Female Hindu priest breaks tradition with her modern stance on controversial issues
By Nikita Sharma
The UK’s first female Hindu priest described her pioneering journey to priesthood and opposing centuries old traditions and culture when she spoke at Leicester’s LCB Depot yesterday.
Chanda Vyas gave her unique insight on various topics including the furiously debated myth on periods branding women as impure, same sex relationships and marriage in Hinduism, and her struggle to be accepted as a Hindu priest.
The dialogue, titled Faith and Culture, took place between Chanda and art directorPriya Mistry.
Chanda was born into a Brahmin family and, as a child, accompanied her father to classes that trained young boys and men to become priests.
A priest is a role traditionally reserved for Brahmin men, the priestly caste. Her interest in becoming a priest heightened due to this and so did her fiery determination to fulfil her dream when she was again and again discouraged with the statement, ‘Women are not allowed to practice.’
Chanda Vyas is also known for officiating a same sex Hindu marriage ceremony for two women, a Leicester resident and a Jewish-born Texan.
Same- sex marriage is illegal in India due to cultural and religious reasons. Recalling the marriage of the two women, she shared her reasons for officiating the ceremony by stating: “Two people are in pure love and want to get married – who are we to say no to God’s children and their love?”
On tackling the authenticity of the cultural norm and religious taboo of the image of the impure woman during menstruation, Chanda had a very simple explanation.
“There are no Hindu scriptures that forbid menstruating women from visiting the temple, praying and touching religious artefacts. These rules are all man-made.”
Many Hindus are opposed to same-sex marriage and Chanda has a message to tell everyone, about Hinduism and its culture regarding homosexuality. She spoke about Hinduism being firmly for spiritual equality.
She said: “Hindus should accept homosexuals as fellow beings on the path to Moksha.”
Moksha is freedom from the cycle of birth and death. Chanda also explained the fact that homosexuality had never been considered a crime in Hindu culture, it only became so after the British colonial-era law was imposed from 1860, with Section 337 of the Indian penal code punishing sexual conduct as being ‘against the order of nature’.
Same-sex relations and gender variance has been represented within Hinduism from Vedic times through to the present day.
Chanda Vyas worked informally as a priest for 30 years before becoming a priest officially nine years ago. She has encouraged many women to challenge cultural norms and is now training women to become priests.