Menstruation and Hinduism

On November 24th 2015, the internet was sensationalized by the story of a Hindu hilltop temple, Sabarimala, in Kerala, India, whose president announced that women may be allowed entrance if a machine could be used confirming that they were not menstruating.

The temple’s president stood firm on the management committee’s decision to bar entry to women of child-bearing age on the grounds that their bleeding would defile the temple’s purity.

The president cited the new-age decision as an old-age tenet of religious practice. In fact he was spouting an ancient misinterpretation of an equally ancient quote, which, when read in its entirety also states that, ‘you need visible horns on your head to be called dumb…’

My response:

In 1650, a mercantile body engaged the Rajahs, lawyers and businessmen of the time to construct a common working language for the banking and mercantile class across the countries of north India, countries that are now called states. The states that make up Pakistan, the states of current north India, including Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim and Myanmar (then known as greater India) and down to the emptiness of the Deccan plateau were all once countries of the old India. The new business confederacy, with its standardized legal currency, and its shared business language, legal framework and ethos, was given the name ‘Hindu’. The Hindu template extended beyond the parameters of the mercantile to construct a specifically Hindu religious template as a sign of modernity. It took another one hundred years for this concept to formally take root. By the time the Europeans arrived, the term Hindu was entrenched, but it only gained legal recognition under the British occupation, and even then only as a term of segregation and division.

‘Hindu’ was from the outset, then, never a dharma, a religion or a rite-ritual entity.

It was an economic, later socio-cultural construct. Nehru confirmed this – in books, in English – when he wrote that Hinduism only took root in the 1750s, originally as a function of commercial, business and banking ease and integration across the old India countries. (Gandhi, too, held the same view in private, though he would not declare this openly, and neither ‘Hindu’, regardless of their education and knowledge, refused to de-list Hinduism as a religion or dharma.)

Hinduism was a framework employing codes and regulations to bind commercial players and transactions to principles and practices of fair play and trust without third-party oversight. This drew upon a belief in adhering to one’s personal and ancient genetic dharma, which was sacrosanct and could not be soiled or betrayed. So what the new common Hindu practice conferred on the world of business and commercial activity was a code of conduct that each side would act according to their prescribed dharma and on a basis of mutual trust.

Alongside this, a formal ritual business practice was also established. This brought together diverse and highly valued rituals under the rubric of a shared Hindu-business prayer ritual, which was overseen by an officiating Pandit, whose remit was to be more cosmopolitan than exacting. The Pandit knew the parties involved were lacklustre parishioners of their own dharma, the hypocrisy and expedience of the business world requiring that they cross lines which strict adherence to their personal dharma would not in fact allow them to transgress.

So much for age-old Hindu edicts.

Now let me revert to the temple and its discrimination against women…

Background:

In C.E.900, Adi Shankaracharya defeated a man in a formal debate. The man’s wife challenged him to a debate about the act of man-woman love-making. Adi Shankaracharya, a Sannyasi – somebody who has never had a sexual relationship nor been moved to masturbate – accepted. Now, as an old soul (not to be confused with atman), the Sannyasi ought to have been able to draw on the databank of previous emotionscapes and physiologicalscapes in order to participate in the debate. He did not. Instead, he pulled what in the hierarchy of divinity is considered a dirty trick. He caused the death of the husband.

As the body was being carried for cremation the husband regained life. The husband and wife enjoyed sexual union numerous times. Then the husband died again. This time, as his body was being carried for cremation, on the horizon appeared Sannyasi Adi Shankaracharya. After due passage of time, he took up the debate with the now widowed woman. The widow accused him of having defiled his own body, so informatively did he speak about love-making. The Sannyasi announced that he had in fact used the body of her now cremated husband, the first time he had passed away, to gain experience of love-making.

The widow, who had believed that she was making love to her husband when he came back to life, was shocked at the revelation that his body had been appropriated by another. She felt herself to have violated her marriage vows, and she duly conceded the debate to Adi Shankaracharya.

At the august indication of Adi Shankaracharya, victorious in debate against a woman, India was subsequently united under the leadership of men. The Mohammedan invasion and iron-fist belief in, and implementation of, female subservience to man therefore found its corollary in the Indian practice of men-only rulers…a practice with no religious or dharmic grounding, but arrived at by one wily old Sannyasi and ever since contrived to be emblematic of ‘Hinduism’ – the same Hinduism later constructed as an integrative mechanism and framework of business practice.

And it is in the Mohammedans’ rules and dictates, governed by Semitic concepts, that the notion of ‘unclean’ menstruating woman emerged and was practiced by those anxious to not fall foul of their Mohammedan Rajahs.

A troublesome problem: men dictate terms of conduct to women, the very women without whom – from the Pandit to the Lounge Lizard – man could not be born, let alone survive or find sexual and emotional comfort. Nevertheless, these women are used as whipping boys by men suffering from the inferiority complex derived from knowing that they owe everything to women…

…oh, what joy it must be to be a confused Hindu man.

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