Menstruating Goddess Chengannur Bhagavathy Amman!! - some interesting facts

Chengannur mahadeva temple. Kerala
Chengannur temple. Wikimapia

Menstrual taboos have been around us for a long time. Hindu women during their "period" normally avoid going to temples. Many Hindu temples except some in Kerala do not allow women to conduct pujas in the sanctum and other shrines of sanctity. The strong belief is mensuration of women is impure and they are  unfit for any temple rituals, etc., associated with divinity. As for certain restrictions, women's entry into the Garbagraha of Hindu temples, some people's  belief is far from being negative and they never attach the tag of "taboo" to it. To them mensuration is a natural, sacred biological process, essential for the development  of humanity. 

 Have you ever heard of a menstruating goddess in the state of Kerala? It may sound weird, but it is true. The Mahadev- Bhagavathy temple located in a small town Chengannur is unique and is about 40 km away from the town of Kottayam in Kerala. The temple, believed to have been built by the famous Uliyannoor Perumthachan over 1,500 years ago, is one of the the most popular Bhagavathy temples of Kerala.

Some facts of Chengannur  Bhagavathy Amman:

01. In this temple Lord Mahadeva  faces east and the Goddess Bhagawathy, the main deity is facing west There is also a temple of Vishnu in Chengannur. Nammazhawar, a great Tamil Vaishnava saint  visited this temple and sang in praise of Perumal. It is believed  that Yudhishtra built the first temple of Lord Vishnu to get rid of his sin of having  lied in the battle field.

02. With respect to mensuration of goddess, it all began when  the melsanthi (the chief priest) opened the shrine of the Goddess in the morning to change the flowers, he was surprised to find that the cloth  the Goddess was wearing had a stain. This stained cloth was shown to the women of Vanchi Puzhathu Madam as well as the land lady of the house of Thazhaman pothy. Both of them confirmed what would have been  an unexpected and un-heard of event before that Goddess was undergoing periods as ordinary women would experience every month. On the advice of Thazhaman Pothy, the idol  was moved over to a separate temple and the door was closed for three days.

03. The daily puja ritual continued in the northern part of temple in the absence of main deity.

04. The chief priest asked his wife and the elderly woman of Vanchi Puzhathu Madam to keep the Goddess company during the night.

05. This strange tradition has continued for  several generations and the women  of these houses keep company to the Goddess during the time of her periods.

06. In the early stages, the incidence of mensuration occurred regularly every month for some time. 

07. Nowadays, it is said, that  the goddess experiences mensuration   three to four times a year.

08. The cloth  that the goddess wears during this time (Thiru poothu) is given much importance and is considered to be a prized possession.

09. The cloth is an object of veneration and is being worshipped in many homes.

10. On completion of the 4th day after the period, a simple ritual is followed. The idol of the goddess is taken on a female elephant for her ceremonial bath in the near-by Mithra river, to the accompaniment of playing of traditional musical instruments.The idol is given an oil bath by the Namboodiri women and then it is mounted on top of the elephant . The idol atop the elephant is received with Nira Para. After the ritual bath, the priest does traditional puja like Abhishekam with oil, milk, etc. Once it is over, the idol  is brought back to the temple.

11.  Varshikotsavam  is a 28 day long festival at Chengannur temple which begins on the asterism Thiruvathira of Dhanu masam (mid December-mid January) and ends on Thiruvathira of Makaram masam (mid January-mid February). Special rituals are performed during these days.The  Arattu (ritual dip in the river) is on Thiruvadira day. Besides, Shivaratri Festival (February - March) and Chitra Pournami (April - May) are also celebrated here with much religious fervor.

12. Once British officer Gov. Thomas Munro stopped sending funds to this temple upon hearing that the presiding goddess was  experiencing monthly period. He was furious and considered it "non-sense". Soon, his beloved wife had menstrual problem and the bleeding never stopped. English medication was of no avail.  On the advice of some people close to him, he released the funds to the temple. Amazingly, soon his wife 's health improved and the bleeding stopped. Grateful Munro went ahead and donated two gold bangles to the deity, besides forming a trust to observe the celebration of the Thirupoothu (periods) of the Goddess.