Goddess Speak: Celebration of the Feminine Nature

By Antara Banerjee in Health & Nutrition 22/06/2017

The more urban and modernized we become, we lose touch with all things natural. In fact, we start looking at them with scepticism. The wholesome perspective of being part of a greater biological environment is lost. We begin to consider ourselves in exclusion from nature and other living things. This isolation fosters a dangerous apathy to our living environment and weird concepts that negate natural flow of things begin to circulate.

One such topic is ‘Menstruation’. In Hinduism it is considered impure, however, it is also accepted that menses is a very important aspect of fertility and extremely important in the propagation of the human race. Thus, it is also a thing to celebrate and honor.

 

Colliding facts and culture

There are two opposing aspects attached to this phenomenon of the monthly cycle. On one hand, menstruation is considered very impure and the menstruating girl or woman is kept in isolation where no man is allowed to approach her. On the other hand, she is pampered with the best of foods and urged to take rest. In South India, huge celebrations are held for girls menstruating for the first time. they are pampered and treated like brides with good food, clothes, and jewellery and urged to rest.

 

The festivals and their meanings

The celebration of the girl becoming fertile and preparing her for motherhood is visible in festivals like ‘Raja Parba’ in Orissa and ‘Ambubachi’ at the Kamakhya Temple in Assam. Celebrated in the latter half of June, during monsoons, both the festivals are based on revering the Earth as Mother Goddess, whose fertility is heightened by the coming of rains. The East of India has been always been the seat of Goddess worship cults and such celebrations are natural offshoots of revering the feminine and fertile nature of the deity.

 

Raja Parba

It is notable that during Raja Parba, all agricultural activities are suspended as if giving rest to the menstruating Goddess Earth. During this period, women and girls are pampered with new clothes, delicious foods and given complete freedom to take rest and play on makeshift swings. The environment is of gaiety and abundance. Men also wrestle in mud and play all kinds of outdoor games to celebrate the very joy of living and being one with nature. Night-long performances of ‘Yatra’ and ‘Gotipua’ are organized in keeping with old traditions.

 
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Menstrual Festival at Kamakhya

On the other hand, the Kamakhya temple celebrates the annual menstrual period of the mother Goddess for three days with a huge Ambubachi Mela. The Goddess’s ‘Yoni’ or ‘vulva’ was supposed to have fallen at Kamakhya when the disc of Vishnu cut the dead body of Shiva’s consort Parvati, into pieces, so that the grief stricken Shiva could be detached from her mortal remains. No food is cooked during these three days, no pujas are performed and not prasadam is distributed. During this period the ‘Yoni’ shaped stone at the temple is draped in red cloth, no pujas are performed and no prasadam is distributed. At the end of the three days, pieces of this red cloth is distributed as a form of prasadam (angavastra) and the water flowing over it is distributed as another form of prasadam (angodak) and. Ambubachi is one of the major festivals of the Tantrik cult whereupon many reclusive sadhus make a public appearance and tantrik practitioners assemble in huge numbers.

 
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Significance of menstruation in Tantra

The hardcore left path (Vama Marga) of Hinduism which encompasses Tantra, Aghora, and such extreme cults, consider menstrual blood good and it is drunk as a part of the many sexual rituals of these cults. In Aghora, the women indulging in the sexual rites must be on their menstrual period.

 

Taking example from the mythology

Another interesting thing that springs to my mind is the turning point of Mahabharata, whereupon a menstruating Draupadi is dragged out of seclusion and exposed to a court packed with men, thus humiliating her in the most deplorable way. This is the moment at which the war becomes inevitable. However, another curious thing is that Krishna, and not her 5 husbands, provides her cloth and saves her modesty. Could it be seen as a kind of assertion of the superiority of the animal rearing tribes over the agricultural tribes at the time?

 
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Draupadi can definitely be seen as representing the tormented and humiliated mother earth, representative of the agricultural tribes and Krishna as the cowherd, representing the animal rearing tribes, rescuing and protecting her? Could it also be representative of the cooperation and compassionate coexistence of the two?

 

Moving from myths to practicality

Moving beyond the myths and ancient practices, the major concern that has begun to appear in ‘Cleanliness and Hygiene’ drives around the world is the issue of ‘Feminine Hygiene’. The use of sanitary napkins, production of affordable sanitary pads at small scale facilities, efforts to make them widely available and training women, especially in the rural about their usage, benefits, and disposal has gathered momentum in the arena of social work. Generous funds have started pouring in for this purpose too. Not only women but also men in India have dedicated themselves to this important cause, which is very heartening change to witness.

 

Time to accept Menstruation

Therefore there is ample evidence of acknowledgment and acceptance of menstruation as an impure and yet important and vital aspect of life. Fertility being the central theme of this phenomenon, the recognition and acceptance of the feminine nature and its various aspects must be practiced for the well-being and propagation of humankind.

 

Antara Banerjee
Author of ‘The Goddess in Flesh’ and ‘To be a Woman’, Antara Banerjee is an ardent commentator on social issues. Masters from the prestigious Goldsmiths College of London and graduated from Presidency College, Kolkata, she is now the Creative Head at Fourth Dimension, Mumbai. She is also the Head, Women Empowerment Committee, Rakshak Foundation, Kolkata and the recipient of Udaan, Empowering Women Awards, 2016 for her outstanding contribution in women centric literature.

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