You will see signs (some with English that is particularly amusing) in front of many temples in Bali – especially the ones in tourism areas – warning that women are not allowed to enter if they are menstruating. While this may seem pretty sexist to many outsiders, this is part of a general rule about a Balinese concept called ‘cuntaka’ which basically can be translated as ‘unclean’ or ‘spiritually impure’. Cuntaka does not just apply to menstruating women but also to anyone with an open wound or accidentally excrete bodily fluids. For this reason, breast feeding mothers are not supposed to enter a temple either.

Physically and mentally ill or unstable people are also considered cuntaka – this is why someone whose family member has died is not to go to a temple as their mind is sad and their thoughts disturbed.

Why normally only menstruation is mentioned on temple signs is still a mystery to me, but I think it is probably because Bali is a male dominated society. If you wanted to extend this further sociologically, it might just be that – like with many other religions – this rule puts women ‘in their place’ and only serves to reinforce their place in a chauvinistic society.

In terms of the realistic potential of modern menstruating women to spill blood on temple grounds, we all know that due to the existence of pads, panty liners and tampons that it would be unlikely for any blood whatsoever to leak out. Let’s just assume that the rules were made when Balinese women had anything but a cloth to use at this time of the month – what’s more, perhaps didn’t even wear underwear because there wasn’t any back then.

The Balinese women I’ve talked to about this say that the choice to go to a temple when you’re menstruating is your own and not someone else’s. The more religious (normally older people) say that they would never risk it in case ‘something bad happens’ if they break temple etiquette. It may be “the rules” but, in the end, is anyone really going to check you anyway?

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