Women's Lives, Women's Rituals in the Hindu Tradition

Women's Lives, Women's Rituals in the Hindu Tradition

Women's Lives, Women's Rituals in the Hindu Tradition

Women's Lives, Women's Rituals in the Hindu Tradition

Synopsis

In this text, 11 leading scholars of Hinduism explore the complex relationship between Hindu women's ritual activities and their lives beyond ritual.

Excerpt

We give birth to a child, we put oil on the child’s body, and we massage the child. Men can’t do all this. So ritual worship [puja] is like this. Men cannot do as much as we do.

The woman who spoke these words, Bhagavanti, was reclining on the floor of her home in the city of Benares, North India, and watching her daughter-in-law sort rice as my research associate, Sunita Singh, and I sat before her, trying to interview her. It was November 1997, and I had come to Bhagavanti’s home to ask about her participation in Kartik puja, a tradition of women’s devotional practices specific to the month of Kartik (October–November). Bhagavanti sat before us, her elbow resting on a pillow as she responded patiently to the questions we put before her. She was quite elderly at the time of our interview and had lost a good deal of her hearing, so Sunita and I had to shout to make ourselves heard, drawing the attention of many neighborhood women and children, who came to peer through the windows to see what was going on. Bhagavanti’s daughter-in-law kept getting up and milling about, but she also chimed in whenever she had a point she wanted to make. At this particular moment, I was asking Bhagavanti why men don’t participate in the particular ritual tradition, called Kartik puja, about which I was asking her. Like many other women I interviewed, Bhagavanti attributed men’s absence to differences between men’s and women’s natures and social roles in ways that seemed to favor women as the more virtuous and disciplined gender (cf. Pintchman 2005).

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