India, as we all know is a nation with over half a dozen religions. Since we are secular, we are supposed to respect every religion and the customs that are followed in it. The recent uproar about the ban on women entering Sabarimala, a shrine situated in Kerala, Gods own country has caught my notice. While I do not wish to support or oppose anyone, the following are mere thoughts that crossed my mind.
Myself, being an Arts student, who learnt feminism, equality of men and women, the torment and disgust of the condition of women in a patriarchal society and so on, for sure feels that no matter what, women should be allowed inside temples, churches and mosques, irrespective of their age, their “aunt flo”- as menstruation period is often called and of all the other types of benchmarks women are gauged with.
Yes, we may be bleeding, but it is an essential part of the whole process of taking forward life- giving birth. When I say taking forward life, I do not intend to project the dominance of women over men! Men are equally important in it too, but they are never considered impure, they are never subject to those taboos that women are! Is it because they do not bleed? While, the first time a girl menstruates she is showered with gifts and blessings, as it marks her being prosperous and able, from the next time onwards she is treated as an untouchable. Forced to remain outside the kitchen and most of the areas of her own home, she is denied her right to life. Why!!
Scientifically the blood that is let out is impure, but that shouldn’t be a reason to hold her back, to control her life and to restrict her from doing so many things she usually does. Is it even a random thought that, the impure blood inside a woman, flows out every month but the impure blood inside a man remains there? So, who is impure actually? If being impure is a measure to write down rules, as to who can enter a temple and who cannot, then what about those people who have an impure mind! After all, purity comes from within and not from without. Rapists, smugglers and drug dealers – when they all are allowed inside temples, women who menstruate, which is a purely biological phenomenon, are made to remain away! This for sure, is a patriarchal way of subjugating women and should not be encouraged. If our society has put down a rule that, women should be cast aside from spiritual places, just because they bleed menstrual blood every month for seven long days, then the society should definitely change for good
The above said is only one way of looking at it. I maybe an Arts student but I also come from a Hindu family, where I was taught that, purity of our body is the most fundamental requirement to worship any god, be it Saraswathi, Ganapati, Lakshmi, Ayappa or Shiva. Bathing, before going to the temple or before lighting the lamp was treated mandatory. To some it could merely mean washing your body, but as I learnt from my elders, it is cleansing your body along with your soul. All the thoughts that linger in your mind till that moment, is washed away and deliberately forgotten, in preparation to visit the holy shrine and surrender yourself in front of Almighty. I was taught, menstruating is normal, very normal for girls, but it was not so normal to enter the sanctum sanctorum during this time. Not because God did not like it, but because it has been believed and adhered to since ages and, has hence become a part of our faith.
My mother always told me that, menstruating women are exiled from the kitchen, made to remain idle and not do anything, so as to let them have at least three or four days off, from the tiring household chores they usually have to carry out themselves. I would like to believe the same, because women during the olden days had to do all the work in the house on their own. The elders in the family wouldn’t help her and more so the servants would only be employed outside. So, the taboo associated with menstruation, would have been as a result of the kindness of someone, who wanted women to rest, during the three days they bled. During this time, women would be weak and unable to perform the daily activities at home effectively. So, the three days off could allow her to rejuvenate and come back with full vigor.
Entering a temple, be it Sabarimala or Guruvayur during this time is never appropriate according to our religion. It is as I said, a part of our faith! Women aged 10-50 are not allowed inside Sabarimala- this too is a part of our faith. This prohibition is not any kind of discrimination, it is as I said, a belief- our faith. The religious reason behind it is that, the form of Ayyappa we worship there , is a celibate. He who had godly powers, disappeared at the age of twelve years and was all his life a Brahmachari. Women in their reproductive age are barred from entry because, the Prathista, being a celibate would be defiled. However much this makes sense, however much logic there is in this belief, this has been taught to me right from my childhood. I have never questioned it and I definitely never will.
The dilemma is so strong inside my mind, as to what might be right. What stand should I take? Should I support the entry of women or should I not? Should I think like an Arts student or like a Hindu? If a man is made of what he believes in then, I am perplexed as I am not quite sure of what to believe in now!!