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Claiming Religious and Ritual Landscape: A Case Study of Pāṇinī Kanyā Mahāvidyālaya


· Vinita Chandra Indian Institute of Technology (BHU) (Varanasi, India)


07/28 | 15:30-15:50 UTC+2/CEST


Like most mainstream religions, women have been on the margins of religious and ritual leadership in what is popularly construed to be Hinduism. The teaching of Veda through techniques for oral transmission, and performance of rituals have been heavily masculinized activities. The aćāryās in the Pāṇinī Kanyā Mahāvidyālaya, a women’s college in Varanasi established in 1971, seek to intervene in both these spaces. Oral teaching of the Veda is part of the curriculum and regular practice of the Vidyālaya, and the teachers and students also engage in performance of yajña, performance of all the sixteen saṃskāras and paurohitya karma- activities highly prohibited for women. I seek to study how these women exercise their religious agency through forging, claiming and enacting meaningful religious identities. In the process, are they able to strategically reform or transform the religious landscape by rejecting strict obedience to tradition, even as they situate themselves within the confines of tradition? What are men’s responses to this challenge from within? In recently conducted interviews, I found men involved in teaching of Veda are contemptuous of memorization and chanting of Veda by females in the Mahāvidyālaya, soon approaching half century of its existence. I seek to understand the challenges that the founder women teachers would have faced in rupturing the patriarchal sphere. What have been the means through which they have resisted these pressures? How have they negotiated space and place for themselves? I also seek to understand what is that drives women to intervene on the landscape of religion and ritual- a wish to wield power and authority, or to challenge it?