More Hindu Women Are Becoming Priests

July 18, 2008

Author: Margaret Ramirez

Source: Chicago Tribune

Amid the noise and bustle of downtown Chicago, the groom rode a white horse, shaking to Indian drumbeats in procession to the Palmer House Hilton hotel.

Inside, the bride and groom took seats under the red mandap, or wedding canopy, and the priest began chanting in a high, melodic voice.

For some, the chants heard at the service last month sounded like a break from Hindu custom. Priests are traditionally men, but the presiding priest at this wedding was Shashi Tandon, a respected female elder in the Hindu community and the groom’s grandmother.

Since emigrating from New Delhi in 1982, Tandon has presided over countless religious ceremonies for Hindu families in Chicago, Michigan, Wisconsin and elsewhere, filling a void that has emerged because of a shortage of Hindu priests.

As more Hindu men enter more lucrative, secular professions, Tandon and a handful of Hindu women in America have begun performing priestly duties as a way of passing their faith to the next generation.

There is nothing in Hindu scripture that bars women from becoming priests, also known as pandits.

But in some parts of India and the United States, women priests face resistance from conservative Hindus clinging to tradition.