Ayyapan Kurukal,
Head priest, Vaitheeswaran Koil, 
Tamil Nadu

He travels abroad quite often. In fact, between 1996 and 2001, Ayyapan Kurukal was serving at a Ganesha temple in Malaysia and the next three years, he was at a Murugan temple in Washington.
Ayyapan is a second generation priest in his family. His father, Muthukumaraswamy, was the head priest of the Vaitheeswaran Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva. But ill health forced him to quit. Now, the responsibility has fallen on Ayyapan's shoulders.
Through his travels, Ayyapan has realised that most devotees today lack knowledge about the ancient scriptures and rituals. “The devotees often discuss with me Hinduism, the rituals and how they are conducted, and the vedas,” he says. “I have also studied astrology. In the US, even highly educated people are into horoscopes.”
He returned to India because “My father wanted me to do puja at the [Vaitheeswaran] temple. Only if I continue to do puja at home, can I perform pujas around the world. We are not allowed to cross the seas but [if we do] we cleanse ourselves with ashta homam which goes on for two hours.”
Ayyapan is happy with his job. “I think my job is the greatest in the world,” he says. “I have two sons and I would want both of them to join this work. But we will have to wait and see.”
Though travelling abroad means more money, Ayyapan does not enjoy it much. “I do not like to go abroad,” he says. “After all, money is not everything. It does not stay with us forever.” Like it or not, he travels up to four times a year.
Ayyapan has a brother, who has finished his education and is now settled in Germany. “I, too, was good at studies,” says Ayyapan, did his BCom. But when his brother refused to step into their father's shoes, Ayyapan decided to do it. “My grandfather asked me to take up this profession and I obeyed. I have no regrets,” he says.

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