Female Hindu Priests Inspiring Change In America

Mar 08, 2024

In a transformative shift within the traditional landscape of Hindu weddings, a significant change is taking place with the emergence of female priests. Historically, wedding ceremonies, pujas, and pheras have been predominantly conducted by male priests, reflecting age-old customs and norms. However, as society evolves, so do its perspectives, and an increasing number of weddings are witnessing the inclusion of female priests in the sacred rituals. From ceremonies to evolving officiating dynamics, the inclusion of female priests represents not just a role reversal but a profound embrace of inclusivity and equality. 

On this International Women's Day, we celebrate the remarkable evolution in wedding sanctity—the rise of female priests.

1. Sushma Dwivedi Jindal

Sushma Dwivedi, a friendly and progressive Hindu pundit, has not only embraced her roots but has also become a symbol of change within the Indian diaspora. Originally from London, Sushma currently resides in the vibrant city of New York. Her journey is characterized by a commitment to inclusivity and a passion for making traditional Hindu ceremonies more accessible to diverse communities.

Sushma Dwivedi has been a trailblazer in supporting and advocating for the LGBTQ+ community, and celebrating their love through marriage. In a landscape where acceptance and recognition are evolving, Sushma has played a pivotal role in breaking down barriers and ensuring that everyone has the right to partake in the sacred rituals of Hindu weddings.

Her progressive approach has not only made her a sought-after officiant for couples in the LGBTQ+ community but has also inspired others within the clergy to reconsider traditional norms, and for inter-racial weddings too. Sushma's journey reflects a harmonious blend of tradition and modernity, showcasing that love knows no boundaries and that inclusivity is a cornerstone in celebrating the diversity within our communities.

2. Shashi Tandon

Shashi Tandon stands as a pioneering figure, bridging the spiritual gap for Hindu communities in the United States since her emigration from New Delhi in 1982. As a female priest, she has been a beacon of cultural preservation and spiritual guidance for Hindu families across Chicago, Michigan, Wisconsin, and beyond. Her journey unfolds as a response to the shortage of Hindu priests, where she stepped into a traditionally male-dominated role to meet the spiritual needs of the diasporic community.

With a deep understanding of Hindu rituals and traditions, Shashi Tandon has presided over numerous religious ceremonies, playing a vital role in maintaining the cultural fabric for families living far from their homeland. Her commitment to serving the community as a priest has not only filled a void but has also challenged societal norms, breaking barriers and inspiring a new generation of Hindu priests. Her journey reflects resilience, cultural preservation, and a profound dedication to nurturing the spiritual well-being of the diasporic Hindu community in the United States.

3. Anu Malhotra

Anu Malhotra is not only a Hindu Priestess but also a multi-faceted personality, bringing a diverse set of skills and wisdom to her spiritual practice. With a background as a Certified Yoga and Meditation Teacher, Motivational Speaker, and Ayurvedic Practitioner, Anu seamlessly integrates her extensive knowledge into her role as a Hindu priestess.

Having served as a Health Care Executive for two decades, Anu's journey into the realm of spirituality reflects a profound commitment to holistic well-being. As the founder of Mindful Meditation Yoga, a non-profit organization, she extends her teachings beyond traditional priestly duties, conducting free weekly meditation sessions and sharing the wisdom of ancient practices.

Anu Malhotra's association with Arya Samaj Chicago showcases her dedication to fostering spiritual growth within the community. Her mission goes beyond rituals, as she strives to guide individuals toward happier, healthier, and stress-free lives. 

4. Sapna Pandya

Sapna Pandya, affectionately known as the "Queer Pandita," is a pioneering female Hindu priest who has carved an extraordinary niche in the realm of LGBTQIA+ weddings in North America. A rarity among Hindu priests, Sapna has become a beacon of inclusivity by specializing in ceremonies that celebrate love within the LGBTQIA+ community. Sapna takes traditional Hindu rituals and adapts them to gay wedding ceremonies, offering a welcoming and affirming environment that many mainstream Hindu temple priests in the US may shy away from. Her journey stands as a testament to breaking barriers, fostering acceptance, and embracing love in all its diverse forms.

5. Dr. Pandita Indrani

Dr. Pandita Indrani Rampersad is a distinguished Trinidadian-Indian Hindu, researcher, and women's activist, recognized for her exceptional contributions to the development of women's rights and issues. Awarded Trinidad and Tobago's prestigious national GOLD in 2013, Dr. Indrani stands out as a trailblazer in her field.

Beyond her professional endeavors, a notable achievement is her distinction as Trinidad and Tobago's first state-certified female Vedic-Hindu priest in the Arya Samaj tradition. This remarkable feat reflects her commitment to breaking gender barriers in spiritual roles. Dr. Indrani is also an active member of the Culture Committee of Ayodhya Research Institute, India, further emphasizing her dedication to preserving cultural heritage.

6. Anju Bhargava

Anju Bhargava, a multifaceted individual, serves not only as a banker and management consultant in New Jersey but also passionately fulfills her roles as a mother and community builder. She is actively involved in interfaith dialogue as the Hindu Representative at the Interfaith Clergy Association, showcasing her commitment to promoting harmony among diverse religious communities. Recognizing her contributions, the Obama Administration selected her as a member of the faith-based initiative, further underscoring her impact on a national level.

Her journey as a Hindu priest began when she conducted her first puja for friends who were having a Satya Narayan puja for their home. Driven by a desire to understand the profound meaning of the Sanskrit shlokas, she sought guidance from Dr. M.G. Prasad of the Bridgewater Temple in New Jersey.

Anju Bhargava sheds light on the challenges faced by women priests, particularly the limited access to trained teachers and schools. She advocates for the establishment of Hindu divinity and theology schools to provide formal education in priestly duties, emphasizing the need for broader educational avenues. 


The rise of female priests at Indian weddings marks a transformative shift, challenging gender norms and redefining equality. These trailblazing women celebrated on International Women's Day, extend their influence beyond rituals, standing as symbols of empowerment and inspiring a new generation to embrace diverse roles and challenge stereotypes.

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