More women turn priests, question social traditions

Prajakta Joshi
Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Breaking age-old taboos and social barriers, women priests in the city are not only taking part in the male-dominated profession, but also striving to bring about social awareness in their own way.

Pune: Breaking age-old taboos and social barriers, women priests in the city are not only taking part in the male-dominated profession, but also striving to bring about social awareness in their own way.

While it was rare to invite a woman priest to perform pooja a decade ago, it has become more common occurrence now. Pune-based homemaker-turned-priest Shubhada Ketkar began learning and performing rituals in 2005 and says that the families and the women of the households find it easier to deal with women priests than the men.

“When the men perform pooja, it was the women who do all the preparations. They are the ones who have to deal with the priests, of whom they are often overawed. However, I have always seen that women were much more comfortable talking to me,” Ketkar said.

She added, “I find it bizarre that the women were not allowed to perform pooja. If they are capable of making preparations, preparing food (naivedya) and everything else, why sideline them when it comes to performing the rituals? I perform all the rituals in my home myself, and encourage others to do the same.”

Ganesh Festival is a busy time for Ketkar and her group, as they are invited to several houses to perform poojas and chant stotras and shlokas. It’s the same during Navratri. 

While training women, Ketkar makes sure that they break free of the regressive rules imposed by the society.

“Why was menstruation considered as impure?” questions Ketkar, who encourages the women and girls learning from her not to get caught up in these restraints.

“Menstruation was one of the most beautiful things as it was responsible for reproduction. Why should it be considered bad or impure? There was a very convenient misconception that states that the restrictions that were imposed upon women during menstruation were actually meant to let her take rest during the three days when she bled. But in reality, women worked more during these days. As a child, I did follow all these rules listening to my family, but when I grew up and saw the hypocrisy behind it, I stopped it,” she added firmly.

She said she encourages women not to discriminate against widows or those who do not have children. “Why invite a widow to your place, and then treat her differently than other women? Does losing her husband makes her undeserving of all the happiness?” she asked.

It is a common criticism by male priests that it is unfair that women learn something in two-and-half years for which they give their whole lives. Ketkar said, “I believe there is a need for women priests because somewhere the men have fallen short. Does a woman not have a right to worship and pray? Usually, we took up the profession much later than the men, because it was not seen as a full-time profession for us. But today, I see many women choosing to be priests early on, and I am sure there will be many more in the coming years.”

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