More women are taking their place on the altar at Hindu religious rituals, leading prayers in what has traditionally been a male-dominated role.
For centuries, many Hindu prayers have been led by male Pundits but according to Geeta Vahini, President of the Hindu Prachaar Kendra, over the last decade, there has been an increase in “Punditas” or “Purohitas” as they are referred.
Geeta Vahini has presided over pujas for over thirty years.
“I grew up in the temple in Longdenville so I have been immersed in Hindu traditions since I was a child growing up but, I would say it was not until my late teens I got more involved and underwent training for becoming a community worker and that evolved into the person I am today, a Pundita,” she told Guardian Media during an interview on Wednesday.
However, Geeta Vahini said her journey to the altar had its stumbling blocks as she noted there have been many taboos associated with female pundits.
“When I did my first Yagya, I was going to do a discourse from the sacred text and there was quite an amount of hostility. I remember letters being written to me with people saying it was sacrilege,” she recalled.
Vahini explained that there is nothing in Hindu religious texts that prohibits a woman from leading religious rituals or even participating in puja during her menstruation.
“Many persons would have termed this as unclean when the woman is going through her menstrual cycle which is a natural course,” she said.
According to her, “the type of care that is available now was not available in the ancient days so how do we condemn a woman for going through this natural cycle when we go and touch the feet of God as female and mother.”
Today, Vahini said more people are becoming open-minded and are embracing female religious leaders. This she said was comforting especially since more women are showing an interest in leading spiritual work.
“We are seeing more and more getting involved as to whether they will choose this path. It is a different question because largely everyone is career-oriented and the role of a pundit or Pundita has always been service-oriented and is not financially rewarding”, she stated.
For those young women who are considering this path, she advised that they embark on the necessary training to better understand the scriptures and rituals so that they can continue demystifying the notion of female pundits.