Whenever there is a puja in our homes, we usually call a priest to perform all the rituals. It is an age-old notion that men are considered more suited for such practices. But, one woman is breaking this orthodox belief, and she is Chitra Chandrachud, famously known as a priestess. For 20 years, she has been performing pujas, marriages, and last rites. It sounds strange to many, but she chose this profession out of her choice and deep passion.
Her unusual journey to becoming a priestess started in 1997 when she read a Marathi book called ‘Gargi Ajun Jeevant Ahe’. She was very much intrigued by the female protagonist who performed the last rites at Varanasi and altered the belief that women are not allowed near dead bodies. This story inspired Chitra to go deep into this subject, and thus, she took up a course with Jnana Prabhodini, an institution based in Pune, to read more about the priests and priestesses.
Seeing her dedication and conviction, her family supported her choice. Though she was 52 years old when she made this leap of faith, her household responsibilities didn’t hold her back. In her own words:
“But first, I asked my father-in-law about this. I was married and was 52 years old then. I had certain responsibilities in the house and being a priestess would have taken a lot of my time. All he asked me was if I will be too scared to take the leap at my age. When he and my family saw my convictions they all supported me.”
Like in every field, when a woman has stepped into a male-dominated arena, she has often been criticized and looked down. The same happened with Chandrachud. She narrates an interesting incident:
“I went to a house to perform puja once. The family knew I was from Jnana Prabodhini, but that’s all they knew. When I entered, they asked me if Guruji is going to be late and why he didn’t come with me.”
Well, it is high time we move over “gurujis”!
Over the last 20 years, Chitra has performed about 200 last rites, and at more than 100 wedding ceremonies. Well, she also keeps the record of her appointments in a diary. Her discipline for her profession is indeed inspiring for every woman.