As ‘maharajin buas’, these women perform last rites

By Asit Srivastava, IANS,

Allahabad : They are called ‘maharajin buas’. Hindu women from several families have defied tradition in Maniaya village of Uttar Pradesh to take up the profession of priests who perform the last rites. The women priests of Maniaya village in Allahabad can be seen lighting pyres and performing other Vedic rites along the banks of the river Ganga.

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“If men can become priests and carry out cremations, why can’t women? I don’t see anything wrong with it,” Kaushalya Rani, 25, a woman priest, told IANS.

“With the same proficiency, we too can perform the last rites like our male counterparts. I am sure in the coming days, more women will take up the profession of maharajin bua,” she added.

There is nothing in Hindu Vedic texts that bars women from carrying out cremations, though traditionally men have taken up the profession. Also, these women priests are not necessarily Brahmins and are different from temple priests.

Women from nearly seven families in Maniaya village have taken up the profession that is still considered a male domain.

While some of the women do it to diversify their family income, others have taken it up to continue their ancestral profession that could have otherwise ended in the absence of a male family member.

“I took up the job for both reasons. My father, who was a ‘mahapatra’ (male priest who performs last rites) died two years ago. There was no male member in my family who could have carried forward our ancestral business,” said Guddan, 24, another woman priest in Maniaya village.

“After his death, our relatives not only stopped coming to our home but even declined to help us financially in the bad phase. It was then that I decided to take up my father’s job. Today I am the sole bread-winner in the family comprising my mother and two younger sisters, besides myself,” she added.

According to locals, it has been nearly three years since women began performing last rites in the village.

“Though male priests are in a majority, maharajin buas are also establishing themselves gradually,” said Sheelan Desh Pandey, 65, who owns a dairy in Maniaya.

“Recently we have observed that residents of the adjoining villages like Kaundhiara, Dharwara, Karma and Naribari also approach the women priests of our village for various anniversaries, be it ‘shraddh’ or last rites,” he added.

The women priests say initially they had to face stiff opposition from people, particularly male priests.

“My neighbours were shocked when they came to know about my decision. They made every effort to dissuade me. But I remained firm on my decision and ultimately started performing the cremation,” said Kaushalya Kishori, another women priest in the village.

(Asit Srivastava can be contacted at [email protected])