Rishi Panchami, I had always cherished this day not because of the rituals and beliefs associated with it, but because of the privilege of getting a holiday for being a woman. I had no idea about the religious importance behind every woman celebrating this festival until now. However, now I know about it, and I find it amusing to say the least.
On this day, women who have reached the menstruation age observe fast and pay homage to the Sapta Rishies (Saints)to seek forgiveness. It is believed that women observing fast on this day will be blessed and forgiven for all the sins that they had knowingly or unknowingly committed during their menstrual cycle, for example, not following the strict rules laid down by the culture for menstruating women. According to the ritual, women need to wake up early in the morning and bath for 365 times with the mixture of mud, cow dung, soil from elephant’s foot and halo ko mato (soil from the field) for compensating the sins that they’d committed knowingly or unknowingly in 365 days. I find it idiotically funny. The women also require brushing their teeth with a herbal stick, locally known as Daatyaun. Further, the devotees arrange the idols of the Sapta Rishies and perform puja as instructed by the religious pundits. They offer their heartfelt prayers to the Sapta Rishies and end their fast by properly feeding and donating the Brahmins who conduct the day’s puja. The temples are crowded with women in the similar way as in the day of Teej. I feel it’s probably a great day for the pundits to earn money.
Several questions arose in my mind when I first got introduced to these rituals. The words that hit my mind when I got to know about these new-to-me facts were‘idiotic’ and ‘conservative’. Why can’t we change our culture according to the time we live in? Why do we always fear the consequences that may result if we do not follow these damn archaic rituals? If undergoing menstruation is a sin and the women need to get purified for their deeds, then what about the other heinous and dreadful sins that happen around almost hourly? Does bathing flush all those sins outta person and make them clean again? I can only imagine what would it be if that was the case!
Suddenly, a thought struck me. What if I do all the restricted things during my menstrual days for the entire year and fast for a single day in Rishi Panchami? Will I get purified? Will my so-called sins be forgiven or not? Well, nobody has answers to these questions. And, how would anyone? Everyone has been following what their ancestors have told them to, without even knowing the reasons or sparing some time in self-analysis. I find it foolish!
Although the rituals have religious basis as well as health significance, they are extremely out-dated and need to be changed. The stories about how a woman was transferred into a bitch for not having worshipped the Gods, and the beliefs that the women who commit sins will be born as prostitutes in the next generation are all dominant patrilineal ideologies which have strongly influenced our social and cultural structures. No one knows if they’re true, but everyone tries to avoid them. These practices are badly rooted into people’s minds and are passed from one generation to another. These practices can be praised and celebrated,modified over time, or from a completely different viewpoint, it can be regarded as out-dated and misunderstood, forced upon people who are not interested to participate. These can breed sorrow, guilt, fear and pain. In many cases, such doubtful beliefs have also been responsible cause of alarming consequences, such as deaths.
When biologically and scientifically thought of, menstruation is the time of women getting purified. However, considering them as being impure during such a time and victimizing them with superfluous cultural rules are foolish acts in themselves. In addition to this, even women,who themselves claim that they are modern and educated,are the ones giving importance to rituals. It’s definitely hard to go against all these rituals because they are badly rooted in people’s mind and they fear the consequences.But until and unless women themselves change their mindset and attitude towards these cultural practices,and dare to take initiatives to change others’ beliefs, the change is too big to be possible.
Menstruation is not a taboo; it is a biological factor. Women need not get purified in a funny way, like it happens during the day of Rishi Panchami, for having undergone menstruation. We need to amend this culture. Be the change to start the change!