Menstrual Taboos during Festivals in Nepal

Kathmandu, 28 May 2022 (Online Bahas):

Menstruation is a naturally occurring physiological phenomenon in women. It is religiously considered “impure,” deeming women “untouchable”. 

There are more than 50 festivals celebrated in Nepal every year. While the national festivals have fixed dates, religious festivals are set by astrologers following the lunar calendar. There are more than 50 festivals celebrated in Nepal every year. We are now at the mouth of our biggest festival, Dashain. Dashain is the biggest and most important Hindu festival in Nepal. The festival commemorates the victory of good over evil and the nine forms of Goddess Durga. It is also known as Bijaya/Vijaya Dashami or Bada Dashain.  

Festivals bring great joy and togetherness to our loved ones. All family members get together and have fun together. The women of the house are busy with a series of chores that they must complete along with cleanliness in their homes. Women often struggle during the festive season by counting their menstrual days. There is a strong belief that women shouldn’t put tika or else it is a sin. Women are considered impure and dirty throughout their menstrual period. They are even considered untouchable and are prohibited to enter the kitchen, temple, going to the puja kotha, or participating in religious functions while on their period, not touching any plants/ crops or they are dead, and even put tika.

While growing up, most Nepali women didn’t enter places of worship during her period and the new generation is also learning the same. In many cultures, menstruating women are not allowed to bathe or wash their hair during the first three days of their period. Menstruating girls and women are excluded from fasting and praying during the festive season. Around 40 to 60% of adolescent girls dry their reusable napkins/cloths under direct sunlight outside the house, but others are still reluctant to dry them in the sun because, in Hindu society, there is a strong belief that the sun is a god, and it should not be shown to a god or else it is a sin. Likewise, they dry their reusable sanitary pads in dark places because if seen by others, boys and men might tease the girls which also leads to infection. Especially the Brahmin family practices strict menstrual rituals. But slowly but surely something seems to be

changing. Women have begun to question these practices. 

It’s not just Hindus who have menstrual rituals and taboos, some old tribal religions practice it as well. Apart from the indigenous communities of Nepal and the Sikhs, most cultures follow some form of menstrual customs. There are two adherents of thought behind the age-old practices of menstrual taboos. First, the restrictions on women during menstruation supposedly ensured they got adequate rest, time to nourish their bodies, and paid attention to their hygiene. It was meant for a woman’s overall well-being. But this doesn’t make much sense. On one hand, it's saying to make sure she’s in good health while on the other hand, the practice put her under several dietary restrictions and makes her stay in a dark place. The second, more plausible reason is that menstruation indicated a woman’s reproductive status to her family and the community. This proved helpful in monitoring women’s sexual activities and thus prevented pre-marital sex and adultery. Hence, from a sociological and anthropological viewpoint, the taboos were largely meant to contain, suppress, and dominate women. Most of the women couldn’t bring themselves to completely disregard the stereotypes as they didn’t want to go against their family’s faith and tradition, feared hurting their mother’s feelings, and, for others, habits were difficult to break. There are many restrictions on menstruating women. Although we have made so much advancement, still menstruation is considered a state of impurity and a curse of God rather than a natural process.

Women during festivals keep their menstrual cycle updated in their calendar and are compelled to use medicine to prevent or delay their menstruation. Once they get their menstruation during the festive season they are taken out from all the functions and are forced to miss everything. Discriminations against menstruating women are still widespread in Nepal where mensuration is considered taboo. In Nepal, several women face numerous restrictions imposed by their families. 

This year also, many women and girls may be refrained from putting ‘Tika’ during Dashain and Tihar. Families should acknowledge that menstruation is a natural process and a private matter. It is not a curse or a state of impurity.

Prepared by: Swikriti Parajuli