guru for many years
    Thomas Ashley-Farrand (Namadeva )
    He touched on this Menstrual cycle dilemma women faced.
    The Male Pandits were very crafty.
    Its a known fact that when a Mantra is chanted without a break on a
    40 day cycle the Mantra energy starts flowing within and also starts the
    Magical Process of empowering the Chanter.

    To the Male Pandits it was taboo for women to become priests or Pandits.
    Its is a very male dominated sect !
    So to dis-Empower Women they brought in the rule that Women were not
    allowed to chant during their Menstrual cycle.
    So women could not easily tap into the Mantra Power by chanting
    non stop. Women became afraid to chant or pray during the period when
    prayers were most needed.
    Most Mantras are soft mantras and they cannot harm the woman chanting them.

    There are some secret Mantras which of course one should not chant unless they purify themselves,
    I would ask your inner Guru for more guidance the above is my view

    • Bhagwat

      Ganga purifies everything – devas and dead bodies. Power of Ganga is so great, everything it touches – auspicious, inauspicious, pure, impure, dead, alive – is purified and made fit for divine consumption.

      Power of mantras and Vedic ruchas is as great as that of the Ganga. Surely, if a mantra is sullied or loses power because a menstruating woman chants it, who is more powerful – the mantra or the menses? Surely the power of a great mantra is capable of cleansing, purifying, uplifting and transforming EVERYTHING including a woman during her menses !

      You are right though – misogyny has made it impossible for most Hindu women to recite prayers during their menstrual period. This is wrong and it should be corrected. We should understand the difference between pure / impure and auspicious / inauspicious. Issues of purity or pain may stop a woman from visiting a temple, but this does not make her inauspicious or unworthy in any shape or form.

  7. Aarti

    Thank you so much for writing a piece which not only educates, but also compels women to celebrate something considered almost undeserved/repulsive.

    At least speaking from my own experience.

    A pleasure to read!

  8. swarna

    Speaking from the ayurvedic perspective,yes seclusion of women is meant to give her body rest and better expel physical and emotional toxins,I didn’t value that when I was younger but as I grew older,the more I rested during menstruation the better I felt,after a few cycles of resting I was able to combat PMS,anemia,hot flashes,stomach and back pain and am at much mental and physical peace during that time.Thanks to my husband for taking up all the chores during that time.Ayurveda also talks about eating a satvic diet during this time without spices to make it easy on the digestion as well,saving all the energy to expel toxins alone.

  9. goldenfleece1

    Sarikaji, thanks for this article. It is timely, as I read an article published in on this subject matter, which paints this issue as unique to “India” and “Hindus and Hinduism”, which I find disconcerting.

  10. Pingback: Is there any scientific reason why women are not allowed inside temples or water plants during their periods? - Quora
  11. goldenfleece1

    Re-read and is just as impressed and informed as I was the first time I read a few months ago. I have over the years searched the libraries, internet, bookstores, etc for some authored guidance, practical and realistic, of course; and have come up empty. Sadly, no one that I know, who are frequent at Religious institutions and/or followings who holds true to this “taboo” has received any sort of such guidance; leaving one to feel (as one gets older) that they have been robbed in some way of their Spirituality and/or Religiosity quests. With much stuttering embarrassment I have over the years, when asked for a reason, have had to state “that is what I was told” – during period of menses and 7 days from last day (an account of 14 days for most) no Puja rituals and/or attending of Mandir, touching, etc etc; in all instances I was looked at as if I am crazy! :)

  12. Pingback: Hindu View of Menstruation- III: Menstruation as a period of Rest and Sacred Celebration | IndiaFactsIndiaFacts
  13. Pingback: Hindu View of Menstruation- II: Menstruation as Austerity and Self-purification | IndiaFactsIndiaFacts
  14. Sophie

    Thank you! I am amazed. This post is a great help for me and my practice.
    You mention that there are some rules regarding illness, mucous and puja – where can I get more information on the topic?

    • swordandflute

      Thank you! I don’t have any specific books to recommend, but anything that goes more in depth into the 5 pranas should be of help to you. I think “Kundalini,” edited by Robert Svoboda has some information on this topic.

  15. Asha Maria - The Existential Astrologer

    Thank you for this wonderful article and research behind it. In many traditions menstruating women are not allowed to touch consecrated objects they are usually allowed to touch during ceremony, they are also forbidden incorporate spirits or deities or enter into trance. This is variously thought because the red woman will draw the power from the objects into herself and can then direct it while she is menstruating – an old taboo connected with the power of the menstruating woman and her particular magic. I find I do not want to work (spiritually) at this time and it is like a spiritual retreat, a nourishing time, for a few days if I have the luxury of withdrawing a little.

  16. Pingback: A Visit from Aunt Flo in Nepal – Seeds to Plants
  17. ranji

    Good information. ONE Query as i am living in one room while performing klasham pooja i got periods what should i do

    • Swati

      Hello Ranji,

      I feel you should not think about this much as God is everywhere. Wats wrong if we get periods.. it’s natural process which God has created and due to our ancestral thinking we are supposed to avoid our daily chores which is not right thing!!!

  18. Alka jaswant singh

    This is the best knowledge i hv ever came across on menses as being a part of hindu religion thnx for the right guidance👍👏

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  20. Hilary Brown

    Just wow! The research and objective thoughtfulness in the essays I have read is so impressive and inspiring. You have a gift for writing accessibly, lovingly and intelligently about topics so many struggle with. I hope to see more essays, or a book from you!

  21. G.N. Balakrishnan.

    Really an excellent article, an eye opener. It has crumbled to dust, the misconceived mischief of attributing the loathsone subject of segregation or almost ostracisation of women, during this oeriod, as though it is the taboo imposedd by the vedic culture of the Hindus. The myth has been exploded, as the Vedas seem to refer to the blood or fluid discharged, as FIRE or SAKTHI itself, and the women, treated as chattel in a male dominated society, are advised to isolate themselves and desist from doing their daily chires, so that, they can go deep within themselves and meditate. The FIRE or SAKTHI referred to, is potent enough to destroy or annihilate anything coming into contact with itself, and are thus self prescribed isolation from their other daily activities during this period . Social rights activists will be well advised to visit this site and imbibe the real spirit behind the proscribed ALOOFNESS practised by the ancients , to protect themselves and their kith and kin. Women are more in tune with NATURE and are embodiments of the SANCTITY of MOTHER EARTH. Let them take care of themselves, by taking the enforced rest during this period from the daily chores imposed on them by the male dominated society. and by going deep within themselves into deep meditation and contemplation. SIVA & SAKTHI are complementary to each other, as SIVA , without SAKTHI , is just a corpse without the soul, and SAKTHI without SIVA is as well impotent to manifest herself in diverse forms, through her progeny.

  22. Chicky

    Wow , Answered all the questions which I had since the start of my menses. But I since I am a true believer of my customs and values, I knew there are some strong reasons because of which we are asked not to do pooja or get involved in the spiritual activities during this time of the month. Thank you so much :)

  23. Swati

    I am from a Brahmin family where do we by follow or think menstruation is impure. But when I got married I m forced to be outside during my menstruation, eat in another utensil and sleep on mat. I oppose this stupid thinking because when technology is so advanced why we are still in our ancestral age. My in laws and hubs and are not at all understanding my situation which lead are to fight every month. I sometimes feel I should take out that part which leads to menstruation. Pleas help me to make them understand !!

  24. Divya

    Hi, i am from a brahmi family where mensuration is not considered impure. Since we are having saligrama at home my family ask me to sit seperately for 3 daysand take head bath on 4th day and then touch others . Even i have respect for god . My question is will there be a problem when i dont sit seperately for 3 days even after having saligrama at home

  25. Sanjeevany sudha

    Well here is my 2 cents. Through out the month our body accumulates energy “oja” or “urja” in case after we ovulate and fertilization occurs the body has enough energy to start the cell divisions needed to form a baby. But when after 20 days no fertilization occurs then our body knows that no more chance of that happening.(FIY an ovum after ovulation lives for 48 hour at most . and a sperm can survive within the female reproductive organ for 3 to 5/7 days .The day bleeding starts is the 1st day of the cycle and commonly the 14th day of the cycle is the day of ovulation.) So during mens we are expelling this extra energy, a energy of rajasic( creative) nature. All beings have rajasic and tamasic energies, the balance of this two energies gives rise to a quality that we call sattvik. a pooja place is meant to be sattvik. Now without any preparation, during mens , due to excess rajasic energy, the tamasic within the woman cannot balance it. So comes the thing about not going to a pooja place which is meant to be sattvik. But see, as the excess energy is the problem, the veidic solution is to use up the excess energy. To do that there are many systems. Like a woman who does pooja regularly, or coducts her work like a pooja (karma yog) has an inner state that is sattvik. So that leaves the physical and energetic part. For this there are procedures like eating sattvik ,lite food, high in iron, I might add. and many other vratas through out the month, ekadashi to name a popular one etc to use the excess energy to maintain the body (remember, the energy has been accumulating the whole month, useing it up during the month also works) so that the level of tamasic and rajasic is in balancs i.e sattvik state. Many times a woman who has a physically strenuous job and loving and happy life , and follows some or any form of sadhana will not accumulate this extra rajasic at all. Thats why also vratas that include upavas or any sadhana requiring excess strenuous physical work andany excess emotional strain is advaised against during pregnancy, specially the 1st few months as the the body is now supposed to use this extra rajasic to make a baby, not to deal with the BS the world throws at women. In the later months the restrictions are due the size of mother and baby. Also it’s the reason a couple trying to have a baby have certain things and certain rituals to follow , to increase both the to be parents physical oja but maintain a sattvik state of mind and manas. See, her peaceful (satvik, means not tired of the worlds injustice) state of mind is taking care of the rajasic part in manamaya kosha and her work is taking care of the excess physical rajasic. Of course there are women who due to some change in vata, pitta, khapa or some physical or medical condition, suffering from too much inconvenience during mens , those problems should be dealt with accordingly. I mean not to talk about that but the common mens. There are many other procedures in the vedas. Vedas, not the manu smrity. Smritys are supposed to only be remembered not followed fanatically . We can learn from smritis how our ancestors did things and modify them to suit us now. Thats it.

    • Sanjeevany sudha

      I forgot to mention my favourite way of useing up the excess energy . It is to use it to purify ourselves through manas pooja and deep meditation during mens an come a step closer to attaining inner peace and realization , if not mukty.

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