To be in a state of impurity means that one has been exposed to pollution or has been involved in sexual activity. Culturally and religiously, South Asian women are represented as excelling at both, which allows men to claim purity for themselves. The very nature of this discourse endows men with purity in that it focuses on women, not men, or if men are the subject it is as victims of women's sexuality or pollution. In contrast to the exploration of women's auspiciousness in previous chapters, what follows are these two very different but equally important themes in the lives of South Asian women. As we shall see, fantasies about women's voracious sexual appetites and perceptions of female pollution are the reverse side of the female coin.
Asian ideas about pollution involve many features of everyday life, such as death and contact with other castes. 1 My interest here is on female pollution, which in many cultures focus on menstruation and childbirth. 2 Having arisen in South Asia, Buddhism accepted the widely held belief that a menstruating woman, through the most casual physical contact, can pollute men, especially monks or high-caste males, as well as temples or other sacred places. According to the law book of Manu:
Even if he is out of his mind (with desire) he should not have sex with a woman who is menstruating; he should not even lie down in the same bed with her. Aman who has sex with a woman awash in menstrual blood loses his wisdom, brilliant energy, strength, eyesight, and long life. By shunning her when she is awash in menstrual blood, he increases his wisdom, brilliant energy, strength, eyesight, and long life. 3