Just wondering… Why are men offered prasad in temples first?

I am an occassional, rather than a regular, temple-goer. And when I do go to one, it is to the Sharadamba Temple in Chembur, Mumbai. I like this particular temple because it is quiet, peaceful, and most importantly, very clean—it is a pleasure to walk on the cool granite floors. Another reason I go to this temple is because it is never crowded, except on festival days like Navratri and  Mahashivratri, and even then it is never unbearably so.

The Sharadamba Temple is one large hall with the entrance at one end and the Sharadamba deity at the other end. A simple wooden barrier separates the devotees from the sanctum sanctorum. Like in most temples, the men flock on one side of the hall and the women on the other side, though there is no physical barrier to separate the two sexes. The children, of course, keep running between the two sides.

Over the years that I have been going to this temple, I have noticed something very curious at this temple. After the aarti is over, the priest always offers it to the assembled men first, in particular the office bearers/trustees of the temple. Only then does the aarti thali come around to the women’s side. This is the case with the teertham (holy water), the prasad, as well as the flowers.

I once stood in the men’s side to see if I would be offered the aarti or not along with the men. I had to endure and ignore the severely disapproving looks from both the assembled men and women while the aarti was going on. When the priest brought the aarti thali around to the men’s side, he ignored me and indicated with a subtle tilting of his head that I should join the women’s side.

The practice of offering aarti, or prasad to the men first is prevalent in most temples, and is not unique to the Sharadamba Temple. When I have been to other temples with my parents, it is always my father who is given the aarti or prasad or flowers first. It is, however, ironical that this practice is followed in a temple, whose reigning deity is Sharadamba, the God(dess) of knowledge and wisdom—both qualities which are not sex-specific.

It is a practice that is strange, inexplicable and disturbing—all at the same time.

Just wondering…

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2 thoughts on “Just wondering… Why are men offered prasad in temples first?

  1. Hi,
    It is not universal in all temples, certainly those in the West. In our temple the Aarti lamp is carried from left to right and people stand in any order, usually family groups. We queue up for prashad, again in any order. Some events the women sit on one side and the men on the other, but I think this is only when it will be really crowded and people will be very close together (like deepawali and shivratri). When this happens it seems to be women first as they sit to the left – though I don’t think this is a deliberate women first policy, it just happens because they do the aarti in the same direction as always.

    I have been in temples where the aarti lamp is not carried around the congregation but left on the alter for people to go and receive blessings. Again there was no special order.

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  2. It’s good to know this practice is not universal. I have also been to temples where the aarti is left on the altar for people to go and receive blessings. But this is rare.

    In the Sharadamba Temple, whichever side the men are standing in is where the aarti or the prasad first goes to. So, sometimes the aarti goes from left to right, and sometimes from right to left.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

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