The Curse of the Snake God

Picture Courtesy: Google Image Search

Stories, mythological, moral or tales of valor have always been an integral part of everyone’s childhood.

We had Champak, Gokulam, Tinkle, Chandamama, Chacha Choudary, Amar Chitra Katha, Lotpot, Balarama, Kallikudukka, TinTin, Nancy Drew, Enid Blyton and so on for our company during childhood. I also read the Phantom and Indrajal comics that Dad had left behind while leaving for the Mid East. During our summer vacations, we adored the stories of Krishna, Ramayana, Bhagavatha, Manjula of the Guruvayoor Manjulaal fame, Kuroor Amma, Maariamma, Poonthanam and so on that were told by Ammamma (grandmother) and Mema (Mom’s sister). Mom never told us any stories. She grew up in an English convent and I guess that kept her aloof from all of these stories or maybe she thought she wasn’t a good story-teller.

Being from a highly conservative and orthodox Nair family from the Palakkad district in Kerala, our household followed lots of religious rituals and traditions. First Friday (Muppettu Velliyazcha) of every new month according to the Malayalam calendar, we would have a Mahalakshmi Pooja at home performed by my Ammavan (Mom’s brother). Noorum Paalum offered to Nagaraja, Nagayakshi, Brahmarakshassu and Paambumaar in the Paambu Kaavu (Abode of Snakes) situated within the compound of the house on every Aayilyam Nakshatram (one of the 27 nakshatras or stars). Naivedyam to be offered to Lord Shiva on Mondays and Krishna on Thursdays. Manjal (Turmeric) bath offered to Goddess Parvathi quite a few times in the month. And Vaavu bali (offering made to ancestors) and so on. The front yard of the house was smeared with cow-dung paste for shhudi on auspicious days. We would be seen running around the compound plucking flowers, thulasi (basil) leaves or koovalam (bel or wood apple) leaves. Other small chores for us included removing chaff from popped rice, cutting banana leaves and cleaning them, washing the brass lamps and other items of the temple.  In short, my summer vacations revolved around this house, the temple, the rituals and the traditions.

I attained puberty as soon as I celebrated my eleventh birthday. Too young everyone said. My Mom wrote urgent letters to my grandparents and made few frantic calls to friends and relatives. New clothes were bought for me and I was adorned with all the gold jewellery that she had at the moment. My relatives, uncles and aunts rushed in with new clothes, sweets and gifts to meet a fully dressed up girl. Some of them smiled at me in a strange manner. My innocent brain could not comprehend those smiles and couldn’t understand the reason for the celebration as it was not my birthday and neither was it an Onam celebration or Vishu Sadya. I was told that I should not go out as birds should not fly over my head. Now how could one tell birds not to fly over our building as I was inside and menstruating? Hadh hai!

From then on my life changed drastically. I remember Mom asking me to stay away from boys and men of all ages, including Dad. I hated her for saying that last part because I was my Dad’s darling always. But looking at the newspapers and listening to the radio headlines these days I completely understand why she said what she said. The only trouble, I was too young to comprehend. The first summer vacation after this grand celebration and like always we were there at our grandparents place. Everything remained the same till my monthly periods started. I was suddenly isolated. A corner in the verandah of the house was where I was made to live for the next four days. A mat, a blanket, a plate and a glass were given to me and I was asked not to enter the main house and the kitchen. The plate and glass had to be washed outside the house. I had to take bath in the pond along with the mat, clothes and utensils that I used (or of people who touched me by mistake) even while I didn’t know swimming. The tap water which was the same water from the pond  pumped up into the water tank supposedly could not make me pure. If it was not for Mom who helped me with the dipping in the pond part, I would have drowned the very first time.  Our backyard was full of snakes and other creepy crawlies and I had to use the toilet which was outside the house. It had a separate bucket and mug for menstruating females of the house. Detailed story of the toilet here in this post: Do you know how necessary sanitation is? Suddenly I hated them all because I was being punished for no fault of mine.

One afternoon while everyone was taking a nap, I wandered through the backyard and went much closer to the Snake Shrine. I was always curious about going inside the shrine and taking a closer look at the stone idols but I was also scared as I had spotted cobras and other varieties there. I picked up a stone playfully and threw it inside the shrine. Ammamma had just woken up and was at the back-door closer to the shrine. She furiously asked me to get into the verandah. She told me a story about the curse of the Snake God and told me that if menstruating girls entered the snake shrine, they would never be able to bear children. The very next day the temple priest was summoned and some shudhi pooja was performed.

Years later, when I got married to a Garhwali and entered a completely different household with different rituals and traditions I had difficulty accepting them. It started off with adding a small piece of chappati in the tiffin box in addition to the three I had already packed for hubby because eating three chappatis was not considered shubh. The first monthly periods in that house was another shocker. I was told by my mother-in-law to light the pooja lamp. I refused citing my periods. She told me in their household men are not informed of such things and so I should light the lamp and pray as usual. Imagine my plight! I kept cursing myself every time I committed that ‘sin’.

Few years down the line, I had trouble conceiving and I remembered these episodes. The innocent young girl I was then, I honestly believed that I was being punished for that stone that I threw during my childhood and the many times I have lighted the lamp while I was impure. Only later did I come to know that it was nothing but a gynecological disorder which was treated.

I am now thirty-four and have access to so much information and views of so many people from around the world. I now understand that most of these rituals and traditions are baseless or their true meanings and needs have been misconstrued over the years. And the day my eldest daughter was born in February 2006, I promised myself that she’ll not go through what I have been through. I’ll empower her with all the necessary information that she needs to know. I’ll tell her that the Krishna that her mother prays daily is just an idol that helps her mom concentrate and meditate. The Krishna that her mother lights a lamp daily for only provides her some peace and sanity. He can show you the different ways because He resides within you or rather He is your own soul, but you have to choose the path for yourself. I’ll tell her that He will not punish her if she utters his name while menstruating. He’ll not punish her if she chants a mantra during those four-five days. Even Draupadi had called Krishna for help when Dushasana tried to disrobe her. It is mentioned in the religious texts that she was menstruating at that point in time. If Krishna could punish people for their sins He would have come down long back and punished sinners like the rapists of that 6-year old innocent child in Bangalore before punishing mere mortals like us for such silly matters.

I do pray. I do chant my mantras before sleeping. All this for my peace. Honestly I do not visit a temple during those days. Not because I’m scared of His punishment, but because I’m not interested in becoming an issue for the believers. My relationship with God is purely mine. It is not bound by any ritual or tradition or visit to a temple. My temple is my home.

And menses or periods is nothing but a biological occurrence, nature’s way of helping your body mature and be ready for reproduction. In short, it simply means you’re healthy.

A big thanks to Gayatri Aptekar for helping me pour out all of this after reading her honest post, I pray, do you?

And Sakshi Nanda, thanks for that nudge.


Linking this post to Project 365‘s prompt today:

Flip flop: Think of a topic or issue about which you’ve switched your
opinion. Why the change?”

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24 Replies to “The Curse of the Snake God”

  1. Rekha hugs my dear. I can understand what you have gone through as an innocent child of 11. I attained puberty on the tenth day of my paatis death. The whole family cursed me. They already believed that I was the one who brought misfortune to the house and to add fuel to their beliefs, this happened.
    Everyone looked at me with pitiful eyes. It was a pain I couldn’t bear. I cried within, but chose to smile. I guess all this pent up hurt took a toll on me as an adult. Maybe all.this led me to commit suicide. But when I look back today, I am grateful that life taught me such profound lessons. I am what I am today because of these lessons.
    I don’t tell anyone if I have periods. If I feel like visiting temple I visit, but I don’t tell anyone. Not because I am scared, but I am not interested in wasting my previous time in making people understand.
    I am glad to connect with you and sakshi through this 🙂
    I especially loved the way you described the relation between you and Krishna.
    God bless you and your family 🙂 hugs

    1. You know this post was a result of your post. Don’t you? And yes, delighted to be in touch with honest souls like you. I am sure together our generation can rebuild traditions that lack sense and logic. Hugs to you too Gayu! I know that feeling when the entire surrounding is full of people who are blaming you for something that is not your mistake. Thankfully, I’ve matured enough to laugh at such lot after so many years.

    1. Thanks Pro! I hope our younger generation and older generation both read this and ensure that such illogical and irrelevant rituals and traditions are avoided for the future generations.

  2. The older generation UNKNOWINGLY ( no offense) sowed the wrong seeds of superstitions and fanned the flames of myths. The young , innocent minds cannot absorb and comprehend the sudden change in stance. But let us as we have undergone and experience pain , educate and not saddle our future generations with myths and superstitions.
    Rekha , I understand how difficult it must have been to adjust in your new marital home where a different set of ideas existed.

  3. I was lucky to be born into a family who cared nothing for such rituals. My father was a firm communist. He was a doctor as well. I too had severe nausea and pain during my periods, but I used to lie in his lap and cry while he patiently gave me medicines till the pain subsided. I was married into a caring family but they adhered to some of these superstitions. I should not light the deepam or touch the tulsi or curry leave plant. I took it as a boon and took complete rest those days.
    Actually from what I understand many such practices were to keep the men out of the women’s life during those days and to ensure that she got adequate rest. As with every ritual, it lost the original purpose with age.

  4. hugs Rekha..
    I have seen a few of my cousins and aunts go thru this and it always seem barbaric to me!
    it never had any meaning and it still doesn’t. Its just another form of oppression if you ask me!
    Thank you for the link up 🙂

  5. Even in my family entering the pooja room, going to temple etc were/are not done during the first five days of monthly cycle….I never minded that, it barely made any difference…but the weirdest thing was that the ones going to temple were not supposed to touch us ‘during those’ days…if touched by accident, tehy were supposed to bath again….my cousins/sister are all like 4-5 years younger to me and had no clue about the whole phenomenon…and you know how kids are, if you ask them not to do anything, they will end up doing the same.And during vacations when we were at our grandmother’s place, going to temple was a daily evening ritual…and we( me and my cousin sister) used to get blamed if our younger cousins touched us during those days and got ‘impure’ and had to bath again…….

  6. I can relate to this post and visualise how it happened, when it happened. For I am as old as you and belong to the same generation. I didn’t have first hand experience but I know of friends who went through similar experiences. I think I want to write a story about it 🙂 I don’t mind praying god, but for some reason I do not prefer going to temples either.

  7. That is a lovely point that you make about Draupadi menstruating during the vastrabharan episode. There are many opinions that Veda Vyasa included the entire menstruation angle in there, just to prove a point that God, especially Krishna gives two hoots about whether his true devotees are having their periods or not, as long as they think of him, he will be there to help them.
    Also have to agree with Preethi’s comment when she says that most of these rituals came about in early days just to prevent the men folk of the house from troubling the women, and then they grew both in intensity and noise to become all of the nonsense that is being bandied around today in ignorance.

  8. Wonderful and Powerful post. Well, have no clue how tradition started, but probably it was started to give adequate rest to women. Hence, they weren’t allowed to work or do anything. It was to help them not turn it into hell. Over the years, people have just misconstrued it adding a huge pile of crap to it.
    Sad. (Funny how people care more about this baseless things than the person dear to them. )

    1. Thanks for reading Shanx! I’m glad you liked it.

      “Funny how people care more about this baseless things than the person dear to them.”

      Something that I have been asking myself for years.

  9. Powerful post Rekha. All these superstitions are generally signs of a weak and fearful mind. We always want someone out there to help, so we blindly follow superstitions, godmen, astrologers etc. These superstitions rules our mind and we fail to think and act.
    How many of us pray to GOD to give us strength and clarity of mind, to guide us through the path laid out for us?

    1. Thank you for dropping by Devangana! Indeed most people behave like creepers. They need some support to stand on their feet. At our place, the younger generation tries to break these myths, but the older generation refuses to budge. I hope the next generation gets to relish the fruit of this war againsts rituals and superstition.

      And hey, I do pray for strength and clarity of mind. It helps me make my decisions carefully and peacefully.

  10. True – rituals at the point in time when they were conceived of would have had some meaning/reason but, over time, we adhere to them blindly. Not understanding the reasons may have also resulted in blindly junking some of them too when they may have still been relevant. Not this one though. And you are right – Draupadi WAS menstruating when Duhshasan dragged her to court and, later, Krishna came to her rescue. There really is no reason why you cannot pray then.

    1. Thanks Suresh Sir! Yes. My grandfather and father do provide me points that made a lot of sense. But some of them are absolute rubbish and illogical. And exactly because that Vasthraharana part of Draupadi was very well understood by me, I do not fear praying to God. If I’m not wrong, He’ll show me the way. That is all that one needs to believe.

  11. Hello Rekha,
    I really enjoyed this post of yours. I am not even going to the ritual things here.
    I am guessing that you lived in ‘Naalukettu’ model house, with a lot of greenery around.. Oh my dream is to own one of those just for myself with a bullet parked in the front of my house. Palakkad is one of the most beautiful places in Kerala, I would love to visit the place sometime.
    I can relate to your life, my siblings have a better life than I had and it should be like that. Great post by you, I really loved it 🙂

    1. Hi Anoop, welcome to my virtual space. I am glad that you enjoyed the post. And yes, I am from one of those old Naalukettu Tharavadu in Palakkad district, but without that buller parked in front. 🙂 I wish you get to visit my native place pretty soon. Thank you for stopping by! Look forward to seeing you more often.

      1. The moment I started reading the post, I knew it. Hope your house is not smashed to ground like people normally do for the wood and stuff. Oh I hate them so much, that is one house you should preserve for the future generations to see.
        I read a couple of your posts, will read through as and when time permits. Hope to see you at my virtual place also. 😀
        Peace 🙂

  12. Honestly. I grew up in a very liberal atmosphere so didn’t have to deal with thing like you did. But I have my own bits of experience that were not pleasant. Extremely powerful post Rekha.. And I have often wondered about Lord Krishna helping Draupadi. I could never understand why Vyasa had to mention she was menstruating. But Now I think it was mainly to tell us that Gods care two hoots about purity and impurity of women !

  13. Oh my God! You had to go through so much Rekha. It is so painful to even fathom. Such a powerful post and so honestly written. I am glad you are giving your daughter the freedom that you missed! Proud of you!

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