Extinct Ritual of Bengal: The Miniver of Menarche

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Written by Swapan Kumar Thakur
Transcreated in English by Sunita Jash

Shame! Shame! Still “sanitary napkin” is a non-utterable word in public, almost a desperate deed to buy it from the medicine shop. Pharmacist wraps the packet just like he is wrapping a forbidden thing.

Menstruation it is! These four days are really tough and painful for many a girls and women. Moreover, a lots of DOs and DON’Ts. Offering to God is also prohibited for these days, sharing bed with husband is accepted,but by keeping a safe distance. A lot of embargoes as per religious law and order. In this string, every religion is in the same box. They rear the same outlook regarding menstruation.

These four days makes a lady isolated from her family. She has to abide by some man-made rules for the sake of serenity. But the situation tilts a little towards light. Sanitary pad vending machines have set up in school, colleges. But there are still a grim darkness of sanctity in human mind.

On a contrary, we celebrate menstrua festival of Maa Kamakhshya during “Ambubachi”. We feel blessed to attend the menstrua ritual of Bhuu Devi(the goddess Earth), believed as the wife of Lord Jagannath in Odisha. But we act in a different way with our own daughters. This mentality was brought forward with Britishers in our society, still it lingers in gentleman’s culture. But Bengalees were never like this. If we turn the pages of Mideaval Bengali Literature, we can easily find the gaudy menstrua festivals. It was not even a shameful issue, but a celebrating and religious custom.

The fact should be enlightened why this biological occurance became a festival. We can remember that agriculture was initiated by women in early civilizations. Women made their men understand the fact that as they can produce baby by mating after menstruation, land would produce crops by ploughing. The Bengali words “Linga”(means phallus) and “Langal”(means plow) thus have deducted from the same root word. Our mother Earth also menstruate like women do. Such a concept sprouts in our rituals. After the scorching heat, land becomes menstruating with the first downpour in the month of Ashadh, the third month of Bengali calendar. Peasants still sing the lines, “ Where my leman is/ flow comes to your well” So, “Ambubachi” means the event of menstruation of mother Earth. Ploughing is not done for these four days. Hindu widows observe the initiation for getting children and fulfilment in their next lives. Agriculture was once observed as a “Debabritti”(the deed of God). So menstruation of Earth will of course be celebrated in our agriculture-enriched country.

The occurance of menstrua got the badge of a prestigious solemnity from the day when agriculture and woman becomes equivalent. The instance of first menstruation of a girl is called “Swayambhu Kusum”. Kabikankan Mukunda Ram Chakraborty wrote in his Chandimangal-

“Four months gone in touch of her guy

‘Swayambhu Kusum’ takes place in Khullana’s life”

One thing should be mentioned here. According to “Smritisashtra”(the memorium) girls were married before menstruating. Thus this function was celebrated in their husband’s house. This auspicious ritual was observed on a special auspicious day. The “Swayambhu Kusum” of the girl, Khullana was celebrated on a Thursday, at the “Akadashi Tithi” on “Mrigasira Nakshatra”. Ladies conveyed this news with buzzing and conching. It was not a shame at all, but a good news. The menstruating of Khullana brought the neighbouring wives to Dhanapati Saudagar’s house, also their friends and relatives came to share merriment. Brother-in-law of Dhanapati, Jasmant khaan came to celebrate this occasion. Both men and women observed with same enthusiasm. Men organised a function named “Kadakheyur” where the vulgar jokes were delivered mainly among themselves. Dhanapati Saudagar, husband of Khullana was encircled by his friends and they engaged in drolleries. They made a procession with Dhanapati,made chit-chat and funniment. They even dragged his dhoti and dresses. After that frolic procession, they gathered in river Ajay and started  water freak.

“All we together roped his waste

Strolling the locality, place to place

All the villagers, brothers and friends

Turn his clothes, embarrassment to the end

Only a lotus leaf as his wearing

How far would he go, without clothing”

After water surfing of men squad, girl’s gang went for bathing to the river. All the neighboring mistresses were invited for this special shower. They smeared ghee(clarified butter) and dahi(curd) as a sign of auspicious occasion,the glow and merriment. Ladies enjoyed this shower session by vulgar rhymes and folk songs. They were known as “Madanmangal”(the song of cupid), Mukunda Ram Chakraborty penned:

“An old buddy sang the song of cupid

By seeing water cuddling of ladies

Men escaped in hurry and shame,

By seeing water cuddling of ladies”

After this dazzling shower program, all the ladies got oil, vermilion and betel leaf from the celebrating household. Dwija Madhab wrote in his “Mangalchandi”

“All ladies go back to their nest,

With oil, vermilion, betel leaf, wishing best”

And finally a grand feast took place. This kind of occasions are still celebrated in Odisha, AndhraPradesh and Tamil Nadu. But Bengal forgets this festival,makes it extinct Ritual of bygone days.

Photos by Ashutosh Mistri and Apurba Banerjee


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Post Author: Dr Swapan Kumar Thakur

Dr Swapan Kumar Thakur