This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Devyani Rabindranath. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Menstrual Festivals: Yet Another Means To Celebrate Systemic Patriarchy?

More from Devyani Rabindranath

This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

A girl’s first period has a significant impact on her life. It is considered a sign of maturity, a sign that she is now a woman. While there is still much stigma and shame associated with menstruation in India, there are several Hindu rituals that mark this significant event of a pubescent girl’s life.

Commonly seen in the South and North East, rituals and festivities mark the onset of a young girl’s menarche. Celebrations, feasts and gifts are all part of welcoming her into womanhood, but behind all the joy and festivity lie horror stories of shame, isolation and social distancing.

With the rituals evolving from a time when child marriage was still an enormous part of Indian culture, most of these festivals were a visible sign that the young girl is now of marriageable age. The celebrations also project a hetero-normative, patriarchal view of womanhood, where a woman’s attainment of puberty is celebrated because she is now ready to marry a man and bear his children. Many feminists and women today shun the practices involved, and most of the rituals have been abandoned in urban cities, but the celebrations persist in rural towns and villages.

Tuloni Biya

Photo by Mayurimdas

Celebrated during the onset of a young girl’s menarche, ‘Tulonia Biya‘ (translates to ‘Small Wedding’) is an Assamese tradition similar to a typical wedding ceremony. Girls are commonly restricted from all sorts of activity and are confined to a room by themselves. I spoke to one of my friends from Assam, who did not have to take part in the ritual herself but knew of others who did and she said, “It’s exactly like an Assamese wedding except, here, the girl is married to a Banana Plant instead of a man!“.

The menstruating girl is kept in isolation for seven days, and looking at the sun, moon and stars are all considered bad omens. She is not supposed to be in contact with any men and should touch no one during this period. After the seclusion, the girl is dressed up, and takes part in a series of rituals leading up to her marriage to the banana plant. Relatives come over and participate in the ceremony, and the young girl is lavished with gifts.

Ritu Kala Samskara (Ritushuddhi)

Commonly referred to as the ‘Half Sari Function’, Ritu Kala Samskara is a common South Indian function celebrated during the young girls’ first period. It is celebrated mainly in Tamil Nadu where it is called ‘Manjal Neerattu Vizha‘ and Karnataka where it is referred to as ‘Ashirvada‘.

Harshita, who hails from Bangalore, spoke to me about her personal experience with the function. “The girl is supposed to become a goddess on the fifth day, after her period ends, but is almost untouchable until then. I had to sleep on the floor in a separate room by myself and was asked not to touch anything, not even the curtains because it would have to be washed afterwards!

During the menstrual period, the girl is expected to not step into the kitchen. She has to perform a special puja every morning and stay away from everybody else in the family, especially men. At the end of the five days, she is decked up in jewellery and wears a sari for the first time in her life. “A special puja happens where you have to sit next to a doll. It is supposed to imply the end of childhood and onset of puberty,” Harshita adds. The festival ends with a large feast where is the girl is given gifts and has to bless all the food in the house before the entire family eats.

Ambubachi Mela

Ambubachi Mela

Rooted in Hindu mythology, the Ambubachi Mela is an annual festival celebrated at the Kamakhya temple in Guwahati. It is believed that Goddess Shakti’s womb once fell to the ground where the temple was built. While the Mela does not celebrate menarche, the rituals and customs surrounding the festival closely resemble those of the other menstrual celebrations.

Every June, the temple remains closed for three days when the goddess is believed to be menstruating. On the fourth day of the Mela, the temple doors open and devotees receive a red cloth which is supposedly soaked in the goddess’ menstrual blood. Both men and women gather in hordes for this festival, and women are celebrated for their bodies.

While celebrating menarche is a beautiful thing, we must consider the impact that social exclusion has on adolescent girls who have just attained puberty. Especially in cultures where things like menstruation are rarely talked about, festivals like the ones mentioned above may confuse and scare young girls if they do not know of it beforehand.

We must try to avoid practices of social exclusion and arbitrary rules like not stepping into the kitchen. Focusing on the joyous celebration and family gatherings will lead young girls to believe that menstruation is something to be celebrated, not to be ashamed of. Even during the menstrual period of the goddess during Ambubachi festival, devotees believe that mother earth is unclean and do not engage in cooking or puja. When the goddess herself becomes unclean when she is menstruating, how could a young child be considered any different? There is a need to change this mindset.

Performing arbitrary rituals and customs are expensive as they involve preparing elaborate feasts, erecting pandals and decorating the household. Low-income households are forced to borrow money to conduct the ceremony. Those belonging to the Dalit caste are impacted the most by the expenditure as they have very little income and cannot borrow from the upper caste Hindus but are forced to conduct the celebrations to keep up with social customs. In such cases, the family regards the girl child as a burden and a liability.

All the women I spoke to recounted their experiences as embarrassing and confusing. Some were glad they never had to take part in anything of the sort. When something that is supposed to be positive carries several negative connotations, it becomes difficult for young girls to view themselves and their bodies positively.

While it is important to keep traditions alive, it is also essential to ensure that we adapt these traditions to keep up with the times. Restricting women during their periods only serve to promote the innate sexism and patriarchy these traditions were built on. It’s about time we use such traditions to elevate women and encourage menstrual health and positivity.

The author is a part of the current batch of the #PeriodParGyan Writer’s Training Program

You must be to comment.

More from Devyani Rabindranath

Similar Posts

By Imran Khan

By Wasiq Agha

By Mouna Mukherjee

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below