Mother and daughter breaking male dominance by becoming priests in Kerala

In Kerala, 24-year-old Jyotsna Padmanabhan and her mother Archana Kumari are creating history by breaking centuries-old male dominance in priestly and tantric rituals.

The mother-daughter duo has been performing the roles of priests in a temple in Kerala’s Thrissur district for some time now. Not only this, tantric rituals are being performed in neighboring temples and other places which are generally considered to be male dominated areas. However, 47-year-old Archana and her daughter do not term their priesthood as an initiative for gender equality or an attempt to break gender stereotypes prevailing in the society.

Hailing from a Brahmin family of Tharanelloor Thekkineyedatu Mana in Kattur, Jyothsana and Archana say in one voice that they entered the priesthood not to prove anything to the society but because of their devotion. Jyotsna, who has done her Masters in Vedanta and Literature, said she started learning Tantra at the age of seven and dreaming of playing the role of a priest even before that.

She said, ‘I grew up watching my father Padmanabhan Namboodiripad perform puja and tantric rituals. So the dream of learning it started growing in my mind from the time I was very young. Jyotsna said, ‘When I expressed my wish to my father, he did not oppose. He cooperated fully. He said that in no ancient scripture or tradition, women have been stopped from performing tantric rituals and reciting mantras.

Jyothsana had performed a tantric ritual to deity Bhadrakali at her family’s ancestral temple, Pankannikavu Sree Krishna Temple. The head priest of this temple is his father. She is playing the role of a priest in the temple and conducts daily pujas there.

For the last several years, she has been doing puja in other temples as well. When the daughter started worshiping and learning tantric rituals, her mother Archana Kumari, till now doing domestic work, also joined her daughter in this. Jyotsna holds a dual master’s degree in Vedanta and Literature from the University of Kanchi and the University of Madras.


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