The first woman Hindu priest of West Bengal, Nandini Bhowmik rose to prominence after solemnizing a wedding ceremony, without performing the patriarchal practice of kanyadaan. Bhowmik said that she wants to get rid of the idea of parents ‘renouncing the custody’ of their daughter and treating her like ‘a commodity and giving her away as dana (donation)’.
Nandini had recently supervised the wedding of Anvita Janardhanan and Arka Bhattacharya on February 24.
Bhowmik is a Sanskrit teacher at the Jadavpur University. She has solemnized as many as 40 marriages over the course of ten years. She reportedly simplifies the Sanskrit hymns to English and Bengali for the couples to chant. She has her own troupe which sings Rabindra Sangeet in the background.
Bhowmik is usually busy with her teaching schedule and 10 different drama groups. But she manages to take time out to marry inter-religious, inter-caste and inter-ethnic couples throughout Kolkata and its suburbs.
“I do not perform Kanyadaan as I consider the practice regressive in which women are treated as commodities. I try to keep the rituals short and simple and complete the entire programme within an hour,” she told The New Indian Express.
Bhowmik said that she respects priests who follow the traditional rituals and is not in confrontation with them. “Though my husband sometimes feels threatened due to the growth of aggressive Hindutva, I have not yet received any personal threats,” said the mother of two daughters to The New Indian Express.
Bhowmik even solemnized her daughter’s marriage and draws her inspiration from her teacher Gouri Dharmapal. Bhowmik said she donates most of her earnings to an orphanage near Puri in Odisha.