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Meet India’s First Hindu Priestess, Nandini Bhowmick

Nandini
Image Courtesy: Your Story

We are standing in a patriarchal society where most rituals are performed by a male priest. Have you ever seen a female priest performing rituals at a wedding or any other auspicious occasion? Women are now fighting these social barriers across all spheres to stand up in the new generation. In a world dominated by male presence, Nandini Bhowmick has broken the age-old beliefs and practices of this system.

Becoming the country’s first Hindu priestess Nandini has proved to be the prime example of breaking the stereotype. Hailing from West Bengal, Nandini was always an open-minded personality. She proved this by discarding the dated ritual of ‘Kanya Daan’ and other patriarchal practices.

What is Kanyadaan? According to the Hindu tradition, the ritual of kanyadaan where the bride’s father hands her over to the protection and supervision of her husband. This concept looks somewhat like the daughter is a  thing that their parents are giving away rather than a person. However, our priestess had never believed in such practicing or neither encourages this tradition for solemnizing marriages as per traditions.

The idea of the female priestess was accepted amazingly in the male-dominated country. Yes, they are still facing some objections from the typical stereotypical families. But these obstructions never came to the path of her success. Presently,  Nandini leads a group of women priests called “Shubam Astu”. This organization has been working hard to give rise to the concept of equality in wedding rituals.

Apart from being a priestess, she is also a Sanskrit professor of Jadavpur University, Kolkata. Nandini also gained fame in plays from time to time and is a mother of a daughter.

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The Sanskrit professor at the Jadavpur University, Bhowmik has formulated a unique way of solemnizing as many as 40 marriages over 10 years. Nandini simplifies Sanskrit hymns to English and Bengali for the bride and the groom to chant, at the same time her troupe sings Rabindra Sangeet in the background.

“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 program within an hour,” Nandini stated.

What exactly inspires Nandini Bhowmick?

Well, at the time of her college days, she studied Sanskrit from one Gauri Dharmalal, who taught her a new and upcoming tradition for the female preachers of Hindu rituals. Nandini was inspired by the idea a lot. Her group also found this idea to be quite special and unique. Following this, they branched out and formulated scripts to go in line with this new generation.

“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 priestess.

The mother of two daughters even solemnized her daughter’s marriage. Bhowmik draws inspiration from her teacher Gouri Dharmapal. The lady with a different ideal donates most of her earnings to an orphanage in Balighai near Puri in Odisha.

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How Bhowmick Conduct Her Wedding Rituals?

There may be many feathers in Nandini’s hat, but performing wedding ceremonies, however, is always her very first priority. One point to be remembered here is that the lady always took a special interest in marrying inter-religious, inter-caste and inter-ethnic couples, throughout Kolkata and its suburbs. Inter Caste marriage is one of the main issues all across the country. Taking this as her priority is really an idea that should be always honored.

Nandini and her team solemnize wedding ceremonies without performing patriarchal rituals like kanyadaan. Nandini recites Sanskrit slokas in either Bengali or English so that the bride and the groom can understand them accordingly. Weddings performed by her have Rabindra Sangeet playing in the background.

” I have heard so many male priests reciting mantras wrong. At a friend’s wedding officiated by Nandini and her friends last year, I was instantly drawn to the way the Sanskrit lines were vividly explained in English and Bengali.”- Nandini.

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