KOLKATA: Nandini Bhowmik dons several hats – a mother, a professor and a drama artist. But the most important hat which she wears in the patriarchal societal order is that of a priest. She is the first woman Hindu priest in West Bengal.
A Sanskrit professor at the Jadavpur University, Bhowmik has undertaken a unique way of solemnising as many as 40 marriages over 10 years – she simplifies Sanskrit hymns to English and Bengali for the bride and the groom to chant while her troupe sings Rabindra Sangeet in the background.
Though busy in her schedule of teaching and being involved in over 10 drama groups, she takes out time to marry mostly inter-religious, inter-caste and inter-ethnic couples throughout Kolkata and its suburbs.
Speaking to The New Indian Express in an exclusive interview, Bhowmik said she considers herself as a reformist.
“I do not perform Kanyadaan as I consider the practice regressive in which women are treated as commodities. I try to keep the rituals short and simple and complete the entire programme within an hour,” she said.
Despite the growth of political Hindutva that calls for puritanism, Bhowmik is yet to feel threatened. “I respect the traditional priests and I am not in confrontation with them. Though my husband sometimes feels threatened due to the growth of aggressive Hindutva, I have not yet received any personal threats,” added the mother of two daughters.
She even solemnised her daughter’s marriage. Bhowmik draws inspiration from her teacher Gouri Dharmapal. A priest with a difference, she donates most of her earnings to an orphanage in Balighai near Puri in Odisha.