Sex has always been touted as something dirty in our culture. We do not discuss sex in open, we have sex behind the closed doors in our bedroom in utmost privacy. Our men hush the females when they exclaim in excitement. We feel shy when our kids ask queries about their genital organs or from where did they come from. We feel uncomfortable or change the channel when a randy ad of condom runs on TV.
It is surprising then to learn that our ancient culture was all embracing towards sex. Our ancient culture treated sex as an intrinsic part of human development and thus made sex a part of its literature, artwork, sculpture, and folklore. In our ancient scriptures, Hinduism talks about the four Puruṣārthas or the goals of human life, which are Dharma (religious ethics/duties), Artha (economic wealth/work), Kama (sensual desires/passions) and Moksha(liberation/freedom/salvation). Kama or sexual desire is considered an essential and spiritual part of human life and has an entire discourse written on it in Vātsyāyana’s Kamasutra, a literature that treated intercourse as science.
There is still ample evidence left that confirms that sexuality is tied up with religion, and even worshiped at some places. For instance, Kamakhya Temple is one of the most astounding structures in India. The site of the temple of this goddess is situated on the Nilanchal Hill which is at a distance of 8 km from Guwahati, Assam.
Goddess Kamakhya has a shape of a female genital organ. It is believed that her female genitalia or ‘Yoni’ fell on the spot where the Kamakhya temple stands today, thereby forming one of the many Shakti Peeths or the body parts of Goddess Sati or Kamakhya. The term ‘Kamakhya’ is disjoined as kama and akhya. Kama, meaning sexual desire and Akhya, meaning title. A popular festival observed in the Kamakhya Temple is the Ambubashi Mela wherein it is believed that the mother Earth undergoes her menstrual period.
Priests pour vermillion on Goddess Kamakhya yoni or vagina as a mark of respect for ‘shakti’ or a woman’s power to conceive. The vermillion mark is a symbol for menstruation, a biological process that prepares uterus for childbirth.
It is ironic, on one hand menstruation is celebrated in this temple, and on the other hand women are barred from entering the temple premise in their menstrual periods. Culture again has an answer to this:
In ancient times temples were located outside the village & a woman has to walk across the village to reach temple. In their menstrual periods, women became weak due to heavy blood outflow. It was also difficult for them to walk to and fro in a cotton cloth pad for 4-6 hours as it would not soak blood for that long. Hence women were exempted from visiting temple in their periods to provide them much needed rest. Sadly, the exemption turned into a taboo with time as the information disseminated from generation to generation sans its underlying logic.