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HVK Archives: Woman priests in Kerala end male monopoly

Woman priests in Kerala end male monopoly - The Indian Express

Prema Manmadhan ()
27 November 1997

Title: Woman priests in Kerala end male monopoly
Author: Prema Manmadhan
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: November 27, 1997

It's the theory of liberation at its utmost: Young women, chanting slokas inside the sanctum sanctorum of temples. They have been doing it for the past three weeks at two temples set up by Mata Amrithananda Mayi at Kaimanam in Thiruvananthapuram and Kodungalloor. If asked to fill in any form, in the column marked 'occupation', they would write: Priestess.

They have also been performing homes regularly. Mahaganapathi homams, Sudarsana homams et al. Eyebrows arched? Well, a pujari in simple terms is a 'true devotee of god', as Mata Amrithananda Mayi says, and whoever has this most essential qualification for a pujari, or pujarin, for that matter, qualifies for the job. Two priestesses each have been appointed at the two temples, for obvious reasons. For only four days a month, each of them does not enter the temple.

The deity, installed by Mata Amrithananda Mayi, is a single deity with four faces and forms at the four nadas. As you enter, it is Devi, then Ganapathi, Sivan and Rahu.

Says Pavithramritha Chaithanya, a postgraduate who was a junior assistant professor who quit her job and came to the ashram ten years ago, and is the priestess at the Kodungalloor Brahmasthanam temple, "I was not intimidated by tradition when I entered the sanctum sanctorum." Bindu, the other priestess, echoes her remark. "I can never forget the scene in which we took over the ritual poojas at this temple," she said. Bindu had just attended to a number of pushpanjalis to the Lord, on the devotees' behalf
Sitting cross-legged, she carefully chanted the mantras, took a clean banana leaf, apportioned the prasada and handed them out, just as the priest at any temple would do.

The priestesses at the Kaimanam temple in Thiruvananthapuram are no different. Soumyamritha Chaithanya in her early twenties, is not afraid of the ire of the orthodox, who think that the sanctum sanctorum is a man's domain. "I am not frightened. In fact I am very happy. Mother asked me to do it and I am doing it." Her sentiments are shared by Nalini, the other priestess in the temple.

Strangely enough, there has been no public protests so far to these off-beat appointments, breaking many orthodox traditions followed in the temples so far. "Me authorities at these temples had expected trouble, but all was quiet."

"In fact more women are coming to the temple daily," says a surprised Dhyanamrita Chaithanya, the head of the ashram at Kodungalloor.

The Brahmacharinis studied Vedanta and puja rites for about three years, including Sanskrit lessons in the beginning.

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