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Asha Rani Rai of Kanpur – A Woman Who Performs All Vedic Pujas

It is not written in Hindu scriptures that woman cannot perform Vedic pujas, sanskars and funeral rituals. But Hindu women are not allowed to perform pujas and rituals as it still remains the domain of male priests. Asha Rani Rai of Kanpur is doing pujas for the past 35 years and continues to fight social hypocrisy and male domination.
Times of India reports 
A woman has come forward to break the myth that women cannot perform a funeral or other 'sanskars'. Asha Rani Rai has been doing this from past 35 years. Chanting of Ved mantras, each mantra followed by 'swaha' has become an integral part of her life. 
Rai said when she was young, she was curious to know why women are not allowed to perform `hawans' and `sanskars'. "I read all the religious books including the four Vedas. None of the 'Shastras' say that women can't perform funeral or sanskar. It is a taboo created by the society. "In a quest to debunk the myth, I started performing sanskars. It has been 35 years and I am doing this, but it hurts when the society still does not except women purohits," she said.
Having the highest degree of 'Dharmshastra', Rai claims to be the only woman in the city, who performs the functions of a priest at religious ceremonies, including marriages.
"I perform sanskars. There are total 16 sanskars in Shastra. The first three sanskars are done before the birth of a child. In the present scenario no one does them. Sanskars like Naamkarma, Annaprashana, Vivaah and Antyeshti are most common. I regularly conduct these with a team of girls who voluntarily contribute in bringing the change in the society. The whole atmosphere filled with divine fragnance of 'hawan samigri' and chants give me immense peace of mind," Rai, who is a member of Arya Samaj and a scholar of Sanskrit, said. 
She said that it was not easy for her to take over as priest. "My journey of 35 years was not at all easy. People used to make fun of me. They used to tease, comment and mock at me. Once an acharya from Gorakhpur called me and asked me several questions to why I wear janeu. I clarified to him that nowhere in Vedas or Brahmin granths it is written that a woman cannot wear a janeu. Wearing janeu means that I am eligible to perform Sanskars and Yagyas. Just like a doctor wears white coat, a pure sole or rather a priest wears janeu," she said. 
Rai, who took the initiative of starting up a 'vocational Sanskrit' course at graduation level in Vidya Mandir years back, added saying that there is nothing wrong if women perform funeral ceremonies or take the chanting of mantras as profession. 
"These Ved voices should be followed by humanity in which there is no hindrance in the development of the country. Once women start taking it up as profession, there will not be any need to look for suitable Purohit or a Brahmin to perform Yagyas and Havans," she said.
Talking about 'Shradh' and 'Tarpan' she said that Shradh means to keep faith in elderly person of the house and Tarpan means taking care of father and mother while they are alive. She pointed out that once a person dies his soul immediately takes birth in some other body, therefore performing Shrad and Tarpas after death are not very relevant.