Women priests are being reintroduced in Hinduism, in India as well as in the diaspora. In the current issue of the magazine Hinduism Today (April-June), Lavina Melwani reports on four US-based women pujaris, who perform the same ceremonies as their male counterparts. There once were women priests among Hindus in ancient times, but they had disappeared by the first millennium.
In India, an organization called Shankar Seva Samiti has been training women priests since 1975. Developments outside of the religion have also played a role: priests have become less respected in India today, and males who would have become priests in earlier times now sometimes leave for more lucrative careers.
There was much controversy when a woman got ordained in Trinidad in 1992. But, according to one observer interviewed by Hinduism Today, Neelim Shukla-Bhatt (both a part-time pujari and the holder of a PhD in comparative religion from Harvard), women priests are becoming more common in India without causing great controversy; they are especially numerous in the state of Maharashtra. Their motivation, commitment and concern for community needs, are appreciated.
Those in America, at least, do not consider their work as a job but more as a calling, especially since they have good jobs or are retired. In the diaspora, some emphasize the essential role of women for the transmission of religion: thus it becomes essential for the passing of Hinduism to future generations that they know the practices well. Obviously, in Hinduism as in other religions, the change in the position of women in society has an impact and trends toward “depatriarcalization” are felt. — By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religion.info)
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