Spotlight : “The Sabarimala Confusion -Menstruation across cultures, a Historical Perspective” by Nithin Sridhar

Presenting this work of vast research by my friend Nithin Sridhar on the topic of menstruation. The author’s series of articles on the topic on Indiafacts had piqued my interest and I was really looking forward for this book.

The Book Summary is as follows
Menstruation across Cultures attempts to provide a detailed review of menstruation notions prevalent in India and in cultures from across the world. The world cultures covered in the book include Indic traditions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism; ancient civilisations like Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia and Egypt; and Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Two themes of special focus in the book are: Impurity and Sacrality. While they are often understood as being opposed to each other, the book examines how they are treated as two sides of the same coin, when it comes to menstruation. This is especially true in Indic traditions and pre-Christian polytheistic traditions like Greco-Roman, Mesopotamian and Egyptian. Impurity and Sacrality complement each other to form a comprehensive worldview in these cultures.

The book also examines how the understanding of impurity in Abrahamic religions differs from those of polytheistic cultures. As part of the examination of the sacrality attached to menstruation, a special focus has also been given to the deities of menstruation in polytheistic cultures and to what Ayurveda and Yoga say about this essential function in a woman’s physiology.

Finally, a comparative study of menstrual notions prevalent in modernity is presented, along with a Do and Don’t dossier.

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Also find an excerpt below :

Now, what exactly is Ashaucha? It has been roughly translated to mean uncleanliness / impurity. But the full implication of the term goes beyond the normal notions associated with these terms. To understand this, we must first comprehend the Hindu concept of an Individual and the concepts of Shaucha (purity) and Ashaucha (impurity) associated with such an individual.

Much of the modern scientific view, which is largely rooted in materialism, perceives an Individual as just a physical body. Even the mind and its functions are perceived as being rooted in the physical organ brain. Contrary to this, Hinduism perceives an Individual as a being with five layers of individuality. In other words, each person has five bodies that act as five sheaths that covers his/her innermost Self (Atman). These five sheaths, which are together called as ‘Pancha-Koshas’[7], are: Annamaya Kosha (physical sheath), Pranamaya Kosha (vital sheath), Manomaya Kosha (mental sheath), Vigyanamaya Kosha (sheath of intellect), and Anandamaya Kosha (sheath of bliss). Hence, each Individual is constituted of five bodies- physical, vital, mind, intellect, and bliss. But in day to day life, at the Vyavaharika (transactional) level, a person is mostly active at his physical, vital and mental sheaths. Hence, it is with respect to these three layers of individuality that one must understand the process of menstruation.

One of the names for Menstruation in Sanskrit is ‘Rajasraava’, which loosely means ‘flow of Raja’. Though the term ‘Raja’ here is often translated as ‘blood’, it may as well refer
to ‘Rajas Guna’. Rajas is one among the three Gunas. It denotes flow, movement, passion, energy, etc. and imparts a dynamic nature to the Individual, but at the same time it also increases a person’s bondage to the worldly cycle.

In the physical body, ‘Rajasraava’ represents the flow of menstrual blood, which contains blood, cervical mucus, vaginal secretions, and endometrial tissue that are being thrown out of the physical body. In the vital body, Rajasraava represents the flow of excess Rajasic energy, i.e. Prana Shakti (especially the Apana vayu). Blood is the carrier of Prana-shakti within the physical body. Thus, through the excretion of the blood, excess Prana Shakti, which is Rajasic in nature, is being thrown out of the body during menstruation. In the mental sheath, Rajas represents thoughts and emotions such as anger, frustration, uneasiness, irritation, mood-swings, etc. to which menstruating women are more exposed to. Therefore, menstruation is a complicated physio-psychological process that exposes a woman to the excess Rajasic condition of the physical, vital, and mental levels.

 

Must say this promises to be an enlightening read on the much tabooed topic. Buy your copy here.

 

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