PM Narendra Modi’s speech on the occasion of India’s 74th Independence Day will be especially remembered for its reference to sanitary pads and making menstruation a mainstream topic of debate and discussion. In fact, it was only a few weeks back that I had come across an article titled “I Felt Like My Childhood Ended” – How Menstruation Festivals Can Affect Young Girls? published in the pro-Left portal ‘Youth Ki Awaaz’. It again made me re-think how in the name of modernity and a fake version of “liberating feminism”, a certain section of today’s educated, young women are becoming more and more disconnected and detached from their roots, their traditions and festivals.

It is easy to label an age-old practice of a community as “patriarchal” or “discriminatory”, but no one seems to have the patience to delve into the history of that practice and the cultural and spiritual meanings associated with the same. Women’s freedom has been unfortunately appropriated in a toxic ‘liberal masculinist’ discourse inspired by the West. A culturally deracinating movement that feminism is, women today seem to be in a rat-race in their desperation to be ‘equal’ (read: ‘same’) to men. As a result, they have alienated themselves from the demands and needs of their own bodies. This one-sided understanding of equality based on a borrowed intellectual discourse of ‘feminist theory’ has led to an increasingly feminised world where men, as the “upholders of patriarchy”, are not seen as humans but as monsters!

A woman is a Janani, she is the creator and life-giver that a man can never be. Her body and her hormones are different from that of a man. She bleeds every month and so needs rest, besides special cuddling and warmth from her man on those special days. She goes through an excruciating nine-month long pregnancy and eventually gives birth to a new life. Thus, her bodily needs are completely different from that of a man and it is precisely for this difference that a woman is to be respected for who she is. Unfortunately, in the name of equality (interpreted as ‘sameness’), time-honoured traditions and the spiritual and religious beliefs associated with them have been overturned.

Unlike the standard feminist understanding of menstruation and menstrual blood as ‘impure’, local traditions and cultures spread across different states of Bharatvarsha have their own explanations of the same menstrual practices. This is the eternal and intrinsic beauty of Sanatan Dharma which considers the feminine/Shakti as the supreme life-form that creates, nourishes, nurtures, and maintains a state of equanimity in life. This phenomenal force is the axial power of a woman. Once this is understood, it can teach a woman how to care for her body, what foods to eat, how to nourish her sexuality, and respect her emotions and intuitions.

Having been born and brought up in the land of Ma Kamakhya, the annual menstruation of the Goddess has always been a celebratory time for us during the Ambubachi festival held at the Kamakhya Shakti Peeth situated atop the Nilachal Hills in Guwahati, Assam. For three days, the doors of all temples across Assam are closed and farmers do not carry out any ploughing or agricultural activities during these days. People throng at the precincts of the Kamakhya temple on the fourth day right after dawn to have a glimpse of the Goddess and collect the small red piece of cloth that is distributed to the devotees along with the prasadam. This is the same piece of cloth that covers the yoni of the Goddess during her annual menstrual cycle, which is then cut into numerous small pieces and handed out to the devotees.

In a culture where Shakti in the form of Ma Kamakhya is worshipped and her annual menstrual cycle becomes a ritualistic affair of celebration, the first menstrual cycle of a girl is also celebrated here with much pomp and joy among the women of the neighbourhood where the girl’s family resides. In Assam, we call it Tuloni Biya, marking an important phase in the girl’s life from where she steps from childhood into womanhood.

This is the period in her life when the Shakti inside her is believed to have come into full maturity. On the third day, the Lakshmi in her is bathed and dressed in new clothes in front of a banana tree that symbolises her husband, Lord Vishnu. Since the banana tree is considered to be sacred and pious in Sanatan Dharma, it is a prayer for her future life – for happiness, abundance, and prosperity. During the ritual of Tuloni Biya in Assam, the banana tree signifies the guardian deity whose presence and influence in the girl’s life is believed to remove any adverse impact of her past karma before her new journey into womanhood begins.

Several such practices related to menstruation in the Indian cultural context have their roots in ancient Indian science that includes Yoga, Ayurveda, meditation, chanting of mantras, etc. It is the principle of energy (urja) as recognised by our rishis and sages which acts as the principal determinant factor behind sustaining life in the universe. It is this energy of life, i.e. Prana, which is embedded in Shakti that constitutes the primary source of Shrishti (creation). Western allopathic medicine does not recognise this intimate relationship of the human body with nature, and hence it has failed to provide a solution to many of the problems and diseases, both physical and mental, afflicting the modern-day world.

Ayurveda, on the contrary, is based on the relationship and interaction between the three primary life-forces (doshas) in the body – Vata (air), Pitta (fire), and Kapha (water/phlegm). According to Ayurvedic science, menstruation is closely linked to the functions of these three doshas. It is a special opportunity enjoyed only by women that provides them an outlet for the monthly cleansing of excess doshas accumulated in the body.

While allopathy has failed to understand it, but this is one of the main reasons behind the predominantly longer female longevity than men. Vata or Apana vayu is the major dosha during a woman’s menstrual cycle that causes the downward flow of menstrual blood. Thus, avoiding any activity that unnecessarily interferes with this necessary downward flow of energy during menstruation is healthy and beneficial for the woman herself.

It is because during her menstrual cycle, the woman is more likely to absorb other energies present in her surroundings which may create conflict within herself. E.g. in a space like the temple, the energy moves upwards while chanting mantras or performing worship of the moorthi. If a menstruating woman becomes a part of such activities, it might result in a serious disharmony of the doshas within her body. She transmits the downward flow of the energy in her body into the energy of the idol which is moving upwards. In extreme instances, it may also result in physical discomfort, such as menstrual cramps, vomiting, etc.

Hence, feminist labelling of the entire issue of Sabarimala temple entry or even the case of Shani Shingnapur temple as “patriarchal” or “discriminatory” amounts to a shallow, one-sided reading of a bodily phenomenon called menstruation which is the chief driving force of life, of birth. In Sanatan Dharma, a Rajaswala/menstruating woman is considered to be a living Goddess, best personified in Ma Kamakhya herself. She is moving into a new cycle of ovulation by shedding her old lining of the uterus along with the unfertilised egg; hence, there is nothing about her being “impure” at this point of time. In Buddhism too, it is believed that the chi that women are supposed to lose while menstruating is considered to be a part of everything that exists, i.e. life-force or spiritual energy. It means that her body is preparing itself again for conceiving life from a microscopic sperm that eventually unites with Shakti for a new creation.

In certain cultures, it is also advised to avoid cooking at least during the first two days of the menstrual cycle. According to Ayurveda, food too, is imbued with Prana (life) because it is derived from plant life which itself originates from the bhoomi (earth/soil) – the same bhoomi/earth from which we humans are born and into which we die. The growth of plants from the soil signifies the upward flow of energy towards the sun (the all-powerful energy in the universe) and the sky too. Food, especially plant-based, is also Kapha in nature, which means that it is full of youthful energy whose main purpose is to provide nourishment to the human body.

Hence, Ayurveda also recommends that a menstruating woman avoid highly spicy and animal-based foods (rajasvik and tamasik) during her cycle. The negative energies emitted by the animal before it is being killed for its meat eventually get transmitted to the body of the menstruating female. Since our menstrual blood is primarily infused with the dosha of Vata and also Pitta to some extent, they are responsible for causing the downward pull of energy from the menstruating woman’s body, thereby facilitating the cleansing of not only her body but her mind and spirit too. In both these cases, i.e. cooking of food and menstruation, it is the magnetic pull of the earth which is the chief force behind the upward and downward flow of energies respectively.

Coming to menstrual blood, it is deeply revered in some cultures of North-East India where it is believed to be imbued with potent powers to bring wealth and prosperity to families. E.g. in Manipur, the cloth into which a girl first bleeds is safely kept aside by her mother and gifted back to her when she gets married. This cloth is believed to have the ability to protect the girl and her in-laws’ family from poor health or other ills such as financial instability. Some women in Manipur have also tasted a drop of their first menstrual blood as part of a traditional practice. According to them, this blood is very powerful for it is associated with good health when consumed. In the Central Indian state of Jharkhand too, albeit in a  negative light, it is believed that since menstrual blood is very powerful, it can be used for black magic; hence, women should be very careful about where and how to dispose the cloth into which they bleed after use.

These socio-cultural practices related to menstruation across different cultures and traditions of Bharat emerged at a time when ancient Indians were in close touch with their bodies and nature, much before the advent of Western allopathy, and none of them were meant to suppress women. The belief that menstruation is ‘impure’ never existed in this land of Devi worship. It is the heavily Left-leaning Western academic narrative based on Hinduphobic ideas that later reduced it to the dualities of purity versus impurity.

Indeed, it is true that some of these practices might not be feasible to practise in the present context, considering the demands of most modern-day working women. But, at the same time, it does not mean denying the spiritual science associated with these practices. Because, menstruation in itself is a natural cleansing process which help women remain healthy and hence, it should not be affected by any external influence as much as possible. If the menstrual rituals of our country were meant to suppress women, surely the worship of Ma Durga, Ma Kali or Ma Kamakhya would have long disappeared from our culture!


  1. Sinu Joseph. (2019). Women and Sabarimala: The Science Behind Restrictions. Notion Press. India.

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