From Fixity to Fluidity: Menstruation Ritual Change Among Hindu Women of Nepalese Origin

Nikita Sharma, University of Colorado at Boulder


A common endeavor in the field of menstruation studies has been to examine the positive/negative dichotomy of menstruation rituals, the embodiment of purity/pollution by women and the oppression/empowerment duality often accorded to women’s experience vis-à-vis the rituals. By bypassing this binary allotment and understanding of the nature of the rituals, this qualitative study investigates how menstruation rituals serve as a case study for a deeper understanding of women’s agency in patriarchal societies and the changing role of patriarchy in traditional cultures in contemporary times. The research draws upon 62 in-depth interviews among Hindu women of Nepalese origin in Bhutan, India, Nepal, the U.K., and the U.S. about their understanding of menstruation rituals in their social milieu and their perception of themselves as practitioners of these rituals.

By using various typifications of ritual performance as ports of analysis, my study trails the following issues surrounding menstruation: women’s perception of the rituals within a religious context and the adaptive modalities of religiosity they undertake to make meaning of their religious selves; women’s impression of their menstruating, ritualized bodies as agentic selves; and the transference of the rituals and their meanings from one generation to another and one geographical space to the next.