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Greatness of India's Female Saints
All of us have a spiritual mother. She could have been our biological mother, foster mother or adoption mother. She was our first teacher, or guru. She taught us much about the world and spirituality. She was most likely a Dharma Pathni--one who leads or guides the husband in spiritual matters and in life. When a couple compliment, negotiate and get along well, it is Lakshmi Devi who dwells there in their home. A truly enlightened man will support his wife's goals, career and share her wisdom with others.
Many are not aware that India has many of these spiritual mothers, who have become saints, swamis, teachers and priests. As Pandit Rajmani of India says, "There are thousands of lady saints in India. You think because there are no books about them, they not exist. If you go into the Himalayas you will find many female yogis (yoginis) who live in the caves and forests doing penance. But most of the women saints remain with their families, purifying themselves and serving others...They don't care for name and fame. Even the people in the next village do not know who they are. In your country you believe that no one can be a saint unless they give seminars."
I just love this next story about an Indian man named Agastya. His guru was Sri Vidya, who had a great guru, who was an expert on the Goddess. Agastya asked him where this guru lived. Vidya told him the guru lived in Agastya's village. He was puzzled about who the guru was. Then Vidya told him that the great guru lived in Agastya's own home. Vidya finally told him that it was Agastya's wife, Lopamudra, who was this self-realized master. She wrote parts of the Vedas. What a great story! He thinks there are many households where this is very true that the woman is the self-realized master. He does not think this story is unique in any way.
In ancient times (3300 to 1300 B.C.) women studied the Vedas and other sacred texts and even wrote sections of the Vedas. Many taught the truths found in these books. They were Vedic Wise Women, or female sages, known as Rishikas. This is our great heritage and tradition. Many of these women raised families besides being spiritual mothers. Some of these women were single and dedicated all of their waking hours to this great task of being a spiritual mother. Numerous women wrote parts of the Vedas. No other sacred text had as many female writers producing its content. This is very unique among world religions and philosophies.
Ammachi Ma is a modern example of a great female teacher. She is in her 50's. She attended school until 4th grade when she quit because of her mother's illness. She is a well-known hugging saint and female teacher. I have featured her in one of my prior blogs. I would also call her a philosopher because of her great wisdom. Some say she is an incarnation of the Mother. She denies this, but she certainly displays aspects of the Mother. She is involved with environmental projects and service projects to help the poor improve their lives. Even though she had little formal training, she knows the ideas in the Vendanta, Tantra and others yoga texts. For many this is a sign of her divinity. She had no teacher and yet many come to study her philosophy.
A very revolutionary event happened on November 24, 2009 in Pune, India, women in Maharashtra state of western India, revived a Vedic tradition and became priests. About 700 women were in this group. Many had been studying since the 1970's. They came from all backgrounds, castes and marital states. It is time we choose people based on their natural abilities rather if their families had pandits. Many modern female priests have noticed that people want more environmental practices at the mandirs. Some have instituted more of these practices on their own. It is very much in line with the Vedic tradition. They gear their kathas and discourses to include the concerns of women and children. This is very much what I do when I do a katha at a mandir. As a public speaker and Master of Ceremonies, I summarize details of the teachings of pandits at Yagnas and introduce the pandits.
Pandita Lynette Suknaman at Shri Gaatryi Mandir in Minneapolis, Minnesota is a Caribbean Hindu priest. She also teaches Hindi at MDHS Vishnu Mandir in Minneapolis. She has been a priest at Shri Gaatryi for a number of years now.
President Barak Obama appointed a female Hindu priest as a member of a faith-based advisory council at the White House. She is Pandita Anju Bhargava, who was born in Chennai, India. She is involved in explaining the basics of the tradition.
In 2010 Pandita Chanda Vyas became the first female priest to conduct weddings in the United Kingdom. She comes from a Brahim family, but she raised a family before obtaining this honor. Her father is her guru and taught her about conducting various rituals, besides the wedding ceremonies.
There is a great tradition of spiritual mothers in Hinduism from ancient Vedic times until now. Many intelligent mothers have taught us how to be in the world. The younger women will be becoming all these in the future: the leaders of mandirs, priests, saints, Masters of Ceremonies, public speakers, teachers, board members and swamis. Women of my generation worked outside the home and instituted much social change in society. I was one of the first group of female journalists and broadcasters who worked at newspapers and radio stations. As pioneers we had to work hard to make it easier for future women in the roles. We now are the mentors for these younger women. We are the wives, sisters, mothers, aunts, grandmothers and daughters who are today's spiritual mothers. We are the Shakti energy getting this great task done. Let us encourage our young women to step forward and became part of this ancient sisterhood of spiritual mothers. Happy Mother's Day!
JAI SHRI MOTHERS!