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Priestess diaries
May 25, 2022 COMMENT comment
Priestess diaries
By Ritu Goyal Harish
Premvati Arya ventured into a domain that has remained a male bastion for centuries. "Priests today don't have a thorough knowledge of the Vedas. To make the mantras invoke the right energy, they must be recited in the right manner."
Married into a family deeply committed to the Arya Samaj in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, Premvati Arya was first inspired to undertake an exhaustive and in-depth study of the Vedas by her guru. She was widowed in the early eighties, and she had plunged into the depths of despair. "Acharyaji told me I should now devote my time to help others. 
He would stay with us for a month and teach me. After his departure, for one year I would practice what he taught, learn the mantras, their meanings and importance. After one year he would stay for another month and take me to the next level," she recalls. 

It took her five years to complete her study after which she began teaching others. "I used to teach others at home, and also members of my family. Soon I started getting invitations to address groups of people." Reciting and explaining the mantras made her proficient. "Every time I would address a group I was improving my own knowledge, and with time I became perfect," she adds.
As her confidence grew, she began conducting yagnas for near and dear ones. A naming ceremony or a seventh-month ceremony of a pregnant woman, she selflessly reached out to those who needed rituals to be conducted as laid down by the holy books. Soon Hindus from a cross-section of society sought her. Her ability to explain the meanings of the Sanskrit shlokas in easy-tocomprehend language and with references from daily lives was appealing. Her powerful diction, comprehensive knowledge and stately presence won her many hearts and the respect of even the experts of Hindu scriptures.
Male priests always perform yagnas, havans and other religious Hindu ceremonies and women have seldom ventured into this sphere. In the 1980s, Pune pioneered a change in this traditional system. The city has two schools – Shankarrao Thatte's Shankar Seva Samiti and Jnana Prabodhini – that offer courses that enable women to become pandits. Happy to know of women who are venturing to perform Hindu rituals, Premvati Arya says, "Priests today don't have a thorough knowledge of the Vedas. To make the mantras invoke the right energy, they must be recited in the right manner. If these women have that knowledge, then it is a good step."
When told that she had also taken on the mantle of a priest, she declines to be known as one. "I am just a woman who used her knowledge to reach out to others. Performing a yagna is just my privilege and honour," she speaks humbly.
Advancing age and ill health have curtailed her activities, which included making Ayurvedic medicines for the afflicted based on her detailed knowledge of the Ayurveda handbook Charaksamhita. But the indomitable spirit surfaces every time the Vedas are mentioned, as she willingly recites couplets from memory in chaste Sanskrit to a very enthralled audience.
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