The most beautiful phase of a girl child’s life is blossoming into a woman. Sure, the world perceives it as a reason to clip her wings and restrict her independence even before she understands what has happened to her. The start of the first menstruation or menarche is the symbol of the phase change. Menarche takes a toll on a kid. Imagine being 10 or 12 years old and suddenly being subject to the physical, psychological and societal pangs of being a woman, which would last the next 30-35 years. I still remember mine – I was in 4th standard and getting ready for school. I did not have any prior warning and was devastated by what mom told me. I cried two days straight. That was the only time I wanted to be a boy.
I have been raised in a progressive nuclear family, hence apart from a few basic rules like not being allowed in temples and events related to any Puja, I wasn’t aware of any other social constructs. But menarche throughout our country is looked upon very differently.
In Konkan culture, the girl is isolated in a room till the 4th day of bleeding, when she’s given a bath. She is not supposed to roam around freely or touch anyone, especially men. Her utensils are separated from that of the rest of the family.
Many South Indian states follow the same, culminating in a huge celebration at the end of the menarche. The celebration marks the end of innocence. “Manjal Neerattu Vizha”, as called in Tamil Nadu and “Ashirvada” in Karnataka is the celebration of the onset of bleeding. Again the girl is kept isolated in a room and has to sleep on the floor till the 5th day. She is prohibited from coming in contact with anyone. She is not allowed in the kitchen and has to perform a Puja every morning. On the 5th day, she’s considered a manifestation of the Goddess. She sits in the Puja with a doll beside her which symbolically marks the end of her childhood. In Andhra Pradesh, a similar ritual is followed where the girl is decorated like a bride. A lavish party follows with a feast.
“Telonia Biya”, as called in Assam is a bit longer. The girl is isolated for 7 days. Glimpses of the sun, moon and stars are considered unholy during the period. Like other regions, she cannot touch any family member. On the 7th day, she is dressed up as a bride and married to a banana plant. A family celebration follows.
Conspicuously, North India has no such celebration but the girl is subjected to many of the cruel societal norms. Even though menarche seems like a celebration, the aim of the ritual is to announce that the daughter has now hit puberty and is of reproducible age. Being a kid, I believe it must be a harrowing affair to go through 5 to 7 days of isolation followed by a tell-all party. Especially the male attention in such cases is embarrassing. In my opinion, for a country that still cannot talk of periods freely, subjecting a kid to such rituals seems monstrous.
My niece recently had her menarche and I did surprise her with a gift. We had a quiet feast among the sisters without making it a big deal. I think the best way is to let the mother ease her daughter into it. Making a public announcement isn’t very ideal especially at a tender age.
More power to all the young kids who go through all the social rituals and cannot bat an eyelid. My heart goes out to each of you.
Guest Blog by Sukanya Das