It’s hard not to be inspired by the passion and courage of Chanda Vyas. She’s a woman who’s very much in demand; one who’s officiated at thousands of wedding ceremonies, since becoming the UK’s first female Hindu priest 12 years ago.
When I speak to her, the 70-year-old has a wedding in Dubai, plus three in India and Mauritius all lined up in the not too distant future. In fact she’s fully booked until 2026…
“Sometimes I get 20-25 bookings for a day, but I can only take one. All around the world I’m getting bookings,” she says proudly. “Italy’s my second home, as well as France and Portugal too… Weddings in America and Canada are also quite common.”
It’s a job which sounds enviable, but also incredibly exhausting.
For Chanda however, being a priest is a passion and a privilege. It’s what fuels her tireless commitment to a role she feels called to do. But it’s certainly one which didn’t come easy, and she was forced her to break down barriers of sexism and tradition in order to achieve her childhood dream.
“My father was a priest, as well as my grandad and my great grandad too, so it was quite naturally in my blood,” she told Pukaar.
“However, every time I’d say to my father ‘I want to become a priest’, he’d say ‘you can’t, you can’t, you can’t.’ Others would say it too, and I believed them because I’d never seen any female priests.
“My childhood dream was to become a priest, but at the time I was told that it just wouldn’t be possible. Traditionally, it’s the man’s job to go out to work and the females to stay at home. But that’s a man-made thing – it’s not written in the scriptures at all…” she went on to explain.
When Chanda reached working age, she put her spiritual dreams on hold, and opted for a career as a social worker – a role she carried out successfully for over 30 years.
However, she never let go of her childhood dream of becoming a priest, and continued to volunteer in temples at the weekends and to support her father with his important duties.
When Chanda retired, she decided to finally take the plunge and pursue her true calling by becoming a priest in her own right.
“I decided I was going to follow my heart, and I never looked back,” she said. “Nobody has a right to take your dream away.
“In the beginning it was very difficult. The male priests never gave me their blessings and at times I felt as though they were ganging up on me. Although they seem to have accepted me more now, sometimes I do feel isolated and as if they don’t treat me equally. But that’s fine with me. Everybody has their opinion and I have love and respect for everyone.”
Chanda regularly conducts gay weddings, despite disapproval from others priests, who ask ‘how [she] chould do that?’
She answers thoughtfully, and with such moving compassion.
“When two people are in pure love and want to get married – who are we to say no to God’s children and their love?”
Chanda has helped to open the gates for gay marriage within the Hindu community, and for other women who might want to follow in her footsteps. For that she is incredibly proud.
She continues to break the glass ceiling of what it means to be a fearless female community leader.
“At the moment I’m training a few ladies. They’re shadowing me and building their confidence. My vision is that in the future we’ll have equal male and female priests. That’s my dream,” she revealed.
“As for me, as long as God gives me good health. I will continue with my role, and enjoy every minute. It really is a privilege.”
Visit: www.kesri.co.uk to find out more