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Hindu View of Menstruation- I


Menstruation as Austerity and

puri cation
Second part of the series to present the Hindu view on menstruation.
Nithin Sridhar(http://indiafacts.org/author/nithinsridhar/) @nkgrock(https://twitter.com/nkgrock)
Indology(http://indiafacts.org/category/indology/) | 30-06-2016

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I
n the previous article(http://indiafacts.org/hindu-view-menstruation-ii-menstruation-ashaucha/), an examination i
(impurity) associated with Menstruation was undertaken and it was shown how the heightened state of
woman enters, makes her unsuitable to perform certain religious and mundane actions during that peri

In this article, let us take up another facet of how Hinduism views Menstruation: as a period of austerity an

Menstruation as a period of austerity


One of the notions that is deeply associated with menstruation in the Hindu scriptures, but is often missed in
of menstruation as a process of austerity (Tapas) and self-puri cation. This notion is very important, because
would most likely end up with a distorted view regarding the Hindu conception of menstruation.

But, rst, let us examine the Hindu notion of Tapas. Hindu tradition recognizes that some kind of Tapas is ne
or secular- in life. In the simplest terms, Tapas refers to austerity or hardship. Without facing hardships, with
work is accomplished. Recognizing this, the Hindu scriptures have charted out how one can use this Tapas to
spiritual emancipation.

At a deeper level, Tapas is de ned as restrainment of the body, mind, and the senses. And all austere p
have been laid out with an aim to achieve this restrainment. The stress on sense-restrainment has been place
through such a restrainment of the physical actions and the mental thoughts, would a person be able to attai
and free oneself from the internal impurities like lust, anger, etc.

Thus, the scriptures declare that through Tapas, one destroys ones impurities (of the body and mind) [1] and
importance of austerity in the Hindu tradition could be gauged by the fact that, just like Shaucha, Tapas is als
Yoga [2]; among the basic Samanya Dharma; and is considered vital for practicing Vedanta [3].

Various Hindu rituals and practices have been designed with the purpose to act as austerity to help one attain
puri cation. Beginning with Samskaras like Garbadhana (ceremony marking the intention to give birth to a c
daily ritual performances like that of Sandhyopasana, and various kinds of vratas (vows of austerity, usually fa
their different rules and regulations that are performed periodically, are all aimed to act as Tapas or Austere
individuals to purify themselves and become free from Adharmic (unrighteous) actions that they may have co
mind, and speech- intentionally or unintentionally.

In other words, tapas not only aims to help an individual to become free from some of the Adharmas
also helps him/her to become detached and gain control over his/her senses and thus helps in preven
more Adharma in future. Hence, Austerity and self-puri cation play a very vital role in aiding an individual
ultimate Moksha.

It is this notion of austerity and the resulting self-puri cation that the Hindu scriptures closely associate with
experienced by women and thus, it makes menstruation a very bene cial process, which is available only to w
honors the process of menstruation as being a form of Sadhana (spiritual effort).

Yajurveda Taittiriya Samhita (Verse 2.5.1) indirectly suggests that the menstruating woman should not com
cut her nails. Further, she should not have any conjugal relationship with her husband during the menstrual p
Dharmasutras (5.6) goes further and explicitly states that during monthly periods, women should not apply
her body, should sleep on the ground, should not sleep in day-time, should not eat meat, should not look at p

These regulations and restrictions that have been suggested for menstruating women make it clear th
menstruation should be considered as a period of austerity. For example, take the restriction on the anoi
Women have a special inclination to look beautiful and they use various means to enhance their physical bea
body, using ornaments, applying collyrium to the eyes, etc. Since, they have a special inclination towards the
an attachment to these activities and to their physical body. Thus, adopting this restriction on anointing the
to restrain her senses from performing those actions and as a result, she will develop a better control over her
sleep on some kind of bed because it is comfortable and many often tend to sleep during day time as well. The
on material comforts and the latter denotes laziness and an inability to overcome sleep. Adopting the restrict
periods results in women results in them becoming less attached to material comforts and less addicted to sle
meat, etc. is aimed to make a woman free from dependency on food and restriction on intercourse, of course,
Brahmacharya, which is one of the most important aspect of any Tapas and which helps one to overcome lust
pleasures.

Thus, menstruation provides a unique opportunity for women to practice austerity and attain self-pu
detachment and better control over the mind and the senses. Moreover, as we shall see next, it is not jus
during menstruation that are bene cial for women. Instead, the menstrual process itself acts as a kind of aus
nature and which frees women from Adharma.

Menstruation as a self-purifying proces


Hindu scriptures do not stop at suggesting that the period of menses should be treated as a period of austerit
observe some austere practices during that period. It goes a step further and recognizes the process of me
process of austerity and self-puri cation. One of the reasons behind segregation of menstruating women i
being a Tapas in itself, because any Tapas, be it performed by men or women, is best practiced when practiced

Shaucha or Puri cation as we saw in the section on Ashaucha, is not only related to the physical body, but als
And menstruation removes impurity associated with each of the three layers of Individuality. Thus, it puri es
the menstrual uid that contains blood, cervical mucus, vaginal secretions, and endometrial tissue, etc.; it pu
excess Apana vayu; and it puri es the mind by removing mental impurities. Thus, menstruation, though as
also a self-purifying process.

Among all its self-purifying functions, the puri cation with respect to the mind is most signi cant. Mind is th
action and hence is intimately connected with Karma. The Hindu scriptures divide Karma into Dharma and A
righteous or not, it is ones duty or not, and it is bene cial to the performer as well as the world or not. All the
righteous, bene cial, and upholds the individual and the world are Dharma and the opposite Adharma.
and practice of Adharma is impurity and puri cation is a process by which one becomes free from the
through the performance of Tapas or austerity.

To properly understand puri cation with respect to Adharma, one must rst understand Adharma. According
Adharma is of three kinds- those committed through body, through speech, and through mind. Adharma thro
what has not been given, injuring (others) without the sanction of the scriptures, and holding intercourse wit
through speech consists of- Abusing others and speaking harshly; speaking untruth; gossiping and backbiting
context; and Adharma of mind consists of- desiring for the property and belongings of others; thinking in one
(i.e. thinking about committing unrighteous actions that may cause harm to oneself and others); and adheren
doctrines. Therefore, a person commits Adharma not only through his body, but also through his mind and sp
Adharma will also involve puri cation of Adharma committed through body, mind, and speech.

This notion of menstruation as a self-purifying process that frees one from papa (sin) incurred from A
traced back to the Vedas. Yajurveda Taittiriya Samhita (2.5.1) narrates a story about how Indra killed Vishva
Devas, and incurred the sin (Paapa) [5] of Brahmahatya- the slaying of a Brahmana [6]. Indra was able to free
Adharma, only when the earth, the trees, and the women agreed to take one-third of the Brahmahatya papa.
to menstruate once every 28-30 days. In return, Indra gave women the boon that they will be able to give birt
What is the symbolism of this story?

This story symbolically represents the entire gamut of Hindu notions of menstruation, especially the notion o
process. On the one hand, it relates menstruation to one-third sin (paapa) of Brahmahatya and on the other h
children. Thus, the entire story must be understood with respect to the biological process of menstruation an

It is well-known that the menstrual discharge not only contains blood, but also the unfertilized egg. In other
represents a failure of conception, a failure to give birth. In the Hindu tradition, giving birth to children is no
duty of the householder [7], it is also considered as a very Dharmic action. It is so because, by giving birth, a c
soul (Jivaatma) to enter the physical universe and continue its Karmic journey [8]. On the other hand, one com
prevents the birth of a Jivaatma, intentionally or unintentionally. This is so because, in many ways preven
birth is similar to murdering a person: in both cases a Jivaatma is being robbed of his opportunity to

If it were to be asked, how a person prevents a Jivatma from taking the birth, the answer would be: a) by abort
the egg. The former is called as Brunahatya- killing of embryo, and as the name denotes it is counted as mur
it among the most heinous paapam[9] and equates it to Brahmahatya [10]. Similarly, even unfertilization of th
failure of birth and hence is associated with Adharma. The only difference between abortion and unfertilizati
Adharma. The magnitude is severe in the former, because it is an embryo, which is in the process of developin
whereas in the latter, only the egg, which was formed for the purpose of mating with the semen, became wast
Indras story about women incurring one-third paapa of Brahmahatya must be understood. The one-third of
incurred due to the failure of the egg to fertilize and become t to host a Jivaatma into the physical u

The story does not end with women taking upon themselves one-third paapa from Indra. It further says that a
this one-third paapa of Brahmahatya, they had to menstruate once every month and after menstruation they
other words, menstruation acted as a puri cation process, which helped women get rid of the paapa they had
clear indication in the Vedas itself about menstruation being a self-purifying process and among othe
the paapam incurred due to unfertilization of their egg.

This notion is further elaborated in the Smritis and the Dharmasutras. Angirasa Smriti (Verse 42) explicitly s
puri ed due to menstruation. Manu Smriti (5.108) similarly states that women whose thoughts have become
menstruation. Vashishta Dharmasutra (28.2-3) elaborates this further and states: A wife, (though) tainted b
quarrelsome, or have left the house, or have suffered criminal force, or have fallen into the hands of thieves, must n
not prescribed (by the sacred law). Let him wait for the time of her courses; by her temporary uncleanness she beco

Thus, when it is said that menstruation puri es women, it refers to the freeing of women from a large range o
through body, mind, and speech. It also refers to freeing of women from feelings of guilt and dishonor associa
like rape, sexual assault, etc. But, this does not mean that women have been given a free pass from karmic con
commit any Adharma. In fact, Vashishta Dharmasutra (28.7) clari es that Adharmic actions like killing of hus
embryo will result in a woman losing her Varna. That is, in those cases, menstruation is not enough to free th
Therefore, menstruation is not a free pass that makes women free from any Adharmic activity, howsoever sev
purifying ability is limited to a large variety of Adharmas committed through body, mind, and speech, on a da
unintentionally or under unavoidable circumstances, and does not include intentional Adharmas of serious m
purposes, without care for its consequences. But, despite of this limitation, menstruation is extremely useful
privilege available exclusively for women.

Men do not undergo menstruation and hence they do not have access to this self-purifying process. Instead, t
rules and ritual practices, based on Varna (inherent quality) and Ashrama (station) in life. Activities like Sams
Sandhopasana, etc. have all been prescribed for men to attain purity and become free from Adharmic actions
any of these spiritual activities to attain purity. They become pure simply by undergoing menstruation.
comes as part of a natural process to women. This unique aspect of menstruation and the privilege it provid
repeatedly stressed in the Hindu scriptures.

Baudhayana Dharmasutra (2.2.4.4), for example, says: Women (possess) an unrivalled means of puri catio
impure. For month by month their temporary uncleanness removes their sins. The same is repeated in
which further elaborates on this and says that women are in the custody of Soma, Gandharva, and Agni who g
melodious voice, and purity of all limbs, respectively, and hence women are free from stains and cannot be co
that Soma is one of the names of the Moon and moon is intimately connected to the monthly menstrual cycle
associated with the mind and is considered as a witness and a puri er of all our actions performed at all level
with the speech in the verses itself. Thus, Soma, Agni, and Gandharva are the presiding deities of the actions
physical, verbal, and mental levels. And through these deities, the process of menstruation imparts purity in
women. It is important to note that the verses stress that through these three deities, who are associated with
puri cation process of menstruation, women become free from stains, and are not contaminated.

In a similar verse found in Yajnavakya Smriti (1.71), where women are said to be all pure. Vashishta Dhar
further and states: Pure is the mouth of a goat and of a horse, pure is the back of a cow, pure are the feet of a Br
(limbs). Chandamaharoshana-tantra(https://swordand ute.wordpress.com/2013/07/19/three-days-of-impurity-me
[13] goes even further and declares: A man should regard every substance discharged from a womans body as p
it and ingest it if requested to do so. In other words, menstruation, though it makes women associated w
does not make them impure. Instead, it facilitates women to remain ever pure (subject to condition tha
intentional Adharma).

Thus, Hindu scriptures put forward a clear notion about how menstruation is a privilege that facilitat
their body, mind, and speech. But, it is important to note that as with any Tapas or austerity, even menstru
restrictions that practitioners must follow to the best of their ability and without this, one will not get the com

In other words, though menstruation has a capacity to grant purity and free women from demerits, without a
and purifying nature of menstruation and an adherence to menstruation practices suggested by scriptures, th
process to purify women and make them free from impurities at all levels would be compromised, and such w
partial bene ts from the whole process.

In the next part(http://indiafacts.org/hindu-view-menstruation-iii-menstruation-period-rest-sacred-celebration/) we will loo


a period of rest and sacred celebration.

Footnotes:
1. Yoga Sutras of Patanjanli 2.43

2. Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali 2.32

3. Vivekachoodamani (Verse 22-23) speaks about control of mind and the senses.
4. The verse actually asks the husband to not have intercourse with a menstruating woman and lists various unsavory
an intercourse is carried out with a menstruating woman who combs her hairs, anoints her eyes, etc. In other words
away from activities like anointing eyes etc. is indirectly being suggested.

5. Here the sin is being used to refer to the Hindu concept of Paapa that one incurs by performing Adharma. Punya
unpleasant Karmic results one get by performing Dharma (righteous) and Adharma (unrighteous) activities. This sh
Abrahamic concept of original sin.

6. A Brahmana is one who has the following qualities: peacefulness, control of mind and senses, austerity, cleanliness
straightforwardness, devotion to God, mercy, and truthfulness (Bhagavata Purana 11.17.16). Manu Smriti says a Bra
everyone. In other words, a Brahmana is one who will harm no one and hence, slaying of such a Brahmana is consid

7. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (1.5. 16-17) says that it is the duty of the householders to strive to attain all the three w
forefathers, and of gods. It further says that one can attain the world of men only by having offsprings.

8. Garbha Upanishad Verse 3

9. Chandasekhar in his book Abortion in a Crowded World writes(http://www.angel re.com/mo/baha/hinduism.html): As for in


from the Vedic age down to the Smritis (100 B.C. to 100 A.D.) called it bhrunahatya (foetus murder) or farbhahatya
condemnedit as a serious sin. According to Vishnu Smriti (c. 100 B.C. to 100 A.D.), The destruction of an embryo is
learned person.'[http://www.angel re.com/mo/baha/hinduism.html]

10. Yajurveda Taittiriya Samhita 6.5.10

11. Vashishta Dharmasutra (28.5-6)

12. The association of menstruation cycle with the moon have been recognized by different cultures across the world. E
studies(http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3716780) have found that they both share a relation. [http://www.ncbi.nlm.n

13. Though a Buddhist text, it may well serve to point towards Hindu view as well, since Buddhist and Hindu Tantras ar

Image credit: Bailiwickexpress.com

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of th
not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity
article.

Nithin Sridhar(http://indiafacts.org/author/nithinsridhar/)
With a degree in civil engineering, and having worked in construction eld
passionately writes about various issues from development, politics, and s
spirituality and ecology. He is based in Mysore, India. Tweets at @nkgrock

(https://www.facebook.com/nithin.sridhar.54) (nkgrock)

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hatyAshouldbesospelt.Inpart1too,suchtransliterationerrorssurfacedatoneortwopla
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Wonderful.Still'chutneymarys'willcryloud.Hindusbecomesointolerantforthemjustfor
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Whoa!IfeelsobadformysisterandotherHinduwomen.Whenyouareinoneofyourtap
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