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Making A choice For Sreedharachar

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  • Making A choice For Sreedharachar

    Worked with Co-optex. Is now a priest at the Sri Lakshmi Narayana Temple, Tamil Nadu

    Pullikundram, a small village off the Mahabalipuram coast, a stone's throw from the famous Thirukazhukundram Temple, is home to the Sri Lakshmi Narayana Temple, said to be built between 1509 and 1529. It still has its ancient gateway and roof intact and has been Sreedharachar's family temple for six generations.
    “My father [a priest, himself] left the village to go to Calcutta and then to Nagpur, Delhi, Dibrugarh and was in Pushkar for 32 years,” says Sreedhar. “No puja was being performed in the family temple. In 2000, we returned and found a snake pit around the idol. My father hit it with a stick and an 8ft-long snake glided out.”
    Though born in a family of priests, Sreedhar did not take up the occupation. He worked for the Tamil Nadu Handloom Weavers' Cooperation Society (Co-optex) and took voluntary retirement in 1994. “We had no plans to return but I think it was God who called us,” he says. “I wanted to join ISKCON. I had no training and had not taken deeksha (initiation). We searched for someone to look after the temple but could not find anyone. That is when my father asked me, 'Why don't you do it?'”
    Sreedhar agreed. “I went to Kancheepuram and got deeksha and got myself a new name—Anirudh Battar,” he says. “An old man in the neighbouring village taught me the basics [of chants and rituals]. I learnt the rest from videos. It took me more than six years and I still have a lot to learn. I think I have achieved only 40 per cent.”
    A miracle bolstered his belief that he was fulfilling a divine calling.
    Married for 14 years, Sreedhar and his wife, Sudha, had no children. They consulted many doctors, but to no avail. But within days of Sreedhar agreeing to look after the temple, his wife conceived. He now has two sons—Laxminarayana, who is in Class V, and Sowmyanarayana, who is in Class I.
    For Sreedhar, the transition from a working man to a archakar (priest) was not very difficult because he did it willingly. The man who once sported a French beard and wore a three-piece suit now leads an austere life.
    Sreedhar does not regret his decision to be a priest, nor is he bothered about whether his sons will follow in his footsteps. Laxminarayana has shown interest in his father's way of life. “He came up to me one day and asked me to teach him the vedas,” says Sreedhar. “I will not compel him but then there is a demand for people in this profession. Let him learn the vedas and also get additional qualifications. He can then make a choice.”
    Summing up the life of a priest, Sreedhar says, “It is a life of discipline. There is no unnecessary talk and there is no chance to make any mistakes.”