What makes this temple unusual and unlike other temples is that it attributes a human trait to the divine – Parvati menstruates here, and the duty of the head priest is to watch out for blood stains on her clothing every morning.

Celebrating the menstruating Goddess in a Kerala temple Not completely
news Temple Sunday, July 26, 2015 - 05:30

At first glance, the Chengannur Mahadeva Kshetram (temple) in Alappuzha district looks like any other temple in the state – an expansive complex with the sanctum right in the middle.

The temple, one of the oldest in Kerala, was built in AD 300 and is believed to have been designed by a legendary figure in Kerala’s folklore, master architect Perunthachan. A large portion of the temple was reduced to ashes in a fire in the 18th century, rebuilt later by carpenters from Thanjavur.

But what makes this temple unusual and unlike other temples is that it attributes a human trait to the divine – Parvati menstruates here, and the duty of the head priest is to watch out for blood stains on her clothing every morning.

Parvati and her husband Shiva are the presiding goddess and god of the temple, but Parvathi's idol is taken out “on those days”.

Once a ‘blood stain’ is seen, the abbess or eldest woman of a Brahmin family, Thazman Matt, where the priests of the temple belongs, is called upon to confirm if the Devi is indeed menstruating. If yes, then Parvati’s idol is shifted into a small room off the sanctum sanctorum and the temple remains closed for four days.

On the fourth day, Parvati’s idol is taken to the Pamba river for an ‘arrattu’ or bath. With pomp and splendor, the Devi is brought back to the temple where Lord Shiva’s idol awaits her at the entrance, the festival is called 'Thriputharattu'.

Parvathi ‘menstruates’ once in two or three months, but devotees say that until a few years ago, it used to be a monthly affair. 

The legend

Advocate Unnikrishnan Nair, a temple historian, says the Chengannur temple is unlike other temples Shiva temples in the state because of the story of its origins.

“When all the Devas (gods) gathered together in the Himalayas for Shiva and Parvathi’s wedding, Lord Brahma feared that since all the Devas were gathered in the North, the world would lose its balance. He sent Agasthya Muni (a saint) to the south to balance the weight.” 

After the wedding, the newlyweds came to the southern bank of the Pamba river, where Agasthya was living, to meet him. Unnikrishnan says that the temple’s menstruation ritual comes from the story that Parvati got her first period – the menarche – during this visit. 

“The temple was constructed on the spot in which the Muni resided, Shiva and Parvathi's visit was special and so they became the dieties. But since a girl attaining puberty is a moment to celebrate, that became the most important ritual of the temple,” Unnikrishnan says. 

History and society may have influenced the practice, but “on those days”, even this goddess is not allowed to reside in the sanctum of the temple that celebrates her menstruation.

“Like any other temple women can't enter this one during their menstruation. During the menstruation time Devi will be shifted to a different room,” says Unnikrishnan.

Can an idol menstruate? "Yes, that is our belief. The legend goes that a European officer Colonel Munro poked fun at the ritual and stopped it. Soon his wife had intense pain and heavy bleeding. He was forced to restart the ritual," Unnikrishnan added.

Photos : Unnikrishnan Nair

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