Fancy this: A lady with chandan tilak and bhagwa clothes solemnising a marriage cermony and asking the bride and groom to stand up for the sacred pheras. This may sound bizarre but punditai is fast becoming a hot profession for young women.
Now women are entering an arena which was considered essentially a male preserve. In several parts of Uttar Pradesh, specially in eastern UP the number of women pundits performing religious ceremonies is on fast rise. But the figure is only 10 per cent as compared to 90 per cent males in the field.
It is learnt that in the next ten years, the percentage of woman astrologers and pundits could swell to 25 per cent.
Interestingly, many young girls are also aspiring to go abroad to pursue this profession. The market for pundits is quite hot as people of Indian origin who swear by traditional norms constitute a rich clientele in Europe and America.
The trend of hiring women pundits for solemnising marriages has been observed in lucknow recently. No wonder that educated women are increasingly making a mark in this field.
With the University Grants Commission introducing a fresh course on "Functional Sanskrit" in the universities, the ancient tradition of women conducting poojas and rituals is experiencing a second coming, say staff members of the Department of Functional Sanskrit Lucknow University.
The attitudes of people who are increasingly inviting female pundits might have changed, but male purohits are annoyed with the trend as they feel that birth, namkaran (name giving ceremony), mundan, Janeu (sacred thread wearing) and marriage should be performed only by male brahmins.
Nilima Sharma who is pursuing Master’s Degree in Astrology from Lucknow University says, "It is nowhere mentioned in any religious text that only male pundits have a right to perform various religious rituals. In my view, pundits of all castes should be acceptable, for, the meaning of the term pundit is a knowledgeable person or a person having sound knowledge of religion.
Dr Asha rai, D.Litt in Dharmashastra, who teaches the subject in Lucknow University feels that the field should no longer be a male domain and gender bias must end. "Touching a woman purohits feet should not be considered an insult. In ancient times women used to perform rituals and various types of poojas."
Faculty members of Functional Sanskrit of various other U.P. universities opine, "It is good to see women taking up jobs in this discipline. Religious scriptures in fact prefer women first, but down the centuries, the role of women has been relegated.
But there is still a long way to go as gender bias still persists. Even male pundits are not comfortable with their daughters performing rituals at ceremonies as they think it is against religious norms.