Religious festivals from India that celebrate menstruation
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Religious festivals from India that celebrate menstruation

Ambubachi and Raja Parba: Worshipping the menstruating goddess

Religious festivals from India that celebrate menstruation

New Delhi: Centuries before women found it empowering to talk about menses in the presence of menfolk, much to the disapproval of their mothers and grandmothers, and televised advertisements gave women the confidence to normalise the monthly periods, several Hindu and tribal festivals celebrated the menstruation. Connected with the fertility of Mother Earth — giver of all life — two such festivals that are observed around the same time are the Ambubachi Mela in and around the Kamakhya Temple in Assam, and Raja Parba in Odisha.

It's difficult to make your way through the bustling crowds at the Kamakhya temple in Assam during Ambubachi Mela. In wake of the ongoing second wave of the COVID-19 situation in the nation, Assam's famous annual Ambubachi festival held at Kamakhya Temple has been called off. Rituals for the Ambubachi festival that is set to begin from June 22 and end on June 26 will be held, but no devotees will be allowed to enter the temple premises till June 30, said the managing authority of the temple on Monday.

This is the second year in a row that the Ambubachi Mela of the Shakti Peeth atop the Nilachal Hills has been cancelled owing to the pandemic situation of the country. In eastern India, Ambubachi Mela is one of the biggest congregations. It is the most important festival of the Kamakhya temple that is one of the 51 shakti peeths.

According to a legend, angered Shakti jumped into the fire after her father insulted her husband Shiva. Shiva performed the tandava while carrying Shakti's burning body. In order to stop Shiva 's tandava, Vishnu released his Sudharshan chakra that split Shakti's body into 51 parts. Goddess's vulva or yoni fell in the Nilanchal hills.

Ambubachi is celebrated in the month of June every year. There is no idol of the presiding deity but she is worshipped in the form of a yoni-like stone instead over which a natural spring flows.

It is more of a ritual of austerities, a festival celebrated with Shakti rites. The belief is that Kamakhya embodies the mother cult, the Shakti. During the period of Ambubachi from the seventh to the tenth day of the Hindu month of 'Asadha', the doors of the shrine are closed to all as it is believed that Goddess Kamakhya goes through the annual cycle of menstruation. On the twelfth day, the doors are opened ceremonially and a big fair is held at the temple premises on that day.

Ambubachi means spoken with water and it also implies that the rains expected during this month make the earth fertile and ready for procreation. Daily worship is suspended during this period. All agricultural work like digging, ploughing, sowing, and transplanting of crops are forbidden. Widows, Brahmacharis and Brahmins avoid cooked food during these days. On the fourth day, Ambubachi is over, household items, utensils and clothes are washed, cleaned and purified by sprinkling sacred waters, worship of Goddess Kamakhya begins after cleansing and other rituals are performed. Entry to the Shrine is considered to be auspicious after this.

The concept of Ambubachi thus has in its origin, formative influences and elements of agricultural, social and religious ideas that have contributed to the emergence of the phenomenon. It is thus symbolically supported by religious sanction.

While Ambubachi is celebrated in Assam, around this period, people of Odisha celebrate a three- day festival 'Raja Parba', which celebrates the onset of monsoons and earth's womanhood. According to popular belief as women menstruate, which is a sign of fertility, so also Mother Earth menstruates. So, all three days of the festival are considered to be the menstruating period of Mother Earth.

The festival, which started as a tribal practice, is based on the belief that Mother Earth menstruates for those three days and she is given a ceremonial bath on the fourth day. As long as the festival goes on, no agricultural activity like ploughing or sowing takes place for it is believed that Mother Earth goes through rejuvenation during these three days.

The term Raja came from the Sanskrit word 'Rajas' which means menstruation and when a woman menstruates, she is called 'Rajaswala' or a menstruating woman, and in medieval times the festival became more popular as an agricultural holiday marking the worship of Bhudevi, who is the wife of lord Jagannath.

The first day is called Pahili Raja, second day is Mithuna Sankranti, third day is Bhudaaha or Basi Raja. The final fourth day is called Basumati snana, in which the ladies bathe the grinding stone as a symbol of Bhumi with turmeric paste and adore with flower, sindoor etc. All types of seasonal fruits are offered to mother Bhumi. The day before the first day is called Sajabaja or preparatory day during which the house, kitchen including grinding stones are cleaned, spices are ground for three days. During these three days women and girls take rest from work and wear new saree, aalta, and ornaments. It is similar to Ambubachi Mela.

We are forever taking from the giving mother earth in the form of plants, oxygen, water, land, humans have been fulfilling their needs in all possible ways. During this period of the year, mother earth is allowed to rest as a sign of gratitude.

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