TABLE OF CONTENTS
PART I: SCIENTIFIC CONNOTATION OF MENSTRUATION
INTRODUCTION TO PART I: ANCIENT SCIENCE AND MODERN SCIENCE JUXTAPOSED
CHAPTER 1: JOURNEY TO WOMANHOOD
CHAPTER 2: INTERPRETATION OF MENSTRUAL PRACTICES BY AYURVEDIC MEDICINE
CHAPTER 3: TRUTH BEHIND PURITY OF MENSTRUAL BLOOD: MENSTRUAL BLOOD: BOON OR BANE
CHAPTER 4: MENSTRUATION QUARANTINE
I often receive appeals from menstrual researchers and activists to provide them justification about the ancient practices that are followed by the Indian women during their menstrual cycle. Practices such as avoiding certain kinds of foods, restricting themselves to go into the kitchen, touching others and avoiding entry into the temples. I wish there were proper resources available to back such practices but here I am penning this book down to provide answers to such practices.
India’s ancient text has iterated a long list of do’s and don’ts which are advised for women, but of course there is a lack of any scientific backing to such menstrual practices. It is believed that the information is sacred and cannot be let out in the open so easily. So there are two sides to the coin, the one who have faith do not bother to find the answers as they do not have any questions, on the other hand there are people without faith who have a lot of questions and struggle to find answers because it is a long and a vigorous journey.
In the last five years of my decade long journey to find answers on menstruation I have delved into the deepest sections of the society to meet and interact with men and women of India to have a better understanding of the topic as only reading and re reading the ancient texts was not sufficient for me to develop a better understanding for the topic. Through the course of the journey I was able to decipher that all of these cultural practices surrounding menstruation which is often discarded as stigmas and taboos, can actually help to prevent menstrual disorders.
There is obviously a reason why there is no book available which has decoded the actual essence of these practices to back them up with science. Firstly the traditional knowledge system through which the base of such practices was formed has been always viewed as alternative systems, therefore they have not been acknowledged in the modern sciences community. Secondly, to even understand one of the cultural practice there has to be diverse research on it by going through the chapters from Ayurveda to Agama Sastra, which were not familiar to the people who dealt only with western sciences. And thirdly, was definitely the lack of experience. Knowledge mixed with experience can help to interpret these cultural practices in a better way. We often see inaccurate interpretation in articles and books which are authored by male writers irrespective of their good intentions.
The chapters discussed in this book deals with explanation to the readers about the cultural practices followed by the women during menstruation in India.
The book is divided into two sections. The first section deals with chapters which will be explaining the different cultural practices such as celebration of menarche, the menstrual plan which is to be followed as prescribed in the ancient texts, menstrual seclusion practices, and the notion of impurity. There is a separate chapter which talks about how sportswomen in order to understand their body through the Ayurveda as there is very less information available for women in their menstrual age to have a smooth rhythm of menstruation and to perform well by overcoming the challenges faced by them in a physically demanding career.
There are also certain facts that are discussed such as the influence of celestial moon on the female menstrual cycle and also certain sciences which can help to predict the women’s cycles. Part 1 of the book is completed by explaining why the menstrual cycle as analysed by the ancient India can help women to have a control over their cyclical patterns and have enhanced productivity in their work life as well as in general.
But this book not only interprets the scientific reasoning behind such practices during menstruation. It also develops a holistic view to understand the menstruation as depicted in the ancient texts of the Hindus. What our ancestors thought about menstruation which made them fear menstruating women? The answer to this question is given in the second section of this book where we have discussed about how such practices where linked to the religion and spirituality.
There have been many contradictory beliefs which were questioned such as women being not allowed to enter the temples and chant the holy mantras and on the other hand celebrations of menstruation of Devi in temples like Kamakhya, Assam. We have made an attempt to conform to such beliefs in the second part of the book.
The real experiences of women who have dejected the rules and entered the temples during menstruation have also been narrated. There is also a chapter which envisages the Hindu mythology of menstruation which is a result of women who have been punished due to the sin of Indra’s crime of killing of a Brahman. The second section of the book also comprises of a chapter which deals with the menstrual practices of different religion such as Christianity and Islam and absence of these menstrual practices in the Sikh religion.
As a part of my research for this book I have studied numerous Indian knowledge systems. We have tried to keep the explanation easy to comprehend for the readers. The reason to delve into such diverse topics was to understand the fundamental idea behind the instructions given in the texts, and to interpret what these texts mean actually so that the practices can be justified because they impact women’s health.
This vigorous exercise has made me realise that the key to understand these practices around menstruation lies not only in the ancient texts but also the indigenous sciences as they are interconnected. Every practice has been developed keeping in mind the sciences. Hence, many a times we often discard any practice calling it to be taboo or superstition because of the ‘homework’ that needs to be done and also because of the lack of familiarity with Indian culture, science and philosophy.
Having said that, I have also included real life experiences in this book, as this book would not have been complete with the study of science only. These real life experiences of women helped us to understand how these practices help them to maintain menstrual health. As there are laboratory experiments to test the hypothesis similarly in order to understand if these menstrual practices help in any way I worked on my physical body to bring it to a good health so that the impact of such practices can be analysed without any other health disturbances. It was very important to bring my mind and body to a stable position through meditation to experience the changes first handed.
This book is a by-product of the cumbersome ground work which includes interactions with the adolescent girls and the women of the states of India such as Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Jharkhand, Mizoram, Assam, and Manipur to get the real perspective of the cultural practices followed by them till this day which are of much importance and relevant to them.
To understand the relation between the Hindu Temples and menstrual cycles several temples were visited as a part of our study such as the Kamakhya temple in Guwahati and Sabrimala Temple in Tamil Nadu as these temples have completely contradictory views on the menstrual cycle.
There was a time in India when no one asked for any explanation to these menstrual practices as our ancestors had a strong devotion which prevented them to ask for any scientific explanation. This is why during my course of study and the ground work I was often asked by people as to why I need to search for answers and was advised to just have devotion.
The inculcation of menstrual activists into the cultural practices has done more harm than good because their interference have often led to changes in the traditional practices due to law enforcement by the governments. These activists often try to gain fame by belittling our practices, without any knowledge about the practices and without putting any effort to learn about the traditional knowledge systems to understand the crux of such practices. They try to throw their limited mind-set on the rest.
I have also come across women who have accepted and followed these practices with diligence without any negative notion about them. Their version of the story has also been discussed in subsequent parts of this book.
This book is for anyone who has ever thought why these practices are followed and asked for scientific logic. This book is also for the ones who consider India’s cultural practices are superstitious. This book is also for those activists who influence women to forsake their cultural practices in the name of empowerment. This book is for men who speak on behalf of women without having any knowledge about our body and menstrual experience.
This book is for researchers who want to explore various aspects of menstruation but lack the resources. This book has the power to change our whole perspective about menstruation.
Through this book I have tried to provide the menstrual regime through our native science so that meaningful scientific perspective can evolve which are not only restricted to western sciences.
Now and then, I get a solicitation from female scientists and activists requesting that I pinpoint them to antiquated writings which clarify why Indian ladies follow certain practices, for example, staying away from explicit sorts of food, cooking, contacting others or entering Hindu places of worship during monthly cycle. India’s archaic books offer huge arrangements of dos and not-dos advocated for bleeding women, yet rare do they clear the explanation behind this feminine system. That information is sacred and not uncovered readily. The questions will never arise for someone who has confidence and faith. The necessary responses should be learned by those without religion, often through protracted and chastising conversations.
The main idea behind this context is to unfurl these interrelationships by depicting them through the perspective of practices of Indian customs dependent on the Vedas, including Āyurved, Mantra, Tantra Śāstra and Jyotiṣa. However, the focal point of Veda based Śāstra behind the design of Devasthanās is to portray the effect of Sabarimala on ladies.
As far as my views are concerned, I believe that the primary signs of an arising renaissance at the lokavyāvahārika level, a resurrection of an energetic Indian culture which associates, animates and empowers prospering of all that makes up India – people, creatures, plants, evergreen forests, waterways, mountains. In our Śrutis, Purāṇa and Smritis the entirety of the universe and all indications on Earth are portrayed as having consciousness. Modernity or one can say, Innovation has taken us away from this center of understanding. Innovation thinks about people as focal and the solitary conscious in the universe, while delivering all the other things insentient. The outcome is clear in the ecocide, the lethal annihilation of the biology, the environment surrounding the humans – on the grounds that explicitly present day people are considered de facto better than non-advanced people and obviously to the remainder of the universe. I would like to start to recuperate: by starting to sort out the social practices that developed over centuries dependent on the center bits of knowledge about the universe and the idea of people. It can be done by taking up the quintessential marvels of monthly cycle that not exclusively is suggestive of the female human sign, yet in addition fundamental to the birth of the human species. During the time, it brings in front how the advanced modern point has contorted social practices which are considered unfamiliar now.
It is essential to comprehend the scholarly foundations of the contortion of non-modern day social practices that the advanced practices bring about. Such twisting has driven social obliteration of various human societies all throughout the planet. The homogenization of human culture has prompted loss of variety, which matches the deficiency of variety that can be notice in woods, the nurseries and also the modern methods of living. The accomplishment of the European Edification in settling Europe’s concern of unending strict and common conflict from the thirteenth to fifteenth hundreds of years and to enable it with the obvious capacity to rule nature (in any event in the generally present moment of a couple hundred years) prompted Europe’s drive to colonize the world. Furthermore, the subject of a sufficient angle for the assessment and examination of various social practices had, as indicated by Hegel, been chosen by the course of history itself, and it had been ruled for Europe. European idea, hence, needed to give the specific situation and the classes for the investigation of all practices of thought.
I know, after or during the course of reading the book there will be various queries that will emerge. So verifiably one will utilize the western and modern viewpoints. Those inquiries will start to misshape what has been passing on here for many people who are not professionals of Indian customs too. It is for the individuals who are exploring innovation while being experts of Indian practices that this book is well on the way to start seeming well and good. Maybe it will assist any one to start recuperating the views and notions that one’s progenitors/ancestors created over centuries of perception and testing of how to carry on with a reasonable and satisfying life. What’s more, ideally one may start to adjust those perspectives into their social lifestyle and subsequently empower an ever increasing number of individuals around to thrive.
With this, I would also like to convey the main point that the female human plays a very valuable and important part in the thriving of human sign. However, innovation of modern practices totally subsumes lady’s role as the mother and creatrix. All measurements which administer the advanced lifestyle, regardless of whether as far as time or exertion (think usefulness, productivity, viability and so on) makes us center around misuse of what modernism considers to be assets for material creation and utilization. Period consumes an essential part in a lady’s life cycle. The innovation to oversee and to stifle periods so that ladies’ bodies are allowed to move the attention on expanding material efficiency (promoted as financial opportunity) is a focal poisonous sign of advancement. Furthermore, as of my knowledge there are many groups of community that support these advanced cycles. Large numbers of people might be effectively sabotaging any resistance to innovation (and how it shapes ladies, regardless of whether through the position of ‘traditionalist’ advancement or ‘reformist’ innovation) that may emerge from going after social ideal that depict inventive jobs ladies play in human prospering. But, what my main agenda is to offer a contending vision of people and ladies to the one presented by the advanced worldview. As the book gets foothold and consideration, it is probably going to draw in energetic resistance from numerous moderns who see opportunity only in economic and financial terms and essentially as the unbounded chance to bond oneself to the treadmill of truly expanding material effectiveness requested as penance at the special raised area of Capital.
Along with that, the readers might also try to investigate about what modern advanced resistance might be which maybe straightforwardly or in a roundabout way studied by scholastics and scientists, both in western and Indian scholarly community. This is significant for the reader that when anyone reads the book it keeps them reminding that it utilizes an unexpected viewpoint for a change in comparison to the one which is omnipresent in the prevailing worldwide material monetary system, to which we are totally bound to in this period of techno-monetary globalization.
However, let me tell you that in recent times, feminine cycle utilize two expansive structures: through science and through religion. The science it portrays depends on information acquired through perception of proof throughout a significant stretch of time applied to a system of what is human (the pañca kośa, the five sheaths, for instance) and how the human is indispensable with and associated with the universe (the rule that drives the large scale, the universe, is the rule that drives the littlest piece of the human cell). It is consequently both proof based and hypothesis based. The proof isn’t top down research center based that the West would request as a method of disparaging majority rule science. It is a vote based study of individuals sharing proof and throughout timeframe thinking of rules, heuristics. This is a cycle that has been going on over numerous centuries. Current science, particularly in the English talking world, has a particular beginning i.e. in the Illustrious Society sanctioned by Lord Charles II of Britain in 1660. From that point onwards, all science needed to go through a top down peer audit, with peers being delegated by the Crown. Science went under the space of power. No examination or its outcomes were to be viewed as logical except if it was acknowledged and distributed in the Philosophical Exchanges of the Imperial Society which showed up on paper in 1665. This diary is presently the most seasoned logical diary in nonstop distribution on the planet and set up the ideas of logical need and companion review. This is the construction of current science, with its foundations barely 300 years profound and focused in Europe, and the ensuing present day logical information and the innovation, including monetary innovation that currently rules the globe. Western scholarly world and western-impacted Indian scholarly community and researchers are preachers of this arrangement of the authority of controlled hierarchical information. Moderns all in all, and their scholastics and analysts specifically, will utilize the focal point of present day science when they read this book and will see and portray a mutilated view. However, this will help to open eyes of how these modern points and practices has pushed down the traditional policies and preaching of the Indian or non-modern cultures.
Moreover, the structure of religion has been utilized here to depict feminine cycle is the Hindu system. From the cutting edge viewpoint, this methodology is destined all along. Let’s clear out the facts through the examples and references of the European people and how their modern believes started and led to incorporate in Indian customs. The technique of scholarly colonizing by Europe had the accompanying wide advances: Christian evangelists came in and ‘considered’ messages (composed and oral) of culture and perceived a religion. In a joint effort with scholarly people in their nations of origin, they depicted and announced a religion that these regressive people groups follow. They at that point looked into this new religion, which they had found and portrayed, with the Holy book, Bible and announced the newfound religion to be bogus. Pronouncing a religion bogus is the pre-laid out objective of preachers, accordingly valorising their solitary genuine religion. Subsequently, just Christianity (while recognizing its Judaic roots) is the one genuine religion. Equity and love can just move from this one genuine religion. Bogus religions are considered to be harsh and pitiless. When a particularly relative layout was set up, it was applied to each part of social life in India, considering every last bit of it as in reverse, infantile, eccentric, harsh, and savage. It was utilized to separate the social significance structure, the linkages, and rules that individuals used to go about in this world. A wrecked culture is a prolific ground for scholarly colonization by the cutting edge worldview. What’s more, the moderns of the West as of now consider it to be an incomplete task.
To prove the point, let’s take another example, a reference to another Hegel’s lineage. This is Jurgen Habermas, a much regarded German thinker (1929 – ) proceeding with the heredity of Hegel about the matchless quality of the West over the rest. The interview involved points of “Universalistic libertarianism” which is the immediate tradition of the Judaic ethic of equity and the Christian ethic of affection. Till the present time, there is no option in contrast to it.” Drawing a questionable difference between the two monotheistic religions, Habermas verbalized what might turn into the center of his scholarly program. The West’s Judeo-Christian legacy was not a passing stage in the rise of present day thought and legislative issues, yet contributed—maybe still contributes—its fundamental core.
The message is clear. The establishment of judicious talk of current science to move society towards equity and love depends on Judeo-Christian legacy of the West. That is the genuine religion. Any endeavour to acquire what the Western scholarly considers as a bogus religion to support pre-current social standards will be viewed as a component of the incomplete task of modernizing the world. To be either changed over or doused. Such scholarly colonization has made profound roots in India. Those of who see themselves as a modernist in India trust that development will stream down from the West, which at the point is imitated. That mimicry characterizes a large part of the English-talking universe of India. This is the ground on which I would like the readers get straight with the reality. The book transparently and unhesitatingly utilizes the Hindu structure to depict how Indian ladies deal with their feminine wellbeing and the truth of its devasthanas and its connected practices.
As the book gets considerable foothold among Indian pursuers, forceful scrutinize might be anticipated from both the book, as being in pre-modern day, enemies of ladies’ freedom, against science, eccentric, harsh, and so on. Such forceful study will be an indication that views as a danger to the incomplete undertaking of the worldwide homogenization mission of present day science. One expectations that such forceful investigate would be viewed as a positive test to the Indian pursuers of the book to go further into their social practices, and furthermore to turn out to be considerably more adroit at exploring and prevailing in the advanced realist world. While simultaneously, I want the readers to start to refashion the manner in which an individual go about on the planet, particularly in what one can deliver and devour, with the goal to increasingly assemble ability to rehearse Mokṣa Śāstra at prior stages in the day to day existence cycle.
It is this refashioning which acted as a main priority for the deliberate use Sanskrit terms and indeed, one of the forceful evaluates from the reformist moderns will be that all of Sanskrit is harsh, without making an interpretation of them into English. Language with its jargon and punctuation are utilized by a culture to make organizations (or networks) of implications. The trap of implications one might develop each time an individual compose or talk a sentence is communicated a lot to everyone around. The snare of implications makes a representation in the audience/pursuer and this perception turns into ‘this present reality’ through which one can interface and execute with one another. It’s the manner in which an individual go about on the planet and work together. These traps of implications collaborate intricately. Everyone should consider it the memetic complex. The memetic edifices, which convey incredible Implications whereupon accounts disclosing how to go about on the planet, (fabricate organizations and agreements between people, relegating jobs and along these lines making orders) are developed, are strictly confidential by the attendants of the dictionary, jargon, and punctuation. There might be numerous pursuers who grumble that the Sanskrit words utilized don’t sound good to them and subsequently they can’t see the value in the book. They will request a straightforward interpretation into English. The key Sanskrit words that have been held (for example Prāṇa Pratiṣṭha) are essential for an importance organization. They are not independent. In the event that that word is converted into a solitary word in English (for this situation consecration), two things happen one, and the significance network motioned by the word Prāṇa Pratiṣṭha is lost. The word is shorn from the whole significance organization and perception in the Indian social environment that inspires in the pursuer who is submerged in the way of life. In the interpretation, if the word sanctification is utilized, it will bring out an importance network that is necessary to Western Christianity and the social ethos of Europe. So through such interpretation of watchwords that characterize the interface among lokavyāvāhāra and Mokṣa Śāstra, the center of Indian culture is muddled. The way toward decolonizing requires recuperation of this center interface of significance networks in Indian culture. However, this is one step that makes a start toward this path, by holding utilization of key Sanskrit words and portraying the significance network that they support, with guides to help pursuers to comprehend.
As we have reached at the end, I tried to help the readers by providing them with a suggestion. This suggestion basically included the way this book is supposed to be read. However, I would like to recommend an approach to peruse this book utilizing the interaction proposed in the Indian practices for drawing in with Mokṣa Śāstra: Śravaṇaṃ, Mananam, Nididhyāsanam. This book shows how the lok vyavahāra wonders of ladies overseeing feminine cycle is connected to the interface with Mokṣa Śāstra, through the Darśanas and through Āgama Śāstra. It is along these lines best valued by receiving the 3-venture measure. One method of doing as such in the 21st century might be to meet up in small tea gatherings of 3 to 5 through week after week for discussion and opinions. Take up a couple of pages of reading from the book at every one of the bunch gatherings. That is Śravaṇaṃ (tuning in or perusing). Subsequent to reading for around 15 minutes or something like that, ponder what upon the phrases and texts and offer the feeling and thoughts you might have got. For instance, if the reading is about a visit to a Devasthanā, you may share your experience of a comparative visit. Or on the other hand you can share questions that struck a chord when anyone has gone through the perusing. Have a non-critical conversation. That is Mananam. Every week by week study bunch meeting of an aggregate of 40 minutes may do the trick. The third piece of the cycle, Nididhyāsanam, focuses on how you can make some gaining from the bunch meetings to start changing to see parts of the world in different perspectives. Furthermore, as that occurs, there starts a change to a portion of the things you can do and how another person does it. When someone experience this interaction and start to make changes in themselves, it might turn out to be such a ton simpler for you to take up a Mokṣa Śāstra text, for example, the Bhagavad Gītā and go through a comparable cycle. You might be astounded by the intellectual moves that the interaction brings to do when being a part of an emphatically guided investigation bunch. So, I hope to set up an approach to prepare study bunch facilitators and setting up of such gatherings, after this book is distributed. The gender synthesis of such investigation gatherings and who should lead them is something ought to be planned in the wake of thoroughly considering to-do things.
I also hope that the reader will set aside some effort to firmly peruse the thoughts and ideas that have been put in here. It starts to empower one to utilize the focal point from their own way of life to see the world. A focal point that has been idle and obfuscated over and maybe maligned, by the predominant techno-monetary worldview.
PART I: SCIENTIFIC CONNOTATION OF MENSTRUATION
INTRODUCTION TO PART I: ANCIENT SCIENCE AND MODERN SCIENCE JUXTAPOSED
Ancient science is all about internal things based mainly on observation, whereas modern science is all about external things which have proper evidence or proof.
Generally, science demands evidence, especially external evidence, e.g. Modern, medicine identifies the quality (measurable) of temperature but ancient science or Ayurveda recognizes the internal heat which is known as pitta. Basically, the knowledge of both internal and external factors is equally important in thoroughly understanding the health of a person. For example, the menstruation cycle plays a vital role in women’s health. For a better understanding and knowledge of this natural method of detoxification, i.e. menstruation, the study of not only modern science, but ancient science or Ayurveda could be a major source of information.
Modern medicine mainly deals with the Sthula Sarira (gross body part), whereas ancient science, especially Ayurveda, deals with Sukshma Sarira (subtle body parts). There are three types of subtle internal forces which control all the functions of the body. As per Ayurveda, there are three internal body forces known as tridoshas. Traditionally, there are many practices which used to be followed by our ancestors to maintain a healthy life and prevent all diseases and discomforts. Sometimes due to the absence of proper external evidence or scientific explanation, people often consider these practices as superstitions. For example, the restriction of not touching tulsi plants during menstruation. Modern science requires evidence in the physical or material realm and is totally ignorant of the internal or subtle realm.
Interpretation of Ancient Science
Ancient medicine, like Ayurveda, yoga therapy, etc., is ancient Indian science and is considered alternative systems / alternative medicine. Unfortunately, this science or knowledge system has not been included in the main curriculum of primary or secondary education in India till date. It is not possible to practically explain the practices of Ayurvedic medicine, when seen through the eyes / lens of modern medical science. However, Ayurvedic medicine is definitely much closer to nature and is thus considered safe.
The process of Ayurvedic treatment depends on healthy lifestyle practices, yoga, meditation, oil massage therapy, aroma therapy, followed by a healthy diet. While modern medicine is based on chemicals or medicines for each symptom and gives instant results, Ayurvedic medicine lays more emphasis on the internal purification process and therefore there are no side effects.
Genesis of Ayurveda
Ayurveda is the oldest traditional system of medicine in India and has been practiced since 2 B.C. It was practiced in two of the Hindu philosophical schools, viz. Vaisheshika and Nyaya. There were a total of six systems of Hindu philosophy → Yog, Nyay, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Mimamsa and Vedanta. Out of these six systems or Sada Darshanas (ancient Hindu treatise), Mimansa and Vedanta are associated with spiritual and religious practices of the vedas. The other four darshanas have contributed significantly to ayurveda as they lay the foundation for logical and scientific approach to ayurvedic science.
Impact of the Four Darshanas
Yog Sutra → As per the ancient science, ayurveda lays emphasis on the Sukhma Sarira (subtle body), the knowledge of which is likely to have been deduced from the yoga sutra of Patanjali. Yoga sutras also help in the deep understanding of any subject through dhyan (meditation) and dharana (focusing of mind), including Ayurveda. Thus, yoga and Ayurveda are two interrelated branches of Vedic knowledge and are not completely divorced from each other. Both yoga and Ayurveda are ancient sciences that help in retarding the ageing process.
Samkhya Darshana → The Samkhya system of knowledge is based on mathematical reasoning and logic and recommends pramanas or proof for faithfully arriving at the correct conclusions. The methods involved in this system of knowledge are Anumana (inference), Aptavakama (testimony of a reliable source) and Pratyaksha (perception). Apart from the above three methods, there is one more method called Yukti as per Charaka. Yukti means logic or common sense and is considered as the fourth pramana.
Nyaya Darshana → It is the system of critical thinking and logical learning. It also consists of four pramanas. The first three pramanas are like samkhya darshana and the fourth pramana is upamana (comparison). These four methods might have helped in obtaining the correct knowledge about the actions and effects of various Ayurvedic medicines or drugs through physical experience.
Vaisheshika Darshana → It comprises two vital aspects of knowledge. These are the ‘atomic model of the universe’ and describing ‘fundamental substances’ or padartha. Classification and understanding of drugs in Ayurvedic science is made through their organic / inherent taste, i.e. rasa and the study of the effects of the drugs which is based on quality (guna). The whole process was likely to have been based on the knowledge of padartha. According to dravya or padartha (substance), place and time, sixty three types of variations and fifty types of combinations of rasa were introduced in charak samhita. Vaisheshika Darshana has also contributed to Ayurveda by introducing the atomic theory, which was formulated by Kanada. The system name is derived from visesha, which means particularly. According to this darshana, the entire universe was created with atoms or paramanus. As per Vaisheshika, the entire physical universe consists of Maha Bhutas or Bhuta-Dravya (ultimate atoms), i.e. the five fundamental substances. These are Agni (fire), Vayu (air), Prithvi (earth), Apas (water) and Akash (sky or ether).
The foundation of Ayurveda is based on the theory of tridoshas, i.e. vata, pitta and kapha. As per Ayurveda, vata predominantly has the qualities of air, pitta has the qualities of agni (fire) and kapha has the qualities of prithvi (earth) and apas (water). Therefore, the origin of Ayurveda was influenced by the darshanas. On the basis of scientific research and studies and logical reasoning, darshanas influenced Ayurveda to consider the human system at the level of sukshma sharira.
The Difference between Ayurveda and Modern Medicine
Ayurveda is an ancient science which is not just considered as a medical science but is also treated as a way of living. Modern medicine is always symptomatic. In modern medicine, a disease is understood at the molecular level and is treated with drugs which are an alternative for natural bio-chemicals. In most of the cases, modern medicine does not fully understand the root cause of the disease as it mostly treats the disease at the molecular level, whereas Ayurvedic science takes a more holistic approach and tries to remove the root cause of the disease by careful analysis of the symptoms on the basis of the tridoshas.
During menstruation, women face certain common problems such as dysmenorrhea, heavy menstrual bleeding, i.e. menorrhagia and endometriosis. While Ayurveda tries to find out the root causes of the above mentioned problems, modern science treats them with drugs on the basis of symptoms.
Treatment of any disease in modern science mainly focuses on suppression of the symptoms and on treatment of the parts in isolation. On the other hand, Ayurveda, being based on quantum biology, does not believe in compartmentalization of the biological systems. Both molecular disturbances and chemical imbalances are important in Ayurveda to identify the root cause of any disease. Therefore, it is a comprehensive understanding of the tridoshas.
Several biological processes demand transformation of energy into forms that are usable for chemical changes and are quantum mechanical in nature. According to Werner Heisenberg, a German theoretical physicist and one of the pioneers of quantum mechanics, “Underlying all physical matter is the intrinsically interconnected dynamic network of energy leaving nothing isolated in the Universe.” In essence, in this world or universe, everyone and everything are interconnected and influence each other and consist of waves of energy. This is known as the quantum world view, which replaced the Newtonian world view.
Despite the fact that Ayurveda was based on the knowledge of sukshma sharira, it never stayed back from surgery. Sushruta discovered the techniques of surgery. He discovered cataract crouching, amputation of limbs, removal of fistula, etc. Scientists from ancient Greece and Egypt used to come to ancient India for the knowledge of these procedures as these were unknown to them. Sushruta Samhita, was probably the first to deal with complicated surgeries like cesarean, plastic surgery, etc. The main three pillars of Ayurvedic science are Charak Samhita, Shushruta Samhita and Ashtanga Samhita.
While Charak and Ashtanga Samhita mainly deal with medicinal knowledge, Shushruta Samhita deals with surgical knowledge. Sushruta is also considered as the father of surgery. Though the sciences of surgery and medicine have advanced a lot, many techniques that have originally been derived from ancient science and ancient Indian scholars, are still practiced today. Sushruta persuaded anesthesia for successful surgery. It induced wine and herbane (Cannabis Indica) as intoxicants for anesthesia. Sushruta is also recognized as a medical authority in Tibetan literature.
Similarities between Ayurveda and Other Ancient Medical Systems
A study of ancient sciences of different parts of the world makes it hard to disregard the various similarities of science and philosophy that appeared in ancient India and in the early Asian, Arab and Western civilizations before the appearance of western medicine or allopathy, as we know it today. Following are some of the similarities of Ayurveda and other ancient sciences from different regions of the World:-
Traditional Indian and Chinese Medicines
Both traditional Indian and Chinese medicines are holistic in nature. The main focus is on the patient rather than the symptoms of the disease in both the systems. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) considers five elements of the material world. These are earth, fire, water, metal and wood. This is distinctly similar to the five elements mentioned in Traditional Indian Medicine (TIM) or Ayurveda. Both systems believe that warm food is better than cold food and also consider that the body and mind form a unity and one cannot exist without the other. Although the philosophies of TCM and TIM may sound very different at first glance, they have a lot in common. Both the systems believe in three basic principles when it comes to proper nutrition and diet.
- Eat seasonal and regional food
- Combine all flavours
- Eat warm food rather than cold
During the first century AD, the Buddhist monk movement from India to China initiated cultural exchange. This movement plays a vital role in exchanging the knowledge of medicine apart from cultural knowledge between the two nations.
Homeopathy and Ayurveda
Homeopathic Medicine lays a lot of emphasis on vital life force, which is also recognized in Ayurveda as prana. Like in Ayurveda, diseases in homeopathy are considered and treated at a subtle level (sukshma sharira) of the vital forces.
Hippocrates & Humoral Pathology
The tridosha system of Ayurveda and the hippocratic humoral pathology share some common factors which indicate that Hippocrates was influenced by the tridosha system. Hippocrates, the ‘father of medicine,’ acquired his materia medica from the Hindus. Humoral pathology was the basis of both ancient Greek and Roman medicine.
Humoral pathology of Hippocrates and Ayurvedic medicine is not the same on the tridosha system. An interesting fact worth noticing is that in spite of the differences between greek and Ayurvedic medicine they share the common process of trying to understand the human body at a subtle level. While Ayurveda considers three doshas, Greek medicine considers 4 humors. The fourth humor is the blood. In Ayurveda blood is known as the rakta dhatu, which is influenced by the pitta dosha. As per Ayurveda, pitta should be in good condition for generation of blood tissues of good quality. Thus, in spite of several differences in the methods of treatment, both medicinal systems are similar. Both the systems lay emphasis on lifestyle modifications, yoga, herbal remedies, diet management, body work, etc.
Persian Arabic and Latin Medicines
At the beginning of the eighth century the charak samhita was translated into Arabic language. In the history of medicine ‘Islamic Medicine’ is believed to have been developed in the Middle East. It was written in Arabic. Sushtruta samhita is an ancient Sanskrit text on medicine and surgery. It has great historical importance as it introduced various procedures, training and instruments for surgery which are still followed in the modern science of surgery and also by the medicines of the other regions of the world. The sushruta samhita was translated to Arabic as ‘Kitab Shah Shunal – Hindi’, which is also known as ‘Kitabi Susurud’ in Baghdad. The Arabic translation reached Europe by the end of the medieval period. Dr Francis Hessler is the pioneer publisher of the European translation of the Sushruta Samhita in Latin in 1844. Furthermore, the European medicine and modern day medicines are derived from the Latin version.
Downturn of Indian and Other Ancient Sciences
Indian ancient medicine began to decline due to a shortfall of government support, especially during Mohammedan rule. During that period, the country faced a lot of riots, violence and unrest in which several of the ancient structures and scriptures were destroyed.
The two most ancient famous universities of India, viz. Nalanda and Takshashila, which are also considered as one of the oldest universities of the world, were destroyed during this period. Nalanda was attacked and destroyed by Bakhtiyar Khilji (1193 A.D.) as he found out that the Indian scholars were more knowledgeable than his countrymen and the princes. He decided to completely eradicate Buddhism and Ayurveda. Towards this, he set the great library of Nalanda on fire.
During the reign of Peshwas (A.C. 1715 – 1818) some of the most recent works on Indian medicine were once again put together. Subsequently the British government de-throned the Peshwas. Thereafter, the Maratha Empire ended in 1818A.D. with the defeat of Peshwa Bajirao II in the hands of British East Indian Company. Here started the decline of native medical sciences and other ancient sciences, as the colonizers suppressed the development and promotion of Indian and other ancient sciences. They started establishing new medical schools and colleges based on allopathy and western medicinal knowledge. Like India, the European and other American native sciences were also facing similar problems of destruction by invaders and colonizers with the spread of Christianity.
The Birth of Modern Science
The Industrial revolution saw the growth of urban societies. The Urban societies treated the traditional ancient sciences as myths and superstitions. At times, the self-proclaimed elite people disregarded the traditional healers and scientists as witches and dismissed ancient practices as religious beliefs. They called traditional science pseudo-science. The arrival of modern science or modern medicine (allopathy) reflects how societies changed their approach to illness and diseases from the ancient times to present. Also, the access to modern science and the means for pursuing it, i.e. labs, books, etc. is limited to only a few who are a part of this network. They defamed ancient science and knowledge as unscientific as it has no external proof, thereby restricting its acceptance among the masses.
Despite the systematic destruction of ancient knowledge, monuments and scriptures, the knowledge has been able to survive due to some isolated efforts of collation of some of the works and most importantly, due to the passing on of knowledge and wisdom from one generation to the next. An example of this is the menarche celebration followed in some parts of India till today.
JOURNEY TO WOMANHOOD
Menstruation is neither a new thing nor a rare phenomenon. Every woman has to come across it. Despite that, in India, a large group of women still hesitate to discuss about it freely. They even feel stressed out every time they menstruate, especially in urban areas.
It is totally a natural phenomenon. So why should anyone consider it a stigma rather people should consider it a blessing of Mother Nature. Therefore, I think we should respect this fact and celebrate the new journey of the female body. But from various studies and sources an interesting fact comes out. Tribal women tend to have a more positive attitude towards menstruation when compared to their urban counterparts, who are otherwise more educated.
While urban women are generally more concerned with the scientific aspect of menstruation and relate it to childbirth and good health, they often carry a negative attitude towards it. Women and girls from rural areas, on the other hand, while feeling shy and hesitant to openly talk about menstruation, consider it a positive occurrence.
Need for Self Contemplation
There is a need for self-contemplation to cultivate a positive attitude towards menstruation. The modern education system has not been able to promote an open and healthy perspective to menstruation and has failed to remove the taboo and stress associated with it. It has only dealt with it as a hormonal phenomenon which is related to child birth and womanhood. The ancient Indian knowledge, on the other hand, deals with the subject in a manner which helps develop a positive attitude towards menstruation.
Let’s start with our first period, i.e. Menarche. Generally, the first experience of any incident has a great impact on the human brain. If the experience is negative or stressful, then the person goes through the same unpleasant memory every time she faces the same situation.
This happens due to the hippocampus, which is a small part of the brain that stores and retrieves memory from the subconscious mind. It is natural that if the experience of the first period is painful or stressful then every month it will create the same stress and state of mind subconsciously.
Memory of menarche is very important in any woman’s life. In some parts of India menarche celebration is an important ritual, where efforts are made to make the first period’s experience a happy one. The rituals try to make the young girl very special during her first period which helps her to overcome all painful and stressful menstrual experiences in her future.
Traditional Theory of Menarche
According to our Ayurveda theory – humans have the ability to control or shape his or her health on the basis of his or her mind (or thought process). Modern science also agrees with the above theory that mental stress has a negative impact on our physical health. In the Upanishads it is explained that our physical health is influenced significantly by our mental health / state. In conclusion, it is an established fact that menarche celebration has a direct impact on the physical and mental health of young girls during those special days of the month (menstruation period).
Sometimes the mothers go out of their way and even take financial loans to celebrate the menarche rituals / functions in a grand manner.
History of Menarche in India
In India the celebration of first menstruation is most popular in southern India and in some parts of the North Eastern region like Assam and Manipur. But in other parts, like Northern and Central India, these practices are not followed presently. Although, these practices were followed in pre-Mughal era, the people in this part of the region stopped following these celebrations during the Mughal rule as the family members of menstruating girls did not want to reveal the eligibility of their young girls. The behaviour of the ruling class was, at times, not proper and generally there were tendencies of misbehaving with young and eligible girls. Incidents of abduction of girls were common at that time.
At the time when child marriage was customary in India, married girls were retained at their parent’s place after marriage till she attained her menarche, after which they would join their husband and in-laws at the grooms place. This was marked by the celebration of Gauna. The celebration of Gauna meant that the girl was now eligible and prepared to move to her husband’s place. Later with a ban on child marriage, the Gauna or the ritualistic practice of menarche was over turned.
Thus, based on the various accounts of ancient Indian practices related to menstruation and menarche, it emerges that these practices were nothing but the ancient form of today’s menstrual educational package. Basically, in both situations the objective is to prevent any physical and mental illness due to menstruation.
Menarche Celebration in India
The menarche is celebrated in different parts of India in a large variety of different ways. The practices are mainly based on the environment, availability of food, medicine and the knowledge of medicine of that particular state or community. For example, in Karnataka – it is known as aarati and the practice is called ‘soppukakodu’ – which directly refers to the menstrual hut built for menstruating girls. This hut is made of coconut leaves, mango leaves, neem, etc., which protect the menstruating girl through their anti-bacterial or anti-inflammatory properties. This is especially useful as the girl’s immunity is considered to be low during menstruation.
In the state of Tamil Nadu, a similar practice known as poopu naniraattu vizha is followed. Similarly, in Andhra Pradesh this practice is known as Samurta function. Samurta means that the girl has become able-bodied.
In the state of Assam, during menarche festivities, easily digestible food, e.g. vegetables, dairy products from cows, fruits, etc. are given to the menstruating girl. It is like ‘Havisya-Anna’, which is generally given to the people dedicated to intense sadhana or spiritual practice. The diet recommended for both the cases are almost similar.
The Vedic Perspective
The human mind has a lot of influence on the human body. Basically, mentally healthy people can control their physical health from various diseases as stated in the Upanishads. According to the Upanishads, the human body comprises five seaths. These are as follows:-
- Annamaya Kosa – Based on food consumed.
- Pranamaya Kosa – Resulting from breathing
- Manomaya Kosa – Based on mental state
- Vijnanamaya Kosa – Ability to differentiate between right and wrong by the help of your mental strength.
- Anandamaya Kosa – Based on intense sadhana that result in spiritual enlightenment.
Out of these five seaths, the Manomaya Kosa, i.e. Mind-based kosa is the most vital seath, which helps in making a healthy human body with a sound mind. Meditation techniques play a vital role in preventing mental disturbances which affect all the kosas. Any stress or disturbance in our life may adversely affect the kosas in a cyclic manner.
Thus, a healthy body leads to a healthy mind which eventually leads to healthy Anandamaya kosa, i.e. eternal bliss. One of the benefits of Menarche celebration is to remove the stress of Menarche from young girls thereby preventing any physical and mental illness due to menstruation.
In spite of the many variations in the practices related to menarche celebration, some aspects are common across all regions. During the Menarche Celebration a menstruating girl is felicitated by the women of her family and the neighbourhood. The celebration continues for nine to sixteen days.
The various rituals and practices related to menarche celebration as practiced in different forms across the different parts of India were based on strengthening all the five sheaths or kosas described in the upanishads.
Basically, menarche celebration is a learning pathway for a young girl on how to maintain hygiene during menstruation periods and what types of food are essential for her as an immunity booster at this crucial juncture. These practices help her to avoid menstrual disorders and to respect her own body as they enter the next phase of their life, i.e. Womanhood.
The Science behind Menarche Rituals
The various rituals followed during menarche celebrations are founded on scientific concepts and have a logical reasoning behind them. The rituals are so formulated that they lead to immunity build up, enhanced calcium intake and strengthening of the uterus in young girls. It is an interesting fact to note that our ancestors probably had a better and more in-depth understanding of the phenomenon of menstruation. It pays to just follow the legacy of our ancestral knowledge in the form of menarche celebration.
Decoding the Menarche Rituals
According to modern science, during menstruation a female body produces more radicals than normal non-menstrual days. The excess free radicals can be very harmful as it might potentially throw the body into oxidative stress, which is the main cause of primary dysmenorrhea and also infertility. Thus, to prevent such diseases, the free radicals need to be countered by antioxidants.
Modern women who have proper knowledge of the menstruation cycle generally follow all the healthy practices like eating healthy food to build up her immunity during this crucial phase. A similar practice is followed in the regions across India. Interestingly, our ancestors were also following such practices that have a direct impact on the physical health of young girls during this transition period of their lives. They had immense depth of knowledge and understanding about the science behind menstruation. As per modern science a lot of minute changes occur within the female body during menstruation, e.g. atomic and cellular changes. In general a healthy body has more negative ions whereas a weak body or a body with low immune system indicates increase of positive ions. Low immune system is more vulnerable to various diseases.
During menstruation, a female body has a tendency to lose electrons which results in an increase of positive ions.
Primary Dysmenorrhea – Primary Dysmenorrhea or period pain is very common during menstruation. If we want to know the science behind it, it would have to be explained:-
Chemical Changes in the female body during menstruation – We all know that during menstruation the female body produces more free radicals. Then questions arise: what are free radicals? Free radicals are nothing but the positive change ions or cations. The oxygen molecules split into single atoms, which become unstable atoms, are nothing but free radicals. These have a tendency to bind with another atom.
Another important aspect of menstrual physiology is ROS (Reactive Oxygen Species). The radicals which are most concerned in living beings are resultant of oxygen and are collectively called Reactive Oxygen Species. In a healthy body, the levels of ROS and antioxidants remain in balance. When the balance is disrupted and there is an increase in the quantity of ROS, it creates an oxidative stress.
Oxidative Stress – It influences the entire reproductive life span of a woman and even thereafter (i.e. menopause). Oxidative stress results from an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants. When unstable free radicals attract other atoms or molecules to bond with, it triggers oxidative stress and leads to significant cellular damage.
Antioxidants – Production of free radicals is natural phenomena of the human body during cellular metabolism. Our body can produce antioxidants even during non-menstrual periods. It will prevent the effect of free radicals by contributing an electron to each free radical, thereby reducing its effect.
Oxidative Stress During Menstruation – Oxidative stress in a female body becomes very high during menstruation because during menstruation there is an imbalance between oxidants and antioxidants. As a result, the level of free radicals increases and on the other hand the level of antioxidants reduces. Generally, during the menstrual cycles, the levels of hormones changes in a female body. The endometrium is the inner lining of the uterus and this comes out as menstrual flow. During menstruation the lining of the uterus breaks down and sheds. This results in increased production of toxic oxygen radicals. The production of non-toxic radicals also increases at the time of menstruation. The hormone estrogen plays an important role in neutralizing toxic oxygen radicals when women are not menstruating. However, during periods of menstruation, estrogen levels are always very low. Excess loss of RBC (Red Blood Cells) also occurs during menstruation. This also acts as an antioxidant which protects the target cells from Reactive oxygen species. In female reproductive system, free radicals play various important roles.e.g.it has an important role in the ovulation, corpus luteum function, oocyte maturation etc.
Increase of oxidative stress + Decrease of antioxidants = significant factors in pathogenesis of primary dysmenorrhea.
Diet during Menarche
The dietary aspect related to the first menstrual cycle is also extremely important. The recommended diet during menarche is as follows:-
- Plenty of water (sometimes turmeric water),
- Sesame, dry coconut & jaggery are a must
- No butter milk or curd
- Khichri (made with rice, moong dal, ghee & turmeric)
- Salt and Chilly are not given for first three days
- Some types of sweets are allowed
The menarche celebrations usually continue for nine to sixteen days. Although the period of the celebration varies from place to place, the last day of the celebration is invariably celebrated with a lot of grandeur.
The role of diet in countering oxidative stress during menstruation – According to various scientific studies, during menstruation the female body needs supplements of natural antioxidants like Vitamin E, Vitamin C and ß carotenoids, etc. All these elements are extremely beneficial for combating primary dysmenorrhea. Therefore, the diet recommendation as per ancient Indian menarche rituals has its own scientific role to play. For example, the jaggery and dry coconut is used to trigger our salivary glands. The interesting fact is that human saliva is rich in antioxidant compounds. We can classify the role and function of the salivary gland into three groups.
- Preventive Antioxidant – to inhibit the production of free radicals.
- Sweeping Antioxidant – it eliminates or sweeps away free radicals and controls the spreading of cell damage.
- Enzymes – These include Protease, lipases, etc. They help in repair of damage caused to the tissues by the free radicals.
Similarly, the ingredients of khichdi i.e. Moong dal contains iron; turmeric is full of anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. Thus, it is evident that most of the dietary practices during menarche rituals are quite scientific and have been instituted towards the benefit of menstruating women’s bodies.
Value of food as per Ayurveda science: – According to Ayurveda experts, it is the only science which explains the value of food in terms of its effects on dosa and dhatu. Ayurveda science classifies four types of food which has its own therapeutic value. It is the only science which shows how all these foods are identified on the basis of our tastes or rasas. There are six types of rasas as per Ayurveda e.g. Madhura rasa (sweet), tikta rasa (bitter), amla rasa (sour), Lavanya (saline), katuku (pungent), kashaya (astringent). The four types of food according to Ayurveda science are:-
|RASAYANA, GHARSANA, BALYA , BRMHANA|
Rasanaya: – In this category food causes quantitative, qualitative and functional enhancements of all the dhatus and dosas.
Gharsana: – In this case food helps in reducing body weight.
Balya: – Food in this category generally helps to increase the strength or overall energy level of the body.
Brahmana: – Here the food helps in developing the body of a young girl. This type of food is to be taken generally 3 – 4 months soon after menarche.
The diet of menstruating girl is prescribed in ancient days on the basis of above mentioned food .e.g. Moong dal, jaggery, ghee, rice etc. Ayurveda science is the only science which not only identifies the food on the basis of rasas or tastes but also explains the specific effects on the tridosas. As per Ayurveda there are three types of dosas like Vata, Pitta, Kapha. The three major elements food, rasas and dosas are so much interrelated e.g. :-during menarche and subsequent monthly menstruation the food prescribed mainly of madhura or sweet rasas category -(like ghee, rice, green moong dal) which help to prevent exacerbation of pitta dosa and Vata dosa. These two dosas are mainly overruled during menstruation.
Menstrual cloth versus Sanitary Napkin – Indian women traditionally use a cotton cloth during periods not because they can’t afford sanitary napkins or tampons but because it is more hygienic. The cotton cloth is more breathable compared to sanitary napkins. Being more breathable, it reduces the chances of vaginal infections. Being less absorbent than a sanitary napkin, the cotton cloth requires frequent change, which in turn reduces the chances of contracting infections.
Prohibition on touching Menstruating women – As per the menarche rituals in all the regions in India the menstruating girl is made to rest for 3-5 days, staying separately. She is not supposed to touch anything or anybody. Only the mother/aunt who helps her to follow the rituals are allow to touch are but in one condition that they should take bath after that. It is necessary for any person who comes into physical contact with the menstruating girl/woman.
The science behind these restrictions is that when a menstruating girl who has more (positively charged ions) comes to a contact of a non-menstruating person who has more (negatively charged ions) then positively charged body tends to attract electrons from the negatively charged body come into contact.
As a result of which non-menstruating person generally experience a loss of electrons and face the risk of oxidative stress after coming into contact to the menstruating person.to avoid this risk factors after touching her, the non-menstruating person used to take bath because water in moving state e.g. shower produce negative ions. Therefore, taking bath after touching a menstruating person is compulsory as per ancient rituals. This process helps to regain the loss of electrons.
Again it can be explained in briefly that-
MORE NEGATIVE IONS → MORE HEALTHY BODY
MORE POSITIVE IONS → MORE WEAK BODY AND LOW IMMUNE SYSTEM ↓
INVITES MORE DISEASES
Science behind using turmeric and slaked lime solution-As per Ayurveda, the menstruating girl has to sit on a special mat made of the DARBHA GRASS. This grass has a special feature: it has the ability to absorb positive ions which are released by a menstruating girl’s body. The grass mat also provides earthing to the girl sitting on it. The “earthing” process happens by facilitating electrons flow to the human body from the earth. Turmeric and slaked lime solutions work as an invisible protective shield around the menstruating girl as the solutions used to spread on the four corners of the mat where the girl is to sit. This solution is used to prevent spreading of positive ions released by menstruating girl and also provide her enough negative ions to boost up her immune system.
In conclusion, it is quite obvious that the ancient Indian knowledge is very scientific and provides for an inclusive & wholesome way of living. This has a great impact on menstrual and reproductive health and eventually leads to a safe and healthy journey towards womanhood.
INTERPRETATION OF MENSTRUAL PRACTICES BY AYURVEDIC MEDICINE
Ayurveda or Ayurvedic medicine is the oldest traditional health care system of India. It is a holistic approach to both physical and mental health. Ayurveda is a comprehensive system of health care which deals with both curative and preventive aspects of health care. The Charak Samhita and Susruta Samhita, both are the foundations of ancient Indian medical science. Charak Samhita is the foundation of Medicine and the other one, i.e. Sushruta Samhita, is the foundation of surgery.
Ayurveda describes and explains the characteristics of healthy menstrual discharge very vividly. According to Charak Samhita and Susruta Samhita, the menstrual flow ought to have certain specific features to be considered as ‘healthy menstrual flow’.
These features are as follows:-
- Menstrual flow should last for five nights.
- Menstrual flow should neither be too heavy nor too scanty.
- It should be free from burning sensation and pain.
- It should be free from sliminess of discharge.
- The menstrual blood should not leave any stain on cloth after the cloth is washed by simply soaking in water.
As per Ayurveda, stain is one of the important indications of the health of menstrual flow. While nowadays most of the advertisements of menstrual products try to portray the resulting stain as the worst part of menstruation, traditionally, the women in India preferred to use cotton cloth during the time of menstruation as cotton absorbs the menstrual flow. According to Ayurvedic science, women can get an idea about their state of menstrual health by putting a drop of menstrual blood on a cotton cloth. Menstrual health is considered to depend on whether the menstrual blood leaves a stain or not. Generally during menstruation, a woman has to face some symptoms like irregular menstruation, period pain, changing bleeding patterns, etc. Though these factors are mostly common in all women, ayurveda does not consider these are uniformly normal for all women. As per ayurvedic science, the pattern of bleeding during menstruation changes with the state of balance or imbalance of the constituents of the human body. The variations in period indicate some abnormality in the body and the individual should take measures to overcome the same.
The colour, texture, flows and quantity of menstrual blood helps in better understanding of menstrual health. Proper observations of all the above features during menstruation, helps in early detection and prevention of disease before they become more complex and difficult to cure.
How Ayurveda Interprets Menstrual Health
Tridosha:- Ayurveda medicine always gives importance to the minute thingsof our body (Suksma sarira) as well as the gross part of the body (Sthula Sarira). Whereas, in allopathy or western medicine, importance is given to the sthula sarira only.
As per Ayurveda there are three types of dosas which prevent any type of imbalance in our body. These three dosas (Vata, Pitta, Kapha) are known as tridosha. According to ayurveda, the tridoshas are the minute internal forces pertaining to the suksma sarira which control all the functions within the human body. When these tridoshas i.e. vata, pitta, kapha are not in proper balance within our body, it gives rise to various diseases. Balance of the tridoshas is considered to be very important to keep a healthy body and, in women, a healthy menstrual life. Both high and low levels of the tridoshas can create an imbalance which affects the health and behaviour of a person.
Dhatus:- Our food habitshave a great influence on our health. The quality of menstrual blood is also influenced by the nature of the food a woman consumes. As per ayurveda, there are seven layers of tissues which are known as Dhatus. One of the most important dhatus being the rasa dhatu (chyle). The lymph chyle /plasma or rasa dhatu is made of fluids and fats. The fluid is milky white in colour and it is formed in the small intestine during digestion.
Rasa dhatu plays a vital role in building up all other tissue layers or dhatus of the human body. The seven dhatus of human body are as follows:-
- Rasa (Plasma)
- Rakta (Blood)
- Mamsa (Flesh)
- Asthi (Bone)
- Majja (Marrow)
- Medas (Fat)
- Sukra, Arthava (Semen, Ovum)
The rasa dhatu progressively transforms into rakta, mamsa, medas, asthi, majja and Sukra/ovum. This transformation process works under the influence of metabolic heat of the body i.e. ’pitta’.
Do’s and Dont’s During Menstruation
The tridosha, i.e. vayu or vata, pitta or pith, kapha or slesma and their functions have a great impact on healthy menstrual life. Vata, Pitta and Kapha; these three dosas pertain to the lower, middle and upper portions of the body respectively. The names of three dosas are actually derived from the following:-
Wind → Vata / Vayu
Bile → Pitta
Phlegm → Kapha
The tridoshas or defects of the human body actually resemble the three elements of the universe, viz. Air, Fire and Water. Some practices prescribed during menstruation include avoiding sexual intercourse, excessive talking, excessive laughing, and exposure to loud noise, combing the hair, taking bath, oil massage and avoiding tiring work. These are prescribed to ensure a proper balance of the tridoshas during menstruation. Certain dos and don’ts are also recommended in ayurvedic science towards reducing the effects of tridoshas during menstruation. These are as follows:-
- Limiting food intake
- Consuming food that is easily digestible
- Avoiding heavy exercises or actions that result into physical exertion
- Observe celibacy
- Sleeping on the floor (on a mat), etc.
All the above mentioned rules are known as menstrual lifestyle routines or Rajaswala Paricharya. Women should adopt all these practices during Rajaswala Paricharya as per Charak Samhita.
Light and easily digestible food is prescribed as the digestive fire of the body weakens during menstruation. The main reason for the above prescribed routine or regime is nothing but to protect the health of women by preventing or controlling the imbalance of doshas. As per Ayurveda, bloating, cramping, pain, etc. are the symptoms of imbalance during periods. If all the doshas are in balance, women can avoid a stressful and painful menstruation.
The effect of Vata Dosha on the blood vessels is as follows: Constricting, Tightening and Cooling. But during periods, the effects of the vata should become opposite in order to maintain balance, i.e. to open up, dialect and let go. Vata is responsible for maintaining a state of equilibrium between Dhatus and Doshas. Again, disparity in vata causes digestive disorders and creates the initial stages of gastric problems. The overall balance of vata in a human body is very significant as its imbalance leads to many diseases including diseases related to menstruation and reproductive systems.
People having impaired or defective vata show some external symptoms such as restlessness, dry skin, dry hair, thin body, etc. Imbalance of vata also affects the body internally or emotionally.
|People in Balanced Vata||People in Imbalanced Vata|
|Adaptable||Having mood swings|
Menstrual Characteristics Based on Vata
As per Ayurveda, vata plays a significant role in menstruation. The menstrual flow varies from woman to woman depending upon their nature of vata. The characteristics of menstruation can be broadly divided into two groups, viz. Vata Prakriti (Normal) and Vata Prakopa (Problematic).
Vata Prakriti: In this type, women have irregular menses, especially, immediately after menarche. The color of the menstrual blood is generally darker than normal and thin in consistency. The flow of blood is much less. Generally no physical discomfort and emotional changes occur.
Vata Prakopa: Here delayed or irregular periods or no period happen. The characteristics of menstrual blood include non-sticky consistency and dark brownish colour. Menstruation is accompanied with both physical and emotional problems, e.g. dysmenorrhea, lower abdomen pain, constipation, restlessness, irritation, anxiousness, etc.
Personally, women observe and understand her physical and mental state during periods and are able to recognise her characteristics of vata in her body. Eventually, it will help her towards early realisation of any abnormality or problems related to her reproductive health.
Self-diagnosis helps a woman identify the cause of any discomfort during menstruation. It also helps her in understanding the menstrual regime or Rajaswala Paricharya, for healthy menstruation.
Menstrual Routines to Prevent the Effects of Vata Prakopa
Effects of vata on physical and emotional state, as already mentioned, which directly control the nature of menstruation. If women follow some routines or healthy lifestyle practices during her menstruation as per Ayurveda, she can prevent herself from problematic vata or Vata Prakopa. Since vata is more dominant on the body during menstruation, it creates a greater risk of Vata Prakopa in menstruating women.
Avoid Dressing of Hair and Nails: Due to the dominance of vata during menstruation, a situation similar to stress is experienced. As stress causes increased hair fall and cracking of nails (nakhabheda), women with Vata Prakopa (or imbalance vata) experience hair fall and cracking of nails. Anything that affects asthi dhatu (bones) could also cause such symptoms as hair and nail, both are products of asthi dhatu. Therefore, combing of hair and pairing of nails is not recommended during menstruation.
Avoid Emotional Stress: Vata Prakopa is accentuated by strong emotions such as laughter, crying, loud noise, etc. As there is a dominance of vata during menstruation, such strong emotions may cause imbalance in vata that could disturb the menstrual flow. Incidents that create sudden shock and awe are known to cause menstrual disturbances. Missing periods during stressful situations is not unheard of and could be related to such imbalances of vata. Thus, it is recommended to avoid emotional stress to prevent menstrual abnormalities.
Avoid Heavy Work: A condition of aggravated vata causes brittleness of bones. Due to dominance of vata during menstruation, the risk of bone injury increases in menstruating women. Therefore, it is recommended to avoid heavy work and excessive exertion during periods.
Other practices which are supposed to reduce Vata Prakopa should also be avoided during menstruation. As vata is supposed to be dominant during menstruation, these practices might cause imbalance in vata which could be harmful. These practices include sleeping during daytime, having oil massage after heavy work and anointing the body.
Pitta is responsible for all the transformative properties of the body. Pitta consists of dravatva (liquidity), sneha (oily), usna (heat), katu & amla (pungent & sour) taste, visra gandha (bad odour) and saravta (fluidity). Any imbalance in Pitta or Pitta Dosha may cause excessive agni resulting in quick burning up of the food leaving less time for absorption of nutrients or manda (slow) agni resulting in improper digestion and metabolism. Such reduced absorption may result in anemia. Aggravated pitta may also result in problems of vision or eyesight. People with normal pitta/ Pitta prakriti shows some external symptoms like acne, early greying of hair, workaholic tendency, skin rashes, hunger, thirst, frequent indigestion, inflammation when the pitta is imbalance. Excessive pitta also influences emotionally like; short tempered frustration, anger, jealousy etc. The personality of a dominating pitta people when in balance generally have some positive qualities or behaviour such as good leadership power, good communication skills, having high intellect etc.
Characteristics of Menstruation during Pitta Prakriti and Pitta Prakopa
Pitta prakriti :-Generally, pitta prakriti women have a tendency of menstruating which is similar to the characteristics of Pitta prakopa. Differences between menstruating characteristics of pitta prakriti and pitta prakopa are as follows:-
Pitta prakriti or normal: – Color of the blood is generally bright red in this case and the flow is slightly more than average. The texture of the menstruation flow is neither thin nor sticky.
In the case of pitta prakriti menstruating women do not have any physical and emotional discomfort. The woman with dominant pitta doshas can also avoid any menstrual disturbances.
Pitta Prakopa:- Women with problematic pitta or pitta prakopa ,usually have heavy and hot menstrual flow and also have metallic odour. The color of the menstrual blood is also bright red like in case of pitta normal. Texture of menstruation flow in problematic pitta is sometimes clotted in nature. Pitta prakopa exhibits lots of physical and emotional discomforts which are totally absent incase of pitta normal. Physical discomforts like headache, tiredness, tenderness of breast, acne, body heat or feverish, soreness etc. while on the other hand pitta prakopa shows anger, short temper, fatigue, irritability etc. as emotional discomforts. Due to pitta prakopa woman have to face menstrual problem like heavy menstrual bleeding or menorrhagia which leads into anaemia.
Women can control and prevent the negative impacts of excessive pitta by following some practices like avoiding non veg food, caffeine etc. and also observing her menstrual flow.
Menstrual Process to Prevent Pitta Prakopa
Generally the condition of Pitta Prakopa or problem of excessive pitta happens mainly due to the consumption of food which has the properties of heat (usna). Therefore, most of the menstrual practices emphasise on diet or food consumed during or just prior to menstruation. In Ayurveda food is classified on the basis of its properties of heating and cooling when consumed.
Effects of Food
The food which has heating properties when consumed is known as ‘Usna’ and the one which has cooling properties on consumption is known as ‘Sita’. This concept of heating and cooling is different from external hot and cold sensation. In this case the hot and cold property depends on the behaviour of the food material after its consumption. For example, all spicy food, non-vegetarian food, etc. have Usna or heating properties. Refrigerated curd, although seems cold externally, increases pitta or internal heat (acidity) on consumption. Some fruits like papaya, orange, lemon, etc. have similar properties and are recommended to be avoided during menstruation. Consumption of food with heating properties causes an increase in pitta. During menstruation excessive pitta causes excessive hot and heavy flow.
Other Practices – Application of Kajal is a traditional practice for enhancing the beauty and health of our eyes. Kajal is traditionally made up of medicinal herbs and ghee which prevents eye related disorders. An imbalance in pitta has an effect on eyesight or vision. Heating inside the body due to any reason influences the imbalance of pitta. Application of kajal helps in preventing the impact of pitta on eyesight / vision by its cooling properties. However, as there is a natural dominance of pitta during menstruation, application of kajal is not recommended during menstruation as it is likely to counter the natural effect and create an imbalance of pitta. It may be noted that the above recommendations apply only to natural kajal and not to cosmetic kajal, which in most cases is artificially produced.
Rules for Bathing
In India, traditionally, taking a bath after having a meal is not recommended. Children are taught to avoid taking a bath immediately after a meal. The scientific reason behind this is that it dampens the digestive acids / bile / pitta which are necessary for digestion of food. Such a condition causes indigestion and results in formation of toxin. Toxins are the root cause of several diseases. Similarly, taking bath in hot water during summer and cold water during winter tends to increase the vata and kapha doshas respectively in the body.
Traditionally, menstruating women are told not to take bath during menstruation in order to maintain a body temperature required for smooth blood flow. However, due to concerns of hygiene, some of these practices have been modified in rural area where bathing has been allowed, but without pouring water over the head.
The structure and stability of cells within our body is maintained by Kapha Dosha. It provides the base to the fluid during menstruation.
Kapha is responsible for maintaining immunity, lubrication of joints, and hydrating the internal cells. It has the properties of sneha (unctuousness), sita (cooling), sauklya (whiteness), paichillya (sliminess) and martsnya (viscosity). It generally resides in the throat, breast, stomach and the joints. It is released as phlegm when there is an excess of kapha in the body.
Persons with kapha prakriti have some external symptoms or qualities like excessive sleep, tendency to gain weight, heaviness, slow digestion, etc. An imbalance in kapha may cause asthma problems and other chronic respiratory disorders. Individuals having imbalance in kapha internally, will exhibit the symptoms such as craving for food, laziness, lethargy, etc. On the other hand, individuals with balanced kapha are generally easy going and have a stable temperament. Their body strength and stamina make them good in sports and physical exercises. Most importantly, women with kapha prakriti are considered to have good fertility.
Kapha Prakopa during Menstruation
During menstruation women experience a rise in kapha or kapha prakopa. The effect is more pronounced in women of kapha prakriti or in all women during seasons when the kapha is aggravated (i.e. when having cold and cough). The characteristics of discharge during kapha prakopa include light red colour of flow, thick and slimy flow with presence of clots. Menstruation in women of kapha prakriti or under kapha dosha, continues for upto seven days. Menstruation provides a relief to women of kapha prakriti as the kapha gets neutralised by increased pitta and vata experienced during menstruation.
Dos and Don’ts to Avoid Kapha Dosha
A good balance of kapha and pitta causes good menstrual flow. Therefore, women with kapha prakriti should carry out activities that build up pitta. These include frequent exercises (except during menstruation) and avoiding rich food or stale food.
Sexual Abstinence during Menstruation
The Ayurveda provides some guidelines related to practice of sex, especially in the context of menstrual cycles. Such guidelines are not just for women but also for their male partners. As per Susruta Samhita, a partner’s life may be shortened in case he has intercourse within the first ten days of the menstrual cycle. A child born due to such an intercourse also has a risk of dying immediately after birth. Similarly a child born as a result of sexual intercourse during the first three days of the cycle may be deformed by birth. However, when sexual intercourse takes place on the fourth day, the child is likely to be healthy and have a prolonged life. Once a woman is impregnated, the partners are advised to abstain from sex for a period of one month as during this stage the rasa is converted to sukra dhatu (semen) during this period.
In addition to the above mentioned practices, there are some menstrual practices based on native knowledge and local circumstances. For example:-
Avoiding cooking food: There is a vital factor called Prana. All living things contain prana. It makes the difference between food made with fresh vegetables and made with refrigerated vegetables. Menstruating women can absorb prana from anything which contains it. Therefore menstruating women are supposed to avoid cooking during periods as the prana of the food is absorbed by her, as the result of which the taste of the food has reduced.
Practicing not touching plants or infants during menstruation: – Traditionally women tried to avoid touching plants especially Tulasi during her menstruation. This practice used to be found in some rural areas of southern part of India.
The main reason behind this restriction is Oxidative stress which is generally found to be high in menstruating women. This oxidative stress is very harmful for the plants that come into the touch of her during periods.
In case of infants also, they contain a bundle of prana, so if any woman comes into contact with an infant during her periods, she used to absorb prana from the infant which creates imbalance in the body of the infant. At the same time menstruating woman also loses some prana which results into disturbed menstrual flow.
At the end, it is very much obvious that to follow proper menstruating regime based on her body doshas, and also self-observations, identifications of any abnormalities or discomfort during periods help her to early detection of any reproductive health related disorders.
TRUTH BEHIND PURITY OF MENSTRUAL BLOOD
MENSTRUAL BLOOD: BOON OR BANE
In Indian culture, it is believed till date that the Devi (mother Goddess) also menstruates. There are some temples where a celebration of the auspiciousness of menstrual blood takes place. Like the Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati (Assam) and Bhagavathi Devi Temple in Chengannur (Kerala). Devotees, especially male devotees, throng to these temples to offer their prayers and to receive a piece of cloth as prasad in the temple. This piece of cloth is believed to be the menstrual cloth of the Devi. It is also believed that this menstrual cloth would bring good luck & good health, would protect them from evil and would reign in property.
In India, the Hindu women use red kumkum on their forehead during any ritual as it represents the Shakti (primordial cosmic energy). Shakti represents women. The energy/shakti is responsible for three major forces in the Universe, i.e. Creation, Destruction and Sustenance.
In the same way as creation is made possible by shakti, women/mothers can create life and are responsible for birth. Use of the red colour is connected with the menstrual blood as it is the most powerful and purest aspect of the feminine.
Positive Aspects of Menstrual Blood
These days a concept of ‘menstrual blood bank’ has come up as modern scientists have been able to identify and recognise the potential of this blood in healing certain diseases.
As per modern medicine, menstrual blood has the potential of being used for stem cell based therapies.
If the menstrual blood is banked before the age of 35, i.e. before the onset of perimenopause stage, it shows the qualities of stem cells. For example, it is seen to be highly regenerative in nature. During menstruation, the endometrium (internal lining of the uterus) is shed with each monthly cycle. This phenomenon takes place throughout the reproductive life of a woman. In the field of regenerative medicine and research, menstrual blood is used as a source of stem cells. The stem cells of the menstrual blood can multiply rapidly and form new cells and tissues. Modern science is now gradually realising the importance of menstrual blood and is discovering its positive aspects as it was done in ancient Indian culture and has started promoting the concept of menstrual blood bank.
Natural cleanser of the Body
Apart from its medicinal and therapeutic use, modern science has also started recognising the other positive uses of menstrual blood. In India, there is a concept that during menstruation, toxic elements of the body are supposedly removed. Basically, the common knowledge was that the reason or purpose of menstruation was to remove the accumulated toxins from the body. Therefore, menstrual blood, being full of the removed toxins, was considered to be impure.
However, the actual fact or concept is that of ama – internal toxins. As it is described in Ayurvedic science, ama means undigested or incomplete. An important concept in Ayurvedic science is that the undigested or semi-digested food is nothing but ama, which blocks various channels of the human body and causes many diseases. It is responsible for 90% of all diseases as ama creates disturbance in digestion process and attracts localised imbalances of the doshas.
Excessive ama affects all the tissue layers / dhatus and weakens the doshas and causes diseases. Infertility is also a result of excess ama when it affects the shukra dhatu. As per ayurveda, the process of detox is known as panchakarma. The couple who are suffering from infertility are advised to go through this panchakarma process. This process actually helps in keeping natural balance in the body by flushing out all the ama / toxins.
The Basic Properties of Ama
- Ama is an undigested form of product which is derived from food.
- It is sticky in nature and causes lethargy.
- It manifests as a smelly substance when combined with urine, sputum, sweat and other forms of excretory products of the human body.
Important Features of Ama
- Pain, ache
- Fatigue or weakness
- Obesity, diabetes
- Loss of appetite and other metabolic disorders
- Bacterial infection
- Foul odour
- Srotosang, i.e. obstructions of channels.
Several herbs help in treating the problem of Ama effectively. These include aloe vera, cumin, black pepper, ginger, garlic, etc. Therefore, Ayurvedic science gives emphasis on proper diet which helps in preventing ama accumulation in the body.
According to Ayurvedic science, it is the process of eliminating ama from the body. Pancha means five and Karma means action. The five purification procedures or actions are together known as panchakarma.
The five actions of panchakarma include vamana (vomiting – flushing the contents of stomach through the mouth), nasya (elimination through nostrils and throat), virechan (purgation – clearing of the intestines), asthapana (niruhan – clearing the rectum by applying medicated anema), anuvaasan (basti – use of medicated enemas such as decoction and oil enema).
Benefits of Panchakarma
- Eliminating toxins from the body and mind
- Restoring of constitutional balance
- Slowing down of ageing
- Reduce effects of stress
- Induce positive lifestyle changes
Like panchakarma therapy, menstruation also helps in eliminating toxins from a woman’s body when the ama is excessive in body. As per Ayurveda, the menstrual process is a natural detoxification phenomenon. Menstruation is a natural cleanser of the body, which is offered to all women as a natural gift. It prepares a healthy womb which further facilitates a healthy childbirth process. The internal toxins are primarily eliminated through the route of lungs, urinary systems, sinuses, skin, etc. However, menstruation is the major process of flushing of such toxins.
Greater the amount of ama, greater is the discomfort during menstruation. Excessive flushing of toxins during periods exhibit other associated problems like acne, nausea, loose motions, sinus congestion (headache). In order to reduce the discomfort due to excessive ama, one should follow a healthy lifestyle such as having a proper diet and practicing yoga and pranayam (breathing exercises).
As women are gifted with the natural process of cleansing of ama / toxins, it has been observed that the average lifespan of women is more than that of men. Thus, menstruation should be treated as an important monthly event of cleansing of the body and not a monthly ‘problem’ faced by women. Non menstruating persons (men) have to be more careful than menstruating persons regarding their diet and their daily exercise routine as they don’t have any natural cleansing method like menstruation.
Traditionally, the process of menstruation is considered as a natural detoxification method. According to modern science, menstruation is mainly required for conceiving a child. However, in traditional knowledge, it is described as a natural cleansing process of the body. Therefore, in conclusion, it emerges that menstrual blood is not impure. Rather the impurities of the woman’s body get released through the menstruation process.
Menstruation is a phenomenon unique to women. It is a normal physiological occurrence which every woman has to go through and it is a sign of her womanhood. Menstruation is also an indicator of a woman’s ability to give birth to the next generation. Ayurveda lays a lot of emphasis on it which is proven by the fact that menarche, or onset of periods, is celebrated as a God’s natural and special gift to a woman. Ancient science treated it as a natural process of detoxification of the body and not as a taboo as it has become these days.
The practice of isolation of women during menstruation is common in many rural parts of India. This practice is mostly common among the tribals of Maharashtra, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka, e.g. the Golla community.
In several regions of India, especially in the rural areas, there is a belief that menstruating women or girls are impure and are treated as untouchables during their periods. They used to be banished into “menstruation huts” located outside the house during menstruation and were not allowed to perform cooking or other household activities.
Chaupadi: A practice known as ‘chhaupadi’, is prevalent in the western parts of Nepal. It is a type of menstrual taboo that restricts menstruating girls/women from participating in routine family activities. During their periods, menstruating girls & women are forced to stay in the cattle shed or a makeshift dwelling arrangement as a ‘menstrual hut’. Women and girls are not allowed to interact with their communities during menstruation. Similar practices are also observed in some parts of India.
The Gollas: The Gollas (Yadavas) are a Telugu speaking rural community who are mostly populated in the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The term ‘yadav’ is a caste which comprises a large number of sub-castes. They are known as different names in the different regions of India. Such as ‘Ahir’ in the Hindi speaking belt including the states of Punjab and Gujarat, ‘Golla’ in the states of Karnataka & Andhra Pradesh and ‘Gavli’ in the state of Maharashtra. All over India, this caste has a common traditional way of income, i.e. through selling of milk, rearing of cows and sheep, etc. In Karnataka, the Gollas are a sheep rearing community. They used to live as close communities in hamlets which are known as hatti across the Hanan, Tumkur and Chitradurga districts of Karnataka.
Nowadays, many of the Gollas have become well educated and have moved up economically. Despite that, in rural areas, they still follow the traditional practices of menstrual isolation very rigidly.
Reasons behind Menstrual Isolation Practices
Privacy and Health – As discussed earlier, menstrual isolation of women during menstruation is a traditional practice in some parts of rural India. One such practice is having a separate shelter or ‘menstrual hut’ for the menstruating women. This used to provide privacy to the menstruating women. They were also forbidden from taking part in any community / household activities to keep their privacy safe. Also, the menstrual hut used to be made up of leaves of medicinal plants and herbs. This helped in prevention of diseases as during menstruation the immune system of a woman is degraded and the body is susceptible to disease infections. The medicinal plants also provided protection from poisonous snakes, insects, etc. which were common in the rural areas, especially in the isolated place.
As the Golla community is mainly engaged in cattle related professions, people of this community used to live in small houses with 10 – 15 family members staying together as a joint family in a small house. At times, they were even forced to share the small space available to them with their cattle as well. Naturally, for a menstruating woman this can be extremely inconvenient and embarrassing to stay under the same roof with other male relatives / family members. The problem was further compounded by their low immunity levels which made them vulnerable to infections from their own cattle such as sheep, goats, cows, etc.
According to Ayurveda, menstruation is the natural cleansing process of a woman’s body. During periods, vata is the predominant dosha in a female body. A menstruating girl/woman is more prone to absorb other energies in the environment. The oxidative stress during the menstruation process produces more positively charged atoms / ions. This increase in positive ions is also an indication of a low immune system which may lead to more infections. Secondly, the positively charged female body generally tends to attract electrons from the environment. Therefore, anyone coming in contact with a menstruating woman through touch or proximity may experience a loss of electrons.
Thus, the system of isolation of menstruating women, which although may be interpreted as discriminatory, was made mostly to avoid all of the above mentioned difficulties and also to protect menstruating girls from various diseases. The menstrual hut ensured that the menstruating women get special care and adequate rest.
In some communities, the menstrual hut was built not only for menstruating girls / women but also for mothers just after delivering a new child along with the infant. As per ancient science, during menstruation and soon after delivering a baby sexual intercourse is not allowed as it could be harmful to the woman. So staying isolated in the menstrual hut helped them to keep away from sexual activities.
Women’s Wishes and Believes
The people of the communities following menstrual isolation practices are also very religious in their beliefs. Moreover, they were generally economically backward and had small dwelling places. Therefore, during menstruation women had to literally step out on the road and had to face a lot of hardships, such as no privacy and no facilities for managing her periods. In summer and in rainy seasons it is very difficult to manage things outside the house. Menstruating women used to defecate in the open as they were not allowed to use the toilets used by others.
Despite facing many difficulties as mentioned above, women are found to be keen on following these traditional practices associated with menstruation. The only thing that they need is a special room with necessary medical facilities during menstruation. A separate toilet is the least they ought to be provided with. During the rainy season, the roof of the menstrual hut, which is made of leaves, leaks water making it extremely difficult for a woman to stay there as they had to sleep on the floor without a bed. The location of the hut in a village is usually located at an isolated place away from the village. This made them prone to wild animals. Deaths due to snake bite were also very common there.
Role of Government and NGOs
Several NGOs, state governments and local elected representatives are trying to abolish these practices as they consider these practices as superstitious. At times they even force the women to discontinue such practices without their consent or without taking their opinion. A large number of women actually believe that they may face health problems because of not following the tradition of menstrual seclusion.
Therefore, instead of forcefully banning the traditional choices, the government workers and NGOs should respect the women’s needs and choices and try to deal with the matter in a sensitive manner. The women should be allowed to follow their traditional practices. However, efforts should be made to ensure their well-being and convenience by provisioning the basic facilities and medical amenities in the menstrual hut.
Actually, menstrual seclusion is not the root cause of women’s problems. The root cause is their poverty. Had the menstrual hut been equipped with modern amenities and medicines, it would have been a great place to rest and relax during menstruation and have the required privacy.
Banning of Menstrual Seclusion
As per studies, the practice of ‘chaupadi’ (as observed in Nepal) is not only the cause of reproductive health problems but also the reason for pneumonia, dysuria for menstruating women. Besides these, physical stress young menstruating girls cannot continue their schooling as they have to skip school during periods, which eventually leads to dropping out from school.
Though the government has tried to take several steps to ban this ‘chaupadi’ system, a large number of Nepalese women are still staying isolated in their poorly built huts. Despite the involvement of the government to diminish these practices by offering many incentives, women refuse to go against customs as they are mostly from orthodox and economically backward societies. Another reason for their refusal to stop the practice is fear of being declared as outcasts by other members of the society and their fear of nature’s curse which, as per their belief, could manifest in the form of natural calamities like drought, flood, etc.
The various NGOs and government authorities are trying to ban these practices. But changes are feasible only if both external agencies and local people are willing to move ahead in the direction of change. Therefore, with due respect to women’s feelings and beliefs on their traditions, the menstrual seclusion practice should be considered. Efforts should be made to ensure that women do not face any hardships during these periods of quarantine for impurity.