Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Goddess of Chengannur

DesiPundit has a link to a post by Philobiblon, which is pertinent to the way we deal with the issue raised in this post - menstruation. This passage, in particular, struck a chord with how we deal with, or rather, evade the whole issue.

Mum told me carefully that I had to make sure Dad didn't see my sanitary pads. (I don't recall any explanation being given, there was just an air of this being something shameful and dirty.) And this wasn't surprising when I read the sex education books that she'd had at my age, which still referred to "clearing out impurities" in the body and similar.

Now, to the title of this post: the goddess of Chengannur, a small township in Kerala, actually menstruates - this is a small festival at the temple, in fact. The temple in question, the Chengannur Bhagavathi temple, is a Shiva-Parvathy temple, though Parvathy is the 'stronger' deity in this temple.

The legend behind the temple goes this way: while Shiva and Parvathy were getting married, there were such huge crowds for the marriage that the earth began to tilt - apparently, the gods love a free meal every bit as much as we mortals do! The alarmed Shiva requested Sage Agasthya to use his powers to correct the imbalance, and promised him that the first stop after their marriage would be at the seer's abode. Lord Shiva kept his promise, and was forthright in visiting the sage after their holy union. However, it was 'that time of the month' for Parvathy, and she stayed at the place for 28 days after the purificatory bath. It was thus that the temple came to be built there.

Devotees believe that this phenomenon continues even today; the belief is that the holy idol of Parvathy has her periods 3 or 4 times a year. During this time, the idol is closed to the general public, and all daily poojas are performed on a different idol. On the 4th day, a female elephant carries the idol to the nearby Pampa river for the purificatory bath. After the purificatory bath, normal worship is resumed, and the idol is once again open to the public.

I am not about to argue with the truthfulness or the relevance of this ceremony - to each their own. However, I did find it slightly ironic that on one hand, the menstruation of a goddess is actually celebrated while on the other hand we shun the open mention of the very word. But then, it struck me that even at this temple, the idol is not open to the public until after the purificatory both - the antediluvian association of menstruation with uncleanliness raises its ugly head even here.


Abhishek said...

what i can't really understand is what's the big deal with menstruation. its just another biological process. every single women after puberty have it, so why can't people just accept it as something normal!!!

Ranjit Nair said...

Like the post I linked to says, many religions - including Hinduism, Islam and Judaism (source: Wikipedia) - consider a woman 'unclean' during menstruation. Hinduism, for instance, prohibits a woman to take part in any religious activity while menstruating. So I guess, it's one of those age-old, san-explanation funda that has been followed over generations.

Anonymous said...

In some conservative/traditional Indian homes, there was/is a practice of isolating the woman from household chores, the kitchen etc during the time.. I thougt there was a silver lining to the cloud here... a least she gets to rest for a few days.. my 2 cents..

Ranjit Nair said...

Yes, Excluding women for daily chores during menstruation used to be common in the joint family system; not sure if that is the case now, though. But yes, some well-earned rest for sure, even if for the wrong reasons.

ArchanaD said...

i think the air of secrecy around menstruation is the fact hat almost anywhere arnd the world anything related to sex and sexuality is *supposed* to be shameful! and its very sad that a natural phenomenon like that is looked at like this!

i don't know what the unclean bit is... must definitely have a cause to why the practice began, just like other superstitions which were valid at *that* time but not today with the changed standards of living. this one could be for the sake of hygiene? or probably in the days of no pain-killers it could be so she could take rest?

well, whatever... it definitely does not apply in today's world!

Rauf said...

Its pretty silly actually
you can go to the roots here.


Anonymous said...

Everything has a meaning and reasoning. But to convince a mass crowd with each one thinking on its own, you need a common platform. Gods/Temples/Religions are such common platforms where people come with a common cause and with minds open. So can be convinced.

Its true that some people in our generation do mis-guide others using such common platforms as a base. But these age old traditions do have meanings.

Ranjit Nair said...

Anon, not sure I agree with you about all age-old traditions being meaningful. While some of them do make sense, most of them are mere superstitions - Sati, being an obvious example!