Pune’s women priests spur filmmaker to make documentary

via By: Vivek Sabnis - Midday.com published on July 9, 2011

Impressed by city’s acceptance of women performing religious rituals, national award-winning actress and director Suhasini Mulay to film the phenomenon

Priesthood, traditionally a male bastion, has enthused the women folk so much that it has become a kind of movement in the city. Women are now performing the puja, marriage rituals and funeral rites and the city is accepting them with open arms.  ‘Back to the Vedas’, is the resonant mantra among religious organisations in the city, who are training women to become priests. The Vedas propagates gender equality and encourages women to learn Sanskrit shlokas.

Arya Joshi, course coordinator at Dnyana Prabodhini, said so far they had trained over 1,000 women priests since 1990. “Housewives are keen to do the course to supplement family income. The course has become popular,” she said. The city now has more women priests than other cities in the state. “Pune has over 7,000 practising women priests which is more than Mumbai and Nashik,” said Suhasini Mulay, national award-winning actress and director. Mulay is in the city to make a documentary on women priests.

She has done research on the topic and met many organisations in the city. The Films Division has sanctioned Rs 4 lakh to make Shankhnaad, a documentary on women priests. Mulay will start shooting from August when the Ganpati festival begins. “Shooting will take place at Dnyana Prabhodhini training school and other places,” Mulay said. “I shall also work on Pitru Pandhravda in September, when people perform rituals for the departed souls. The rituals are generally conducted by male priests but now more women are doing it.”

Growing popularity

People generally prefer male priests, but they chant the mantras without explaining the meaning to the host. Women who perform the rituals according to the Dnyana Prabhodhini style explain the meaning in simple Marathi, Hindi and even in English.  

The mindset of the people has changed and they have started accepting women as priests. “Women perform the rituals in detail. They are more homely than the male priests and therefore their popularity is increasing,” Joshi said. “There is still a 25 per cent opposition from the people especially from the old and traditional families in the city,” she said.

Sameep Kulkarni, an IT Engineer, whose marriage ritual was performed by a woman priest said he preferred to let them officiate at most family functions. “I get more satisfied by their style of work. Now, these women have become part of my family function,” he said.

25 training centres

Mama Thatte, a Hindu priest and scholar in Vedic literature, started training women to become priests in 1970.

His pioneering efforts inspired many others and they also started imparting such training privately. There are more than 25 private classes in the city where women can go and learn how to perform religious rituals.


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