Priests in short supply in Shradh season


Mathura/Vrindavan : Hindus in parts of northern India are finding it difficult to find priests to perform yearly rituals for the dead.

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Pandits in Agra, Mathura and neighbouring districts of Uttar Pradesh are working overtime because of the huge number of people who perform the annual ritual of feeding their ancestors during ‘Pitr Paksh Shradh’, a fortnight when people pay their respects to the dead.

“On occasions we have to eat at three different places with hardly a gap of one hour,” says Pandit Mahesh Shukla, whose family specialises in performing rituals for the dead.

People come to the banks of the Yamuna, offer water and black til (sesame seed) in reverence to the departed. Later in the day families organise feast for the pandits who perform the rites and collect their ‘dakshina'(fees).

Asked why there was a shortage of pandits, an elderly priest, Hari Mohan, explained: “The younger ones, more educated and a little more enlightened than our generation, find no attraction in this profession, which has started to resemble begging.”

Kashi Nath Pandey, another pandit, said most of his clients paid him only Rs.11 or Rs.21 though he has to spend up to two hours on one single ritual.

“In cities like Delhi and Mumbai, a pandit may get up to Rs. 500 for a single ritual,” added Pandey.

A brief relief came when Agra University started a new course in astrology and rituals. That has since been stopped.

“The courses were becoming popular as there was a great demand for trained pandits abroad, particularly in countries with large Indian populations,” said a guest lecturer at the university.

“The biggest problem is of finding enough numbers of female pandits. For the shradha of a dead female, a female pandit has to be fed,” explained Prem Shankar of Loha Mandi.

The shortage of scholars who adhere to the holy texts is causing unhappiness.

“Even when we are prepared to spend money on getting the best, we are not getting trained pandits for the job,” complained Sudhir Gupta, an Agra resident.