Life brings with a plethora of experiences, each with a flavour of its own. I wish to share with all my readers these various experiences and observations that I have made during my time here on this planet. They may be funny, thought-provoking or simple reflections. I do hope you will find these enjoyable and interesting.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Rituals and Women

Recently it was Mother's day.  This occasion spurred me into articulating a lot of other thoughts which have been troubling me ever since I started to think consciously about what I do and why and this pertains especially to the rationale surrounding various traditions and rituals.

Come Mothers' Day and one sees a flurry of activity around. The world is gearing itself up fully to celebrate motherhood and mothers. Which is very commendable. No complaints about that. But does anyone spare a thought to those women who do not have children of their own? What do they go through on that day? Celebrating Mothers' Day is a kind of ritual that has caught on all over the world. However, there is nothing about this celebration that consciously or intentionally puts down childless women. Apart from that, there may be children who have been adopted by these women and a void is filled. And if that is not the case, there are many who consider these women affectionately as mothers. In short it is a relationship of the heart. It need not necessarily be a relationship by birth.

Take Rakshabandhan or Bhaidooj (Karthigai in the South). The day women in India celebrate the love and affection between brother and sister.  There is no corresponding festival (correct me if I am wrong – there might be something I am missing out on) to celebrate the affection between two brothers or two sisters. What about those brothers who have no sisters or sisters who have no brothers? As in the above case many men and women who feel this vacuum so deeply have “adopted” brothers or sisters.  So we can safely assume that those who feel so strongly about the issue will find a way to fill the gap.

Now I wish to come to rituals / functions such as “haldi-kumkum”. In this ritual all married women, whose husbands are still alive exchange haldi, kumkum, flowers, betel leaves, betel nuts, a coconut and a blouse piece.. This is denied to a widow, who might be sitting there in their midst. These days she might be offerred a coconut and blouse piece (in the relatively enlightened families). However, even here, many widows would not accept the other items either due to social conditioning or out of fear of what “others might say”. How much pain must these women be undergoing? It hurts me every time my mother wants me to offer haldi kumkum to ladies who have just visited us and are leaving. She refuses to offer them herself, but insists that I should. I do not want to offer anything that they cannot accept from my mother. Similarly I do not like to offer something to one woman which I “cannot or may not” offer another. I feel deeply guilty about it. But no amount of arguments works.

Take other celebrations such as the “naming ceremony” of a child, when a childless woman is not allowed to bless the child in the same manner as one with a child. How cruel can we get? Are our celebrations, rituals and religion meant to hurt or offend others who may not be so fortunate as us?

Women are denied entry into temples when they are menstruating.  This is as normal a physiological function as any other - like the functioning of the kidneys and the intestines. Are the products of these anatomical systems any cleaner than that of the woman's reproductive tract?  Who has formulated these rules and regulations?  How can a woman who is capable of having children, and whose physiology is functioning normally be “impure”?  God help this same woman, if she were incapable of bearing children. She would be "clean and pure" but then she would be “inauspicious”. If we accept that God is the creator and He loves all his children alike, and that He created mothers because He could not be everywhere, then how can we accept that He would forbid women entering his temple at any time branding them as “unclean” or “inauspicious”? Is it not time to sit down and rethink our beliefs?