Can I do puja during menstruation? Can I meditate
while having my periods? Many women in India are faced with this dilemma, for it is a deeply
ingrained custom in Hindu society that menstruating women should not participate in pujas, or
meditate, or go to the temple on the days of their periods. It is believed that by doing
so women defile the place of worship, they bring a sanitary napkin soaked in blood to
the temple and thus offended God, who will surely punish women for violating the purity
of his temple. But is this custom right? Not everything handed down by history should be
blindly accepted as being valid and right, and the same goes for this custom of menstrual
impurity. This truth was revealed by Maharishi Ramana, to his lady disciple Suri Nagamma.
The incident has been noted in the book: Letters from and Recollections of Sri Ramanasramam.
It so happened that just a day prior to Maharishi Ramana’s birthday, Suri Nagamma got her periods.
She was greatly distressed for the Maharishi’s birthday was celebrated as a very important
day in the Ashram and devotees thronged to see the Maharishi from far and wide. But now
that she had got her periods, Nagamma thought that she could no longer participate in the
meditation and meet other devotees as she would have to put herself in seclusion due
to the impure condition of her body. Feeling very much upset Suri Nagamma sat down in the
verandah of her house brooding over her misfortune. As she did not turn up at the Ashram at the
usual hour, Subbaramayya another devotee came over to her place to find out the reason.
When she explained her predicament, Subbaramayya said a few words of consolation and returned
back to the Ashram. On seeing him Bhagavan Maharishi Ramana asked him, “What is the matter?
Why has Nagamma not come?” Subbaramayya related to Maharishi that Nagamma had not come because
she had got her periods, and as a result she was very much disappointed and depressed.
Maharishi replied: “Why? Why should she be sorry? She can sit and meditate.” Subbaramayya
went back to Nagamma and told her about Maharishi Ramana’s observations. From that day onwards
Nagamma says in her book that she got the confirmation from the Maharishi that there
was no need to refrain from the practice of meditation during her periods and what was
far more important instead, was to get rid of the impurities present in her mind. In
this way Maharishi Ramana reassured his woman devotee that periods are not a cause of impurity
and do not offend God in any way. In fact what matters most to God, is to what extent
a devotee has cleansed his or her mind of the real impurities of selfishness, laziness,
greed, anger, lusty thoughts, bad habits of stealing, cheating, corruption, telling lies
etc. These are the real impurities that God is concerned with. Because one may cleanse
the body with the finest of soaps, one may adorn it with perfume, jewels and the cleanest
of clothes, but if the mind of a person remains dirty and full of impure thoughts, if he lies
and cheats, he shall remains very far from God. So this is the firm Vedantic truth that
we women must imbibe, and explain to our daughters, sisters and friends – and we must lend a helping
hand in overturning this centuries old injust custom which hurts the dignity and self-respect
of Hindu women, by making them feel somehow less than men and unworthy before God. We
women must do our bit to overthrow this custom by wholeheartedly pursuing our meditations,
pujas, and temple visits while on our periods, confidently knowing that what matters most
to God is purity of heart and mind. Countless men visit temples in states of great uncleanliness
of not only mind but also of body. Some have entertained lusty thoughts, or watched pornography
just prior to visiting the temple, some have cheated on their customers or taken bribes,
some visit the temple with a cough and a runny nose, some have pus filled sores, some have
sweaty bodies, some have not washed their hair, some are emitting foul body odour – if
such things do not offend God, they why should the simple biological process of menstruation?
It does not as Maharishi Ramana has explained.