These four priestesses headed by Nandini Bhowmik will perform all the rituals in the coming Durga Puja celebrations
Women are breaking the glass ceiling in every sphere so why shouldn’t officiating the annual Durga Puja rituals be one of them? Well, it is happening this time as not one but four women — Nandini Bhowmik, Ruma Roy, Semanti Banerjee and Paulomi Chakraborty – are going to create history by breaking a centuries-old tradition as they will officiate all rituals for the 66 Pally Durga Puja committee in Kolkata.
Incidentally, 66 Pally Durga Puja has always been in the forefront of introducing inventive and innovative ideas and drawing crowds in large numbers. Last year, on the eve of the 100th birth anniversary of Satyajit Ray, they themed their celebrations on the Apu Trilogy and this time it will be women priests presiding over the proceedings.
Talking about this innovative theme, an official of the 66 Pally Durga Puja Committee, Pradyumna Mukherjee, told News18: “Women perform puja at home. The idol that is worshiped is female, so why can’t women perform priesthood? Female priests are much more active in West Bengal than ever before.”
Thus, this year’s Puja is appropriately being themed as “Mayer Haate Mayer Abahon” (Mother Goddess will be worshipped by mothers”.
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Giving a cogent argument to the media, Mukherjee said: “Don’t women make all the arrangements for conducting puja rituals in household and para (locality) puja. If there can be women clay modellers, if there can be women organisers, why not women priestesses?”
On being asked how did this idea come about, he replied: “I first got the idea from a production house called Windows Productions. A female priest was the protagonist in the movie, ‘Brahma Janen Gopon Kommoti’, directed by Aritra Mukherjee. So, this production house is the source of our theme.” He also added that the film was inspired by Nandini Bhowmik, a known name in south Kolkata.
Bhowmik, who has retired from a college, and heads this group, is a guest lecturer of the Sanskrit department in Jadavpur University, and a former student of Lady Brabourne College. Her favourite subject is Indology and she has been officiating other religious ceremonies.
In an article in way2barak.com she is quoted as stating: “We conduct rituals at social functions like marriage, rice ceremony, funeral and grihoprobesh puja (house warming). We don’t believe in segregating men and women, in segregating between humans. We strictly follow scriptures. We thinking the scriptures need to be interpreted and communicated in an appropriate manner to the modern generation.”
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Before accepting this responsibility, Bhowmik took her time to prepare and study. It was only after nearly four months of deliberation she accepted.
Mukherjee said based on the success of this move, they will continue with women priestesses provided the four are willing to be associated with their organisation. He added that this year because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, they decided not to have grand celebrations and instead opted for a traditional Durga Puja in their club.