March 31 2009

This is from Susila dasi:

Hare Krishna! Please accept my obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada!
We have an argument with devotees regarding matajis serving on the altar. Should Matajis do pujas during aratis. What was Srila Prabhupada’s opinion in this regard?
Thank you.


From the very beginning of Deity worship in ISKCON Srila Prabhupada encouraged the women to do the puja, aratis, dressing, cooking etc. There is no question of women not being allowed.


Indeed, Srila Prabhupada personally trained an older lady disciple, Shilavati dasi, how to worship Radha Krsna deities to the right standard. Shilavati was then sent to other temples to train other pujaris, or other pujaris were sent to Los Angeles to be trained by Shilavati.

Letter to: Hladini  —  Surat 29 December, 1970

My Dear Hladini devi,
“Please accept my blessings. I am in due receipt of your very nice letter dated 28th November. I am glad to learn that the Deities are being cared for there in Chicago so nicely by your good self. I personally gave instruction to Silavati how to care for the Deities properly when I was in Los Angeles and you were trained up by her. So I am confident that everything is going on nicely.
Proper Deity worship, with all attention to cleanliness, is of the utmost importance. If you can please the Deity by your sincere service, then your temple will flourish. To be able to personally serve the Deity is a great privilege and such a person is very fortunate indeed. So you continue in this way and Krishna will surely bless you.”

Here’s a letter from Srila Prabhupada to Rukmini dasi:

Letter to: Rukmini  —  Los Angeles 20 March, 1970
“Deity worship means to be very, very clean. You should try to bathe twice daily. The Deities should never be approached without having bathed first and changed to clean cloths after passing stool, etc. Keep teeth brushed after each meal, fingernails clean and trim. Be sure that your hands are clean before touching anything on the altar or the Deities. And cleanse the Deity room, altar and floor daily thoroughly. Shine the various Aratrik paraphernalia after Aratrik. This is described in the booklet for pujaris written by Silavati Dasi. The idea is summit cleanliness — that will satisfy Krsna.”

In this letter to Kancanbala  —  Los Angeles 20 April, 1970 Srila Prabhupada advises her to consult with three other women to learn Deity worship:

“I am very glad also to know that you are engaged as Pujari there. Try to learn this art of Arcana very nicely. You can consult in this connection Himavati, Yamuna and also Silavati. I wish that all our girl devotees be expert in the matter of Arcana and cooking. The temple and altar should always be very clean and decorated with flowers and incense. We shall touch the Deity altar and Deity in very clean condition, after taking bath and washing mouth nicely. Practice washing hands after eating and wash with soap and water after toilet. Cleanliness is next to Godliness, so this point should be very carefully observed, then you will advance very quickly to the perfectional stage of Krishna Consciousness.”

And in this letter Srila Prabhupada instructs one of his male GBCs to learn from Silavati:

Letter to: Jagadisa  —  Calcutta 17 September, 1970 

“If you a have got sufficient devotees to take care of the Deities as you have seen how in the Los Angeles Temple, take instruction from Yamuna and Silavati how they are worshiping and the installation procedure is given on a separate sheet.”

Finally, in this letter to Karandhara dasa on 19 September, 1970 Srila Prabhupada praises his women disciples for their expertise in Deity worship:

Regarding Deity worship, Silavati and Yamuna Devi may be considered expert, so if some new hands come and take their help, that is a good proposition. Once established, however, Deities should not be removed. We should treat the Deities as the Personality of Godhead, and to invite Him to come to your home you must worship regularly. You cannot remove. If there is scarcity of pujaris, then Deities should not be installed, only pictures of Guru and Gauranga should be worshiped. Irregularity in worshiping Guru and Gauranga can be tolerated, as they are always kind and forgiving, but irregularity in worshiping Lord Jagannatha and Sri Sri Radha Krishna is not good.”

There are more, but I think the point is established.

The only places where there was some restriction was Vrndavana, and possibly Mayapur. This was due to Srila Prabhupada’s sensitivity to local caste sensitivities. Because the caste goswamis would not have accepted women on the altar doing arati, Srila Prabhupada restricted his women disciples from doing this. However, he did allow them to do the behind-the-scenes pujari work in Vrndavana, including the dressing of the Deities, when there was a shortage of male pujaris.

In Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta and other ISKCON temples in India, women were doing all the pujari work same as the men.

Your humble servant,

Hari-sauri dasa

One Comment
1. aniruddha
April 1st, 2009 at 3:26 pm

Thanks for the latest few articles Hari Sauri Prabhu. They’re topical and enlightening. I missed you in your short blogging absence.

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