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Woman Priest Celebrates Descent of Ganga

Ranjani Saigal

It was a rare treat to be at the Satsang Center in Woburn on July 20th, 2002 to witness a "Deep Yagna" officiated by Sangeeta Saxena, a woman priest to celebrate the descent of "Ganga", considered one of the holiest rivers in India. "I am part of Gayathri Pariwar, which was founded by Shri Ram Sharma Acharya and his wife Mata Bhagawathi Devi, with the very idea of empowering women and bringing out the core values of life and family without binding us to blind faith," says Sangeeta. "They taught all prayers to men and women of all castes. Guruji encouraged women to take up the role of officiating at ceremonies. I am trained to perform everything including weddings."

Her husband, Sanjay Saxena who, at different times gave the in-depth meaning for each action that was done, assisted her in this effort. He made sure that we understood what we were committing to, during our different actions and prayers. Another unique aspect to the “Yagna” was that it did not use special “Havan Samagri” (special prayer ingredients) but was done using candles. “Guruji says, it is not what we do the prayer with but rather what our thoughts and resolutions are during the prayer that is important,” says Sanjay, who is a software engineer by profession. The prayer ended with Sangeeta asking all the participants to commit to giving up some negative quality within them. She also asked all of us to help in making a new world where the “good” will shine forth like a beacon. In that world she hoped that women will be empowered and all will be treated as equals. There was a lot of music that was interspersed with the chanting of the mantras, which kept the audience engaged throughout. Sangeeta led the bhajans. Her 8 year old son accompanied her admirably on the tabla.

I was very impressed to see a temple allow such a non-traditional prayer. But talking with the ‘Sevaks’ or volunteers of the Satsang center, I realized that an open and adaptable framework was the basis for the whole center. “Our idols in this center are ‘Prem –Prathistith’ – placed on the altar with love alone,” says Sudhir Parikh, who is one of the founders of this center. “Our idols are not bound by rituals. We believe in prayer without any bindings. For example we are the second temple in the world to have “Srinathji” as part of our temple where the idol was not placed by a ‘Vallabhacharya’. We allow people to take pictures of the altar”.

The Satsang Center is located in an old church building in Woburn center, (right off Rt 128) which has been converted into a center. “We rent the premises to anyone who would like to put the space to good use. It could be done for a prayer event or a “seva” event. The rental money is used only for the maintenance of the building”, says Uttambhai Patel, another ‘Sevak’ who handles administrative details for the center. In these days of accounting woes, I was so impressed to see the entire accounts of the center published right at the front door! “We have many events. Every Sunday we have Bal Vihar for children. Many bhajan groups use our premises. Every full moon night we have Garba. When spiritual leaders visit, we have discourses. We have a great discourse happening this July 4th weekend.“

The final treat was the delicious food that was served to all. “We cook all the meals right on the premises. We even cater for events. We volunteer our time and donate the materials so that the proceeds go towards a good cause” says Niru Parekh, a sevak who is part of the catering team. Without a doubt, the celebration for the “descent of Ganga” turned out to be a very special occasion. For more information on the satsang center and their events please visit their web site a www.satsangcenter.net

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