Monday, October 03, 2011

Om Panditaya Namah!

The great Indian Hindu festive season has begun well. One of the most wanted people this season is the great Indian Hindu priest. Here are the few priests that I will always remember.

The Poor One

There are three of them, aged between 7-12. They live in the community temple next door and are actually professionals priests -in the-making. One evening I saw the youngest of them desperately looking at the kitchen. He was hungry, you could tell. But then, an elderly man – their guru or father, I still don’t know, came, ordered him to sit, and asked him to say his mantras which I guess, he didn’t memorize and was therefore being denied food. After a few lines the boy faltered, and was immediately hit by the elderly priest who had a cane! Ouch! Who said being a priest is all nice and pure?

The Funny One

An assistant priest in a Kaali temple in our small town in the North East India, everyone called him Vishwa Thakur. Dark, thin and usually quiet, he was incredibly popular, especially among little children. Whenever they spotted him, they would chase him saying ’thakur da,thakur da, (da=brother) give us money’. This would turn the shy looking fellow into a fireball of anger and he would curse the children as loudly as possible. Unfortunately, this didn’t help much as the children would only break into giggles.

He had a house to live, but would cook and eat in a paddy field. Every single day, as he cooked, children would sit a few feet away, watching him intently. Even the greatest of the Bollywood actors doesn’t get the attention that Vishwa Thakur got.

The funny thing is, nobody has ever found out why he was so popular and what the children actually saw in him. Blind love? Maybe!

The greedy one
I met him in the famous Lingaraj temple of Orissa. I was there with my friend Reshmi. We were walking around and this priest was just shadowing us. After a while, when we decided to leave, he came upto Reshmi and asked her to give him Rs.1000. ‘What for?’ she asked, and pat came the reply ‘I was praying for you!’

And the best one
Well above 6 ft, saffron clad, with long hair tied in a top knot, she is quite a towering personality. Yes, you heard it right: it’s a ‘SHE’- she who is the head of the Lingayat community in Dharwad town of Karnataka and without her presence, no marriage is in the community is quite done. 4 years ago, she got a colleague of mine married. All through the ceremony, she never smiled, was stern and at times quite intimidating, but she won my heart and mind just by being who is: a woman priest in an extremely orthodox and quite feudal, male dominated Lingayat society. Hats off to you, mataji!

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