Nandini Bhowmik is an inspiration to every man and woman, who wants to shatter patriarchal mindset and gender stereotypes in a graceful and inspiring way.
In the times when many couples are striving hard to lay the foundation of their successful marriage on gender equality, many people are also finding ways to introduce the same equality in the age-old rituals as well. Nandini Bhowmik is one such woman.
Last year, an inspiring post of marriage went viral for all the right reasons.
At this wedding, there was no male purohit. Instead, it had a group of women, gracefully chanting the scriptures.
I’m at a wedding with female pandits. They introduce the bride as the daughter of <mother’s name> and <father’s name> (mom first!!!). The bride’s dad gave a speech saying he wasn’t doing kanyadaan because his daughter wasn’t property to give away. ???????????? I’m so impressed. pic.twitter.com/JXqHdbap9D
Nandini is the priestess, who is leading the group of female priests called, ‘Shubham Astu’, who has been striving hard to bring equality to the rituals of our wedding.
Nandini is also a visiting faculty at the Sanskrit department of Jadavpur University (JU), Kolkata, and a theatre actor. She shared how her group is reintroducing Indian culture and heritage to the younger generation with a sense of equality. While talking to TBI, Nandini Bhowmik mentioned:
“The knowledge in our scriptures cannot stay hidden behind an ancient language. The couples of this generation are asking questions about what and why they do in rituals. And, it is the responsibility of the priests to help them understand. That’s exactly what we are doing.”
She further added:
“I was in college and our Sanskrit teacher, Gauri Dharmalal, had introduced a new and reformed way for female priests to perform Hindu rituals. So in a few years, we (a bunch of young Sanskrit teachers) began to pursue this. After a few years, with the help of few more fellow priestesses, I branched out, and together we created a more evolved script which was in-line with this generation.”
From then, Shubham Astu became famous for offering a unique experience of equality to the Indian wedding ceremonies.
As per Nandini, for any scripture the process of evolution is continuous. So, in order to adapt to the changing times, this group not only introduced a simplified interpretation of the scriptures in three languages—Sanskrit, Bengali, and English but also the new script did away with the ‘kanyadaan,’ a prominent ritual in a Hindu wedding.
Many who believe in gender equality, perceive Kanyadaaan as a byproduct of a regressive thought process.
Kanyadaan, which literally means donating one’s daughter, is a commonly practiced ritual in Hindu weddings. But many people are coming forward to look at ways to change it. And, Nandini and her group is definitely a ray of hope for such people. The group has conducted many weddings where the parents asked them not to conduct this ritual.
One such wedding went viral last year, in which a father refused to perform Kanyadaan.
The story of the wedding went viral after a guest posted on twitter about it. As per the sources, Dr. Amlan Ray, the father of the bride explained the ideology behind the decision.
“I took this decision some six months before the wedding day. And, that was one of the major reasons why I requested Nandini Bhowmik and her group to officiate the wedding. Contrary to common belief, which considers this to be against Hindu culture, a wedding without kanyadaan is not a new thing and is already mentioned in the scriptures,”
Dr. Ray further adds that the Rig Veda mentions eight different types of weddings. Only one of which – Brahma wedding – includes the ritual of kanyadaan.
“And, most Hindu weddings today will not qualify to be a Brahma wedding, as it involves the wedding of one’s daughter to a Vedic scholar, among other strictures. In general, today most modern weddings come under the Gandharva marriage category, in which bride and groom know each other before marriage, and the marriage can be between different communities and castes without any barrier, and without the practice of kanyadaan,”
While stressing on why our rituals need to adapt as per the current context – where women want to be an equal partner in marriage and life, Nandini adds:
“Historically, our world has been patriarchal and owing to that, the laws and rituals were also formed in such a manner. Also, in the olden days, girls were married at a very young age, making it very difficult for them to understand or participate in the rituals. However, in the current context, that needs to change completely. Today, both are equal partners, in age, experience and agency, and so, this addition was crucial.”
Nandini and her group do face some resistance as they walk on the road less traveled. While the four priestesses of Shubham Astu took up the quest to reform the ancient scriptures, these inspiring souls have blessed with more love than criticism.
“We did not embrace this to wage any war or hurt anyone’s feelings, but only to share our knowledge. Most people see and understand that and so have been showering us with love!” says Nandini.
At IFORHER, we are in awe of Nandini and her group of the priestess as they are reforming our society for better with every marriage. It is heartbreaking how even in the 21st century, women are still struggling for equality at home and at work. In this relentless struggle, we want to celebrate every husband and every wife, who is striving hard to make their marriage an equal partnership.