Pune is known as a city of social reformers and progressive movements. Incidentally, also the city where Savitribai Phule started the first school for girls in 1851.Till today, reform is taking place through the work of organisations such as Jnana Prabodhini, that is striving to remove superstition from sacraments, perform inter-religious marriages and opening the doors for women and people from varying castes to become priests.
“This department is very specific. It is the priesthood craft department that was started in 1975. The organisation was started by V V Pendse who wanted to educate people on the exact background behind these rituals and eliminate the superstitious parts from them. The caste, religion or gender of a priest doesn’t matter. Our department is highly research-based. We hold workshops occasionally to teach the masses to become their own priests,” explains Dr Aaryaa Joshi, head of the department.
The priests perform rituals on occasions like birth, marriage and death among 7000 other sacraments. Every priest follows a guideline book that has been prepared by the department. “The rituals within the booklet are relevant in the current scenario. The booklet may be just 40 pages but it takes us more than 40 months to put it together. We refer to the Rig Veda and other scriptures. We compare and find the common rituals in these texts and gauge as to which are relevant. In the shraddha (death) ceremony, there is a sub-ritual wherein the host has to change the position of the sacred thread. We have removed this ritual since it was associated with an old myth. Also, most people don’t wear their sacred threads anymore,” adds Dr Joshi, who has completed her PhD dissertation on the shraddha ceremony.
Taking a more progressive approach towards the Hindu marriage ceremony, Dr Joshi also explains further that since the kanyadaan ritual is considered regressive, the organisation has added an alternate ritual wherein the bride asserts that she has selected the groom as her husband and they both accept each other as husband and wife.
In order to engage with other religious communities, Jnana Prabodhini has been working with Max Mueller Bhavan for the past two years, on a project to introduce their priests to Christian practices and rituals.
Dr Joshi says, “Last year, two nuns from Berlin came here. They held workshops with our 27 priestesses. They will also be coming again in September to teach us about funeral rituals in Christianity. Every religion has its own ideology but the values and norms remain the same.”
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