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The Ritu Kala Samskaram - A Ceremony that Legitimises Womanhood -Shruthi M

It is common knowledge for most of us that menstruation and particularly menstruating bodies come as a package deal with numerous taboos, myths, and ritualistic beliefs that can often be handicapping. These can range from exercising being bad for periods to treating menstruating bodies as impure, untouchable, and contagious of disease and bad omen. The Ritu Kala Samskaram/ Ritushuddhi

or the Manjal Neerattu Vizha in Tamil Nadu is a ceremony for girls who have their first menstrual period or Menarche which can last up to 13 days. The girl is made to participate in multiple rituals like eating certain kinds of food items at certain intervals and timings of the day, and seclusion from family members. On the final and main day of the ceremony which is open to the public, she is made to wear a half saree signaling her womanhood which she will continue to wear until she is married after which she will have to wear sarees. It is common for the girl’s relatives to put up posters and banners of the girl and her family around their locality to announce and invite the local public to this ceremony where the girl is almost dressed like a bride having to participate in various poojas.

 

Having historical significance in the South of India, this ceremony navigates many of these myths, taboos, and rituals. The main function of this ceremony is to announce the ‘coming of age’ or the girl’s transition to womanhood to her family and to the rest of the local community that she is now of marriageable age and therefore appropriate bachelors can seek the household with proposals to court the young woman. Considering the political History of Tamil Nadu, which during the 19th and 20th centuries centered itself on women's empowerment, it is very peculiar to find this practice continuing to be prevalent in the 21st century. The ceremony as it is practiced today may be carried out as mere tradition rather than out of utility to marry off the girl as most girls that have their first menstrual cycle are below the age of 18th which in India is the age of consent for women. It is also odd that many remain unaware of these ceremonies outside the state and that little work apart from some anthropological work has been done on the subject. This ceremony must force us to question the often undisputed way in which it has continued to be practiced having little to do with the Hindu religion directly. While it is wrong to criticize the ceremony as oppressive and backward on this basis, it can be rewarding to study the same in more depth as it may open new ways of understanding and exploring the socio-political conditions of Tamil Nadu that influence wider policies and decisions being made with regards to menstruation. Further, understanding where and how taboos, myths, and rituals surrounding menstruation originate and find legitimacy can further equip us with the means to find non-problematic and non-intrusive ways to oppose them.

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