THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: 22 women priests are ready in the state to perform the poojas anchored in the Hindu faith. A right that had been the monopoly of a section belonging to the Hindu faith for long will now be challenged by women, who have officially entered the ‘order’ of ‘priestdom’.
Last week, these woman priests received ‘deeksha’ (the blessing from the teacher that the student can perform the priestly duties) from KV Subhash Thantri at the Nagaraja Kshethram, Peramangalam, near Muvattupuzha.
“The rules anchored on discrimination are meant to be broken. Women figure among the majority of devotees. So how can they not be allowed to perform the priestly duties?” says Subhash Thanthri. “It is nowhere said that women cannot perform the poojas. The only women priests we have now are those who have been initiated on the basis of their ancestry. Anyone who has faith and has learned the rituals can perform the poojas. There shouldn’t be any discrimination based on gender or caste,” he adds.
The woman priests are equipped to conduct poojas such as ‘Bhagavathi Seva’ and ‘Ganapathy Homam’. The thantri has also received requests from devotees to conduct these poojas by the women. Subhash Thantri is training 13 more women who will receive deeksha in the coming weeks.
For years, the rights to conduct rituals at temples have been reserved to men belonging to Brahmin caste. It was only recently that men belonging to other castes were allowed to perform rituals at the devaswom board temples in Kerala.
The M K Stalin government in Tamil Nadu has recently declared that trained women would be allowed as temple priests. Though it was a coincidence, the initiation of woman priests in Kerala happened a few weeks after TN’s decision. All the women were trained rigorously for two years. Ever since the start of Covid, the classes were held online.
Latha Sudheer, 43, an accountant who left her job to study the priestly duties, says all her early memories were linked to temples. “The ultimate dream is to be able to perform rituals at temples. I hope society will change and be more accepting,” she says. Among the trained woman priests are those who had followed Islam and Christianity.
Aysha (name changed), 25, has just been initiated into the world of priestly rituals. She dedicates all Sunday evenings to learn mantras of the Hindu faith. Linet P Joy, a 35-year-old from the Christian faith, says she always had a divine calling and was able to answer it now.
“I sang in the choir for 14 years. It requires dedication and I always believed in the divine power. Having learned all the rituals, I feel I can help more people. The ultimate aim is to perform duties in the temple,” says Linet, a native of Thrissur.
Subhash Thantri knows well that the road ahead will not be rosy for these women. “The goal is to have woman priests perform the rituals in temples. It is going to be a long journey. But we will get there, and society will change,” he says.
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