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    Default For God"s Sake

    For God’s Sake

    Why does a nuclear physicist or a molecular biologist become a temple priest?

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    They are highly educated and could get jobs anywhere. Yet they have devoted their lives to the service of God. Priests in big Indian temples have always been known to be erudite—they have been well-versed in Sanskrit and some other languages, and masters of vedic scriptures. For most priests, service of God is a tradition that is passed on from one generation to the next. So, most accept the role without any complaints. There is not much money in the profession unless one travels abroad, but in many temples, a priest who has crossed the seven seas is not accepted back. Things, however, are changing. With a steady rise in demand for priests abroad, the temples are rethinking their stand. So, a homam here and a puja there, and you get your job back.
    The money may not be good, but what keeps most rooted to the job is this belief that they are among the lucky few who share an intimate relationship with God. Their families, too, share the belief. Their wives accept their role and follow the rules without any question. Many of the women are well educated and have regular jobs, but when it comes to serving God, they are as committed as their priest-husbands.
    Things have, however, changed for the younger generation. While earlier they were not given a choice, today a child may take up the family occupation or do something else. Also, serving the temple no longer remains the right of a particular family. In fact, many 'outsiders' have made their way into the inner circle.

    Muralidharan Battar

    Works in BHEL and is also an archakar at the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Tamil Nadu
    Walking through the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple is like walking through a maze. The temple perimeter is where the town flourished in three tiers, with gates to show direction. Houses here share walls, but the residents don't complain because they have the perumal's darshan (the Lord's sight) every day when the idol is taken through the streets for the perambulation.
    Better known as Srirangam, it is the foremost of the eight self-manifested shrines (swayam vyakta kshetras) of Lord Vishnu. It is also considered the most important of the 108 main Vishnu temples. Spread across 156 acres on an islet between the rivers Cauvery and Kollidam, the temple has 21 towers that provide a grand view.
    Muralidharan Battar, 55, is one among several Battars (a community of priests) serving the temple. “It is something that my family has been doing for generations now,” he says. “I was the first widower to enter the sannidhi (sanctum). When my wife died, I wanted to commit suicide but my father prevailed over me and here I am.”
    Murali works in Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd. Every day, he travels 60km to be at the temple. “My workplace is nearby and I can take leave and I do it even at loss of pay but I will not miss a day at the temple,” he says.
    He keeps talking about a special sensation that he feels every time he walks into the temple. And he even shares his experiences with people through Facebook and listens to their problems and provides solutions. “People come with all kinds of problems such as diseases, court cases and family separation. I give them a spiritual solution for material problems.”
    His only grouse is that there's very little money in this work. So, he has to work at BHEL to make ends meet. “I love to be near the perumal and work for him but there is not much money in the temple,” he says. “Priests, by and large, are poor except, maybe, in a rich temple. Temples have started becoming crowded only in the past 25 years, which is one reason why I went to work.”
    It was during the MGR period that the hereditary system of appointing priests was abolished. But, Murali has got his son Harish into the temple and says it is now his responsibility to carry out the duties and continue the tradition.
    Harish, 26, is a mechanical engineer and has done his MBA in finance from Coimbatore. “It took me 12 years to learn the vedas, agamas [a traditional doctrine], decoration, pujas and customs of the temple,” says Harish. He doesn't consider the duty a burden. In fact, he thinks it is a privilege that only a select few enjoy.
    Last edited by Padmanabhan.J; 08-01-2013 at 11:38 PM.

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