Hindu women in Nepal observed the festival of Rishi Panchami with a ritual bathing on Saturday, to wash themselves of sins committed during menstruation.
Observant women bathe in rivers and ponds, and ask the Sapta Rishis, or seven great saints, for forgiveness for the sins they committed during their period. They brush themselves with a twig 365 times and rub earth onto their bodies in what is considered an act of purification.
In Hinduism, menstruation is considered a sin and women are expected not to touch other family members, animals or plants, or venture into certain spaces in the house, especially areas of worship.
On Rishi Panchami, Hindu women consume a single meal of rice and taro leaves.
“Our mothers observed this bathing and fasting to ask for forgiveness for sins committed during menstruation,” said Kalapani Giri, who visited a temple after bathing early Saturday.
The practice has been criticized from some parts of society.
“A virgin goddess is worshipped and so is a mother. But during her fertile period, a woman is impure,” Archana Thapa, a feminist scholar, told the Republica daily. “This is a moral disciplinary act to suit the logic of men who made the rules.”
Nevertheless, devout Hindu women in Nepal continue the practice.
“I take this ritual bath every year because I do not want to be punished for my sins,” Giri said.