KOLKATA,INDIA, October 15, 2021 (NPR): When Sharmistha Chaudhuri decided to get married in her native India, she faced a dilemma. Chaudhuri, 35, is a PR professional in Austin, Texas. She’s independent, educated and has traveled the world. She wanted her wedding to reflect her liberal values and the equal partnership she has with her American fiance. But Chaudhuri found some Indian wedding traditions patriarchal. Hindu weddings are usually officiated by male priests. The bride’s parents “donate” her to her in-laws. It’s typically only the bride, not the groom, who prays for her new family’s longevity — and gets her forehead anointed with colored powder to signify she’s married. “I just knew that I didn’t want to do this,” Chaudhuri recalls. “It was more like, ‘How can we do something less traditional?'”

Her like-minded mother found a solution: Instead of priests, they hired four Hindu priestesses to perform a multilingual, egalitarian ceremony. The priestesses belong to a Kolkata-based collective known as Shubhamastu — “let it prosper” in the ancient language of Sanskrit — that began revising Hindu wedding liturgy about 10 years ago. Two are Sanskrit scholars with decades of academic experience. Along with the traditional wedding chants, they often incorporate secular hymns with lyrics by Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913.

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