I was attending a mariage ceremony last week when I was surprised and shocked to find that in the heart of Indian semi-urban city, people found it very challenging to find a good priest who could administer the ceremony. The groom side complained that the priest that the bride side had arranged was not up to mark and did not know the rituals. The answer from the bride’s father was very curt and straight which meant that he had asked groom’s father to get a better priest. The answer simply suggested that both the parents were struggling to find a suitable priest. Such an alarming situation in the heart of Hindu India!
How did we come to this situation? I was intrigued with the situation so I sneeked an opportunity to talk to the priest himself during the busy and chaotic situation of the marnage event. What I learnt from him was not only sad but extremly alarming. In summary what he said was following:
1. Hardly any priest in the entire region have learnt the Agam Shastras.
2. He inherited the priesthood from his father and learnt how to administer the rituals through word of mouth and also by observing his father.
3. His father had undergone a formal learning from his guru in Varanasi.
4. He could not undergo similar leaning and training because his generation did not give any importance to priesthood as a career.
5. His siblings who were good at studies left the village for their brighter career. He was not good at building an alternate career so he stayed in village managing what ever agriculture he had. After his father he picked-up the priesthood as an alternate source of income.
6. Priesthood does not pay enough to enable a decent survival. In addition, the clients – they call them Jajman – also are not keen to pay enough.
7. People generally do not have any interest in any ritual any more. Young generation treat marriage or mundan an event of celebration rather than an event of important sanskar in their lives. No one understands the philosophical and Symbolic meaning of those rituals. Even priests have no idea of the meaning of those rituals.
I kept on thinking. How did we come to this stage. Rituals are important part of Hindu social and religious existence. They act as a glue and a link to the philosophical tenets with common persons. So how did things come to this state? With a little thinking I have come to following conclusion regarding the reasons behind such a sorry state.
1 Temples have stopped being centres of learning. Two generations ago they were centres of Learning and teaching and the village priest not only conducted the role of priest, but also acted as the one who passed on the knowledge of scriptures to the next generation. Temple earning from the village donations used to be sufficient to fund this continuity. After independence the temples were taken in control of government and priests were left with practically nothing. Priesthood became a career of misery. A maulavi in a mosque leads a lavish life because he is supported by government salary and mosque donation, but a pandit in a temple has a difficult time meeting two meals a day.
2. Social vilification of Brahmins and priests had been continuing through last hundred years in the name of caste discrimination, through popular media like movies and also through various marxist literature. Such vilification ensure that general masses started seeing these priests as money looting scoundrels in the name of rituals.
3. Those who continued with priesthood did so because they could not do anything else and had no knowledge of the philosophy behind rituals – rather they continued administering those riturals just as religious and superstetstious antics.
4. General people who could not find any philosophical meaning in the rituals, started loosing any intereste in those rituals and started avoiding them and started replacing those rituals with modern festivities and celebratory events.
I would like to give one example in support of my arguement. The rituals of marriage ein Hindu tradition is considered as one of the Samskars that Hindus have to go through. The rituals have following Key messages – Parents take a vow to allow their kids to form a family. This is done in the presence of an elders, entire society, all natural powers (all Gods ). Then Key members of society they come and they together take the same view. Then the couple take vow around the fire and those vows are all towards the family, towards society and towards the nation. Then they take a vow to keep the bond of husband and wife in the name of saptarshi and specially in the name of vashistha and Arundhati Star. Anyone can look at all the marriage rituals in the light of this.
It is a sad situation that such a glorious and logical tradition is being destroyed by its own people. The only solution to this situation is urgent temple reform which will bring the glory of temples back to its original form.