Macquarie University
01whole.pdf (2.01 MB)

Hindu women devotees and menstrual taboos: gender, agency and religion in the case of the Sabarimala temple

Download (2.01 MB)
posted on 2022-11-21, 01:13 authored by Phebyn Joseph

Sabarimala temple, located in the south Indian state of Kerala, banned menstruating women from entering its premises from the onset of their menarche until the time they reached menopause. While the majority of Hindu temples across India restrict women’s entry while they are menstruating, the Sabarimala temple prohibits women’s entry during their entire menstruating lifecycle, i.e., between the ages of ten and fifty years. The temple authorities and devotees justify this restriction as part of the diverse Hindu customs and traditional religious beliefs. Liberal media and secular feminists however, argue that the age-old custom of banning women from the temple is a violation of women’s rights and freedom of religious expressions. Many Hindu women devotees insist on supporting the religious injunction despite the lifting of the Sabarimala temple ban by the Indian Supreme Court in 2018. My thesis discusses the response of the Hindu women devotees who uphold the customs of the temple and support the prohibition on the entry of menstruating women. I first discuss the menstrual taboo discourse as a patriarchal construct, as analysed by Western feminist theorists. I argue that the complex notion of religious women’s agency can be understood in a more nuanced manner by being critical of the Western knowledge system, and examining how knowledge is produced and transmitted in its specific cultural context. Located in the intersection between decolonisation theories and feminist theories, my research is grounded on ethnographic interviews and Saba Mahmood’s notion of ‘agency’ to deconstruct the attitude of the Hindu women devotees, especially towards a ritual that prohibits them from expressing their religiosity.


Table of Contents

Introduction and background -- Chapter 1: Literature review on framework of menstrual taboos -- Chapter 2: Theoretical framework - decolonising approach to religion and feminism -- Chapter 3: Analysis and discussion (part 1): devout agents and the family structure -- Chapter 4: Analysis and discussion (part 2): critical agentive devotees challenging knowledge production -- Conclusion -- Bibliography -- Appendices


This thesis is submitted for the degree of Master of Research

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes


Thesis MRes, Macquarie University, Department of Media, Communications, Creative Arts, Languages and Literature, 2022

Department, Centre or School

Department of Media, Communications, Creative Arts, Languages and Literature

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Intan Paramaditha


Copyright: The Author Copyright disclaimer:




98 pages

Usage metrics

    Macquarie University Theses


    Ref. manager