I pray, do you?

I spent the
first five years of my childhood in Thanjavur,
the land of temples. My day would begin with the sound of the temple bells and
Suprabhatam. My maternal grandparents took me to the temple every morning. I
still remember how everyone in the temple would pray with his or her eyes
closed and how they would apply vibhooti (sacred ash) generously
on their forehead. I wondered what they prayed. When Appa brought me to Mumbai,
I missed Thanjavur and the temples. I
also missed the yummy prasadam which
was mainly sweet or spicy pongal. However,
there was one thing, which was the same, MS Subulakshmi’s Suprabhatam.

Growing up in
a traditional Palakkad Iyer family, I
learnt all the stotrams (hymns) at a very young age. I learnt that we
were not supposed to cut nails on specific days of the week and on certain
days; we were not supposed to use onions and garlic while cooking. We would
offer our prayers to a specific deity, every single day. On Monday, it was Lord
Shiva, Tuesday Lord Ganesha, Wednesday Lord Kartikeya, Thursday Lord Vishnu,
Friday Goddess Lakshmi, Saturday Lord Hanuman, and Sunday all of them. I
accompanied Appa to temple almost
every weekend, until one day, when he said that I should not take the name of
God, as I was impure. I had never
questioned any of the customs, but that day I had to question.

I remember
asking my Aunt, “Why should I not pray today?” to which she replied, “You are
menstruating and when a girl menstruates, she should not touch God, offer
prayers, or even enter the kitchen and puja (sacred room for prayer)
room”.

I was
speechless.  I had heard about the
untouchables and for a moment, I felt I too was an untouchable. They made me
sit in a corner and gave a separate pillow, sleeping mat, and bed sheet. They
gave me separate plates and glasses to eat for five days. I was new to all this
and I never understood why they did this to me. I was angry with everyone. I
cried that whole night, lying alone on the sleeping mat, with thousand questions
revolving in my mind. Next day unconsciously I entered the kitchen and started
praying. It was a part of me now for last 10 years, how could I go away with this.

“I told you
not to enter the kitchen and touch the puja
items, then why did you enter?” Appa yelled.
Link
 
I quietly left
the room and sat in the corner which was now my sanctuary. I was not allowed to
touch anyone for those five days. I wondered what had happened to me and why I
was treated like this. The next day I asked few friends in school about this.
They too said that menstruating girls were impure and were not allowed to touch
God and visit temples. They also told me that if we touch anyone then they had
to take bath again. I was agitated, but what could I do. I was helpless. I accepted all
this as a normal custom and continued to follow it, though I was never
comfortable.

I knew many families
followed this tradition, but I never understood why. Does menstruating make a
woman impure? It is a normal biological process, which keeps a woman healthy
and helps her to procreate, as simple as that. Some of my friends and relatives
said that, God would punish me, if I visited temples. I do not know if he will,
but my beliefs have changed, now. I pray during those days of the month and I visit
temples too. I feel calmer when I pray and meditate on those days. I use onion and garlic on all days and cut my nails as per my convenience. I do believe in the Almighty, but I no longer follow customs and traditions blindly.
As we mature,
our logical mind questions many beliefs, which were instilled in us as a child,
and maybe with time, we replace some of the limiting beliefs by new empowering
ones. Have your opinions changed with time and age? If yes, do share them with
me here, I am eager to read them now.
 

PS: This post is written for the Project 365 program at We Post Daily aimed at posting at least once
a day, based on the prompts provided. The Open-prompt for today was ‘Think
of a topic/issue about which you’ve switched your opinion. Why?

33 thoughts on “I pray, do you?

  1. You should and everyone should 🙂
    I don't understand the logic behind this myth. It is a natural thing and no girl should shy away from any damn thing just because of it be it visiting a temple and praying.

    Good post 🙂

  2. Applaud! I grew up in a nuclear family so I was lucky, my mom never put any restriction on me! But I used to hear a lot of similar stories. And frankly I don't even appreciate the puberty function that exists in some places of Tamil Nadu! To be decked up and paraded before all when you are bleeding, may not be a pleasant experience. I would have hated it! Honestly when my first period came I was scared that something abnormal has happened to me! I was clumsy and couldn't manage at all!

  3. The people who follow such absurd beliefs and threaten in the name of god, the one thing they are not according to me is religious. If there is one thing they lack it is genuine faith, how can you have it when you differentiate so much for what is just a natural biological process without which the cycle of life will NOT move on?
    It is extremely tough to make most who hail from traditional and orthodox backgrounds to look above all this but at least we can bring about the change with our generation.
    Btw I completely agree with Rajrupa. the Aarti done when a girl reaches puberty is something I have never been able to digest.. and guess what, so called 'educated' people from our own generation do it too!

    1. That is irony Seeta, the 'educated' people following all this. and they all do it in the name of God, the creator who gave us all the natural process. I am glad that we women are standing up against this.

  4. Gayatri, since I come from the same background (Palakkad orthodox conservative Nair family) I can very well understand your angst. The bath in the pond along with the mat, clothes and utensils that I used (or of people who touched me by mistake) even while I didn't know swimming is still a scary experience as fresh in my mind. I was told by grandma that girls who enter the Pambu Kaavu (Snake temple) within the compound of the house will not bear children. Later in my life when I had problems conceiving (which was due to a gynaecological disorder) I honestly believed that it was because I had once thrown a stone into that fence while menstruating. I was just 11 years old then.

    I'm glad that my daughters will not have to go through all of that.

    1. Your post brought back so many memories Rekha and I can understand what you must have gone through dear. Hugs! I too am glad that my daughter will not face it 🙂

  5. Women have been discriminated against by all religions. It is the woman who is responsible for the 'impure thoughts' that a man has, we are told. Despite the process being integral to childbirth, menstruation is treated like a dirty word – a word we are not to utter in public. There is an interesting take on this whole 'impurity' concept though. I am told this was done so that women, who worked tirelessly day after day, would get some rest (since they are not allowed in the kitchen). A point to ponder, but
    banning them from any religious event is truly deplorable.

    1. Yes olden days, there used to be so much work and women needed rest. Also there was no proper sanitation. But these days they follow all this blindly and take the name of God. That is what I disapprove of the most

  6. What scares me is this sort of thing happened in an urban family of educated people in the 21st century (or maybe at the fag end of the 20th century).
    I know of an educated woman in her early 30s who enthusiastically follows the menstrual taboo even today. Unfortunately, I do not know her well enough to discuss the subject with her.

    1. It does happen even today Proactive Indian. I too follow some customs just to be a 'good bahu' (I am guilty) After a point we have t stand up for what we belive.

  7. Gayatri, I fully understand your anger and the reluctance to cow down to the norms of the society.
    We do not have such strict restrictions .But what shook me was when a neighbour from another caste commented that your caste is not so 'shuddh'(clean) as you do not segregate the girls during 'those' days. My mother just nodded , not wanting to get into an argument. But I was angry with her point of view.

  8. I fail to understand how we don't question such orthodox and blind faith. Glad that you came with this honest post in the realm of patriarchal society. My mom also believes in orthodox views like if we don't perform prayers, calamity will strike.
    I nay come with a post on blind faith.

  9. I vaguely remember my grand-mother and mother telling me how menstruating girls/women should refrain from praying. However, my mom passed this information to me, more as a news than a rule. It was as if, she wanted me to make my own choice. I was never forced to do or to refrain from anything during 'those 5 days'!

    I understood, it was on me to decide whether I want to break the meaningless norms or to stand by it. At that tender age, when puberty had just struck, I tired to find answers. I looked at the deities of Goddess Laxmi, Saraswati and Durga and said to myself- 'they are females too! Why would they want such discrimination!!'

    I started to pray during my cycles. Still not very sure whether I was right in my doing or not. Month 1 – I prayed. Month 2 – I prayed. Month 3 – I prayed… and I soon realized that God was actually not getting annoyed with me for visiting temples or doing puja during 'those days'. The Almighty was not punishing me for anything. He was by my side just as always.

    I knew I had broken a norm that many would not appreciate but at the same time, I knew that I was menstruating because that is what God wanted for me and He could not hate me for something that was happening according to his will.

    I continue to offer my prayers to my Lord irrespective of anything. Though, I might not sound very confident when I tell this to the elderly but I am sure to narrate this to the generations to come. Young girls need to be told that the only thing they should fear is the consequences of their ill-doing and menstruating is definitely NOT one of those.

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