Nandini Bhowmik - A Bengali Woman Priest Who Scrapped Kanyadaan

A big fat wedding is a dream every young millennial wishes for today. Sabyasachi Bride, P.C. Chandra's exclusive gold ornaments, cinematic video shoots, wedding venue at a five-star resort - the wishlist goes on. But have you ever heard that couples have a fancy for the special priests who will solemnize their wedding? Kolkata is breaking this trend. Nandini Bhowmik, the name might not be very familiar for outsiders. This Sanskrit Professor has brought a wave of social transformation that will resonate through the ages. A Hindu woman priest, Nandini Bhowmik, solemnize marriages. 

Nandini Bhowmik
Nandini Bhowmik
Pic Courtesy Instagram/Remembertheday2019

The path-breaking task she did has its roots in her broad cultured upbringing. Sanskrit scholar has completed her Ph.D. from Jadavpur University. She is a visiting faculty at Jadavpur University and is associated with ten drama groups. During her college days, she mastered the art from her teacher Gauri Dharmapal, the Country's first woman priest. She was accompanied by her classmate Ruma Roy. Ten years back, they started their journey to conduct weddings. However, the path ahead was never easy.

In the early days, when they asked for work, very few people agreed. That work was just out of passion and not her profession. People questioned how women could perform weddings, a right only given to upper-caste men (Brahmins). Soft-spoken Nandini always responded with facts. She says that no Vedic book suggests, a woman cannot solemnize a wedding. Scholars also agree with her views, and she never received any objection from society. She further adds that if a woman can do daily puja at home and can perform Laxmi Puja, then why cannot they do rituals on big occasions.

She has a group of four members known as Subham Astu. At Subham Astu, they don't memorize the hymns but understand the meaning. Nandini Bhowmik and Ruma Roy, her classmate, do the part of the ritual. Two other members sing Rabindra sangeet in the background. Women gracefully chanting Sanskrit scriptures interspersed with some of Tagore's melodious songs change the aura. They also explain the meaning of these Sanskrit hymns to the couple in Bengali and English. They select only those hymns which have relevance to the present age. She broke all the taboos when she solemnized her daughter's marriage. 

Nandini Bhowmik
Indian Wedding

A firm believer in gender equality, she has also done away with the Kanyadaan from the weddings she commemorates. Kanyadan is a Hindu ritual where the father gifts his daughter to Groom. She says that a lady is not a commodity that she will be gifted to her husband. If you insist on doing Kanyadaan, then people shall also perform Putradaan. 

However, she was always not this rigid. There was a time when she had to do Kanyadaan. There were ceremonies where the traditional marriage ceremony followed after they solemnized the wedding. But her struggle days are gone. Now, they dictate the terms and will not do any ritual which obstructs equality. Groom does the Sindoordan, and Bride put a Sindoor tika on Groom's forehead. 

Groom's mother should be present at the wedding and take part in rituals. Traditionally it's considered inauspicious. Why mother is not allowed in Son's wedding. She says that there are ages-old rituals which we are following to date. They might have been logical to those times. But today societies have evolved. She thinks that we have to bring our generation closer to our rich culture. But if we enforce obsolete rituals, then they will go away from their rich heritage. 

Young women have started idolizing her. In recent years, Young girls are performing Saraswati Puja in many parts of West Bengal. Today her group also conducts rice ceremony, house warming, and Shradh Ceremony. Now, a large number of people are approaching to her. She is the inspiration behind the Bengali movie Bramha Jane Goppon Kommoti. She asks people to read the scriptures. She says, only when we read these Vedas, we will understand their true meaning.

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