Shortage of Priests Affects Hindu Rites

By Brij Khandelwal

Agra, Sep 2 (IANS): With the younger generation no longer attracted to priesthood, there are fears of an acute shortage of trained hands to conduct the annual Hindu Pitra Paksh rituals in accordance with Vedic texts.

With the number of 'karamkandi' pandits going down steeply in Agra, Mathura and Vrindavan, the fortnight starting Sep 5 will see additional pressure on the older and established pandits who specialise in conducting rituals during Pitra Paksh where Hindu families pray for peace to the souls of departed ancestors.

"The younger lot is no longer attracted to this profession. Many in our family have left for greener pastures, including the IT sector. Me and my younger brother have to service a big clientele," Mahesh Chandra Sharma, director of Jeevan Shodh Sansthan, a group of local pandits, told IANS.

The shortage of karamkandi pandits will hurt as Braj Mandal is a buzzing pilgrim area. Some years ago Agra University had started a specialised course to train people as karamkandi pandits, but a poor response led to its closure.

"While many these days are returning to old rituals and pujas, there are not enough trained hands around to help them in the conduct of vedic karamkand," Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society, told IANS.

At Vrindavan and Mathura, pilgrims at the Yamuna ghats have to make a beeline for a trained hand to conduct the 'shradh ritual', says Anupam Chaturvedi.

"Many in fact are now feeding beggars and cows because pandits are not available to be fed on the particular day when a shradha is to be held.

"It used to be an elaborate ritualistic feast when family members and friends used to be invited along with pandits, but now people for health reasons or otherwise avoid eating fatty, fried food like imerti, malpuas, kheer, puri and kachoris," says Vijay Nagar colony resident Sudhir Gupta.

"Even pandits have become fastidious to an extent and are more selective. What we now do is to give money to the temple priest and request him to eat according to his convenience."

Some go to the orphanage or to the Mankameshwar temple in Rawat Para where beggars can be found at any time of the day for being fed, Gupta adds.

Bookings are heavy already, says Mahesh Shukla, a pandit here. "With just a few days left for Pitra Paksh rituals, the pressure on pandits has increased.

"On occasions, we have to eat at three different places within a gap of one hour!" says Shukla whose family specialises in performing shradh rituals at the Yamuna river every morning.

To make these rituals affordable and save time, some pandits organise mass pujas at the Yamuna ghats in Agra, Mathura and neighbouring districts.

In the morning, hundreds of people can be seen at various ghats of the Yamuna river offering water and black til to departed souls. Later in the day the families organise feasts for the pandits who perform the rites and collect their "dakshina".

Till about 20 years ago, there used to be hundreds of pandits. "Suddenly the Brahmins are not finding it lucrative enough; some are clearly disgusted with the profession and have now taken to becoming professional katha vachaks, Bhagwat readers and singers in Vrindavan," said Vrindavan's Acharya Jaimini, a well known musician in these parts.

"The gap is now being bridged by a mass influx of pandits from Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh."

Shiv Shankar, another pandit of Belanganj, said in the busy life of modern cities, Pitra Paksh and shradhs were going out of fashion. "Most people chose to pay the pandit a lump sum expecting him to feed himself and bless the client. That sentiment behind it is clearly missing," he lamented.

"The biggest problem is of finding enough number of female pandits. For the shradh of a dead woman, a woman pandit or brahmin has to be fed," explained Prem Shankar of Loha Mandi.

In recent years, a large number of NRIs have also been coming home for the Shradh Paksh.

"Even when we are prepared to spend money on getting the best services for our departed near and dear ones, we are not getting the right trained personnel for the job," said Mathuresh of Free Ganj area.

"Many families now are giving a fee or donation to the neighbourhood temple priest and leaving it to him to either feed himself or keep the money," he added.


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