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What Mythology Says: How Women Got Their Periods

What Mythology Says: How Women Got Their Periods November 2, 2018

It’s time for some mystery, magic, and – you guessed it – menstruation!

Science tells us periods are the consequence of unfertilized eggs, but have you ever wondered what our ancestors believed in? During ancient times, it was realized that the monthly flow of a woman was the only time ever, along with childbirth, that humanity shed blood without being wounded. Thus, menstruation was thought to be sacred.

menstruation

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This is evident throughout history. Several traditional rituals of the Ancient Egyptians and Taoists involved consuming the blood of menstruation along with red wine to boost spiritual power. In fact, ‘ritual’ comes from the Sanskrit word ‘rtu’, which means menses. The womb’s blood that nourished an unborn child was widely believed to possess ‘mana’ or the ‘breath of life’.
Even spring festivals in Ancient Greece entailed the spreading of corn mixed with menstrual blood on the earth to increase fertility.

Gee, I wonder who volunteered.

But I digress. The word menstruation is derived from the Greek word ‘menus’, which means moon and power, and ‘men’ denotes month. In certain tribes, a woman’s bleeding was thought to be a cosmic event that connected her to the moon, lunar cycles, and the tides. During this period, a woman was considered to be at the peak of her powers, which is why she was encouraged to dedicate time listening to her inner voice, a practice that often offered wisdom and suggestions that benefited the entire tribe.

However, all of this was lost when civilization began to shift 5,000 years ago from Goddess-centric worship to a more patriarchal and militaristic society, where women began to occupy secondary roles in several ways. The ‘moontime’ was gradually distorted into a belief of ‘uncleanliness’ and, hence, women were forced to become outcasts during that time of the month. They were unable to participate in preparing food for the menfolk or attending ceremonies (let’s be honest here, the cooking break was probably a plus!) while their wisdom was disparaged and denied.

Sorry, Darwin, but evolution doesn’t always bring out the best in us.

Nevertheless, doesn’t all this history make you nostalgic? It does get one thinking – what does our culture believe in with regard to the concept of menstruation? How did a woman’s time of the month come to be? Well, let’s take a look!

A Hindu Mythological Perspective On Women’s Periods

Indian mythology possesses several tales that narrate just why women were chosen to bleed once every month. However, here’s a particularly popular one that recounts how women were cursed on account of a crime committed by Lord Indra, the King of Heaven and the Devas.

This is how the story goes. Once upon a time, the Guru Brihaspati (read: the sage who was born of the first great light, who drove the darkness away and carries a sacred bow whose string is ‘Rta’ or ‘cosmic order’) became furious with Lord Indra. Hence, taking advantage of the discord between those two, the asuras (read: demons) attacked the Devlok.

A Hindu Mythological Perspective On Women’s Periods

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Lord Indra, as usual, made a run for it the moment his kingdom was invaded and occupied. Indradev then reached out to Lord Brahma (read: The Creator) to find a way to appease Guru Brihaspati and thereby reclaim his kingdom. Brahma advised Indradev to go and serve a sage and if that sage was pleased with his service and offerings, then Indradev could finally regain his kingdom.

Indradev could finally regain his kingdom.

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Hence, following the counsel of Brahma, Indra located a sage and promptly began to serve him day and night. But, in a twist of fate, the sage’s beloved mother happened to be an asura herself! And so, the sage was immensely close to his asura relatives.

Inevitably, Indradev made this discovery. One day he found that, instead of the devas, the sage he served was distributing his offerings amongst the asuras. This made him immensely furious, and in a rage, Lord Indra killed the sage.

Indra was yet to realize that by murdering a brahmin, he had now committed an even bigger sin. Once he did, however, he panicked and sought refuge inside a flower for an entire year and fervently pray to the all-powerful Vishnu.

fervently pray to the all-powerful Vishnu.

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Lord Vishnu finally heard his prayers and decided that Indradev could be saved. The burden of his crime, however, would need to be divided among the earth, water, trees, and women. Vishnu elected to curse all those entities at the same time but also grant them a boon in return:

  • 1/4th of the curse was burdened upon the earth, and in return, it was bestowed with the power to heal.
  • 1/4th of the curse was burdened upon water, but in return, it was blessed with the power to purify all living organisms in the world. Which is why ‘jal’ or water is considered pure in Hinduism and used to perform rituals.
  • 1/4th of the curse was burdened upon the trees, but in return, they were bestowed with the power to regrow and regain their lives on their own will.
  • The last portion of the curse was burdened upon the women in the form of menstruation. However, in return, Lord Vishnu blessed womankind with the power to bear a new life inside of them and become superior to the menfolk.

Isn’t that just fascinating? What’s your take on menstruation in mythology? Do let us know in the comments section below!

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Profile photo of Emaan Shah
Profile photo of Emaan Shah

Emaan is a voracious and rather indiscriminate reader. She is also a writer, history buff, insomniac, amateur doodle artist, terrible poet and a self-professed philosopher (but only after 3 am). Currently, she is pursuing a degree in medicine.

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