Hindu Women Perform Cremation Rites Defying Traditions
Women are not allowed to be part of the cremation rites, according to Hindu traditions. Only the male family members accompany the body to the cremation ground, typically led by the eldest son or father as the ‘karta’ or chief mourner.
This tradition is mentioned in the Garuda Purana. However, it does not forbid women from performing cremation rites. In Vedic times, it was said that daughters could assume the role of the son. But over the years, patriarchy did its thing. Women lost their rights to be priests, or conduct any religious practices such as funeral rites. Nowadays, there is a wave of change and women are participating in cremation rituals like their male counterparts.
In Maharashtra, Four Women Carry Mother-In-Law’s Body For Last Rites
In Beed, Marathwada, four daughter-in-laws broke age-old traditions by carrying the body of their beloved mother-in-law. To the disbelief of many relatives, the daughters-in-law volunteered to lend their shoulders to carry their mother-in-law’s body to the local crematorium, reported NDTV.
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When there were some mild murmurs of protests, the four women insisted on breaking traditions and finally placed their mother-in-law Sunderbai’s flower-decked open coffin on their shoulders and marched to the crematorium. They were followed by their relatives, neighbours and friends, including many women. En route, many curious onlookers also joined the never-seen-before funeral procession.
Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Foster Daughter Lighted His Pyre
This act not only hit the headlines for sending a strong message to the gender biased society, but has given rise to several tea room debates. “There was a foster daughter to light the pyre, but no Karyakarta, Purohit or Acharya protested the significant step in women empowerment,” said the spokesperson of the Rashtra Sevika Samiti, Sunila Sowani.
The Chennai Woman Who Runs A Hindu Crematorium
In the city of Chennai, a 34-year-old woman has been managing one of the city’s oldest and busiest cremation grounds, Praveena Soloman.
“Not everyone was okay with a woman working here. Some teased us, some passed filthy remarks. Some even questioned what type of a woman would come and work here. They said we must be bad people and that was very hurtful,” she told the BBC.
Then there were people who were dependent on the ground for their living and thought that they would lose their jobs. “So they threatened to throw acid on my face,” she says. The first three months were the toughest. “But slowly they realised that we were not there to take away their jobs and things have changed.”
The Change Is Coming
In 2013, two girls from Bahraich, Neelam and Poonam performed the last rites of their father, “because he never discriminated between boys and girls.”
In 2014, Gopinath Munde’s daughter gave a blow to gender bias perpetuated in the name of customs and lit her father’s funeral pyre. Prominent people and purohits were the spectators of the sweeping change.
In 2016, Mallika Sarabhai gave a tribute to her mother Mrinalini Sarabhai by performing Nrityanjali, and lighting the pyre.
These cases are important to illustrate the changes in religious practices. Women are coming to the forefront and soon will stand shoulder to shoulder with men. The performance of cremation rites by women evokes a feeling of equality and partnership. There is still a long way to go for acceptance of such changes. But the change is coming.
Image credit: Rediff.com
Saumya Rastogi is an intern with SheThePeople.TV