“Women priest in Tamil Nadu temples,” an instant smile came to my face when I read this news. An additional statement that “Non- Brahmins can be priests post training” multiplied my happiness. Finally, an Indian state is looking forward to this change, and I couldn’t be happier.
Since childhood, I have always wondered, “Why are women prohibited from taking this role in which they could have excelled for sure?” I can’t be blamed for this as I had always seen my mom doing puja at home and pondered why women like her can’t do the same in temples. There must have been various reasons that could have led our ancestors to make these rules that prohibit women from worshiping in temples, the pivotal being that women menstruate, and it’s not religious to touch the holy shrine during those days.
But don’t our moms menstruate? Though they restrict themselves from worshiping on the said dates, they still do the puja with conviction throughout the rest of the year. They don’t lose their rights because they bleed, which is a natural phenomenon, and we can hardly do anything about it. Then why not in temples?
Another reason might be that women are already burdened with household chores and so it wouldn’t be wise to assign them additional temple work. Gone are those days! We can manage our work and definitely do justice to any job role we are assigned. Some introspection can take us back to our history, where only male priests presided over various ceremonies of our ancient kingdoms. Maybe the rule formed then continued for these many years.
However, times have changed and this calls for a change in our societal norms, too. Allowing non-Brahmins to be priests is again a welcome change. I have seen my parents struggle to get a priest on Ganesh Chaturthi as they would all be occupied, and we would have a hard time getting one who was available. As small kids, we would get irritated for being forced to wait on an empty stomach — it was considered inauspicious to eat before giving pushpanjali (floral offering to Lord).
At times, the unavailability of Pandit Ji would force my mom to finally call our next-door neighbour to do the puja as he was a Brahmin and hence the right to worship the Lord on these special occasions laid on him. Having non-Brahmin priests can do away with all of these prejudices and open up employment opportunities for many. I don’t know how far people will accept these changes and if other states will follow suit, but it no doubt will carve the path for a new tomorrow.