Breaking Barriers at a Queens Hindu Temple

Varanu Sahabir, right, prepares music for services at the Shri Lakshmi Narayan Mandir Hindu temple in Richmond Hill. (Photo by Michael Shain via Queens Chronicle)

Varanu Sahabir is one of the first female pandits, or Hindu priests, to lead a mainstream congregation in Richmond Hill, reports Michael Shain in Queens Chronicle. The Trinidad-born, East Elmhurst-raised spiritual leader stepped away from studying law to become a pandit, which in the West Indian branch of Hinduism is rare for women. She now serves at the Shri Lakshmi Narayan Mandir in Little Guyana, a temple that opened its doors 34 years ago, only a year before she was born.

The limited role of women in the religion has been dictated more by culture and tradition than by any religious teaching, Sahabir explains. Nothing said women couldn’t be clergy. As in other religions, the times are catching up to and overtaking the church.

“I just happened,” she said. “We would schedule priests and they would cancel last minute. What are we going to do?” The congregation would press her to stand in.

“I knew all the madras. I grew up in temple. When the book was in front of me, I was, ‘Wow I don’t even need to look at these words. I know what I’m saying because I grew up hearing it. And when the time came for me to step into the role, everybody said. ‘Do it. We need you to do this.’”

How have members of the community, including her father, taken to the idea of a woman pandit? Find out at Queens Chronicle.

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