October 17, 2023
NEW DELHI – Kolkata and its suburbs are now witnessing a change. There is a great demand for women priests to perform community Durga Pujas and the demand is only increasing. The women priests explain that this demand is for the unique style they bring into the proceedings.
The rise in demand has also led to the growth in numbers of women priests. One of the foremost women priests in the city, Dr Nandini Bhowmick says she has expanded her group Shubhamastu to sixteen from the initial of just four. One of her students and group member Lily Biswas (Kanyakumari) will be travelling to Netherlands to officiate in a community Durga Puja there.
Someone, who taught Sanskrit at Hiralal Mazumdar Memorial College for Women, Dakshineswar and at Jadavpur University as guest lecturer for many years, Dr Bhowmick gave up teaching to take up her calling as a priestess. She says she took leave from teaching to devote more time to the profession, listening to her “inner urge”.
“Our culture, religious heritage is so enriching. Yes there was a dark phase, when there was no women education, child marriages were a reality. During the period a lot of restrictions were imposed on women but we need to come out of it in this time and age. It is the only way we can bring religion closer to people.
This determination drew me more into this profession,” she said, adding, “I study the Vedas, Puranas and Upanishads just as others read literature. I have a nat- ural affinity for them. So, I have learnt a lot. It has taken me almost 10 years to bridge the gap.”
“I urge people to ask priests questions and clear their doubts. She offers reg- ular orientation courses and refresher courses for her group members and tries to do puja her own way rather than follow the age-old traditions. She says during Gita path (reading from Bhagavad Gita) and Chandi path, she explains it to her audience for people to understand.
Zinia Sen, scriptwriter, who scripted for the film Brahma Janen Gopon Kommoti, where she highlighted the life of a woman priest, the increase in popularity in women priests is, “Better late than never”. Another priest, Lily Biswas (Kanyakumari), who is part of the women brigade officiating at various occasions like marriages, shraddh and thread ceremony, among others is much in demand.
A teacher in philosophy at Kalyani University, she is pursuing her post doctoral studies at RKM, Gol Park. She will be travelling to Almere in the Netherlands for the Durga Puja ceremony there. “People welcome me and now there is a positive mindset in men,” she said. But, the gender bias still remains in society and she senses it when male professional priests adversely comment on social media. “During my Sanskrit Sahitya Parishat training, where I was the only female trainee in my batch, I was told by my teachers that it is good that you learn the mantras and the rituals but to keep it restricted within the family,” said Kanyakumari.
“Many are not ready to accept that a woman from a non-brahmin caste can take up this profession. But I’m no less qualified than them in dealing with the profession. Then why can’t I be accepted as performing jajan, jajan, adhyapana and sadhyay, the four main responsibilities of a priest? she questions.