Time and again, I have wondered, and perhaps like every woman, that why do half the population on this planet bleeds every month and the rest don’t and I think that I might have found the answer to this dilemma in Hinduism. It not only answers that why women have periods but also why are they considered unclean, cursed and fit to seclusion for those painful days.
Indra’s sin and women’s curse
Indra, the King of Gods, has always been a trouble maker. He is the god of wars, storms and the heavens. The reason Indra, according to Hindu mythology, has always won the wars is because of his guru Vishvarupa. Vishvarupa was born of Tvastar¹ and a mother who was related to the demons. Indra soon realised that the strength of the demons matched that of the gods and was uneasy about it. He discovered that Vishvarupa chanted the same mantra for the demons that he chanted for the gods. Furious, Indra beheaded Visharupa leaving his father bitter and angry.
The mournful Tvastar created a demon called, Vritra, a dragon, who stole all the water sources of the earth spreading a drought then he challenged Indra. But in a congregation of gods and sages along with Indra, it was decided that Indra would surrender any plans of attacking Vritra. He would kill him during the day or the night nor with any weapon made of wood, stone or metal.
Indra agreed and left to kill Vritra in the time between day and night with a weapon made of neither wood or metal but a thunderbolt plucked from the clouds. With one blow on his neck, he killed him.
Killing a brahman² demon had its consequences. Indra was cursed for killing a brahman demon and sent into exile for 100,000 years where he transformed into a flower to protect himself and prayed to Lord Vishnu³. Vishnu appeared and advised him to diffuse the effect of the curse by dispensing it among the devout creatures of the Vedas which were- Earth, ocean, trees and women.
Treatment with menstruating women according to “The Laws of Manu”
Women are stained by the blood of Vritra, which makes them cursed and unclean. Words in Sanskrit and the languages born of it have genders. The word hatya (murder) is female, making the word brahamhatya or murder of a brahman, feminine.
According to Manu a husband’s conduct towards his wife during periods should be- “He should not eat with his wife, nor watch her when she eats, sneezes, yawns, or sits down to relax.” [4:43]
Reason being, “By shunning her when she is awash in menstrual blood, he increases his wisdom, brilliant energy, strength, eyesight and long life.” [4:42]
21st century might have brought many types of advancement around the world but in India, believe it or not, women still have to live in separate rooms, eat alone and in some extreme cases are also devoid of their education. The traditions of Hinduism have travelled from the Vedic times till now and are still a part of our lives. As I always say “Hinduism is not a religion. It is a lifestyle.” And it needs reform.
- Tvastar is a Hindu artisan god who grants form to all beings.
- Brahman is the first and the highest of the four castes in Hinduism. It is the priestly caste that wrote all the Vedas and conducts all the Vedic rituals to this day.
- Lord Vishnu, according to Hinduism, is the protector of the universe.