Thursday, December 8, 2011


Come festival season the Bangalore city’s devout Hindus embark on their favourite pastime : priest-hunting. Driven by piety and the yearning to devour laddos, chaklies and other goodies that come with each festival, their eyes scout around for that elusive owner of the tonsured head with a central tuft - the priest aka the pandit. Soon they find out that the pandit is more endangered a species than the Giant Pandas. And, therefore, once the ‘hunters’ buttonhole a priest, they stick to him like glue. But, in a seller's market, the spiritual salvation as dispensed by the priest comes at a heavy price.

For one thing, the quintessential priest is a man in a tearing hurry. He may start well with the chant ‘Vakratunda Mahakaya’, but somewhere down the line the chants turn into a stream of mumbo jumbo that sounds like a 33 rpm gramophone record being played at 78 rpm. As the mantras flutter out of his lips like bat out a barn, the trans-inducing rhythm and lilt puts you into a hypnotic slumber. And when you come out of the spell, you find that the priest has wound up his paraphernalia and decamped with your two-thousand-rupees dakshina(remuneration) en route to a satyanarayana pooja elsewhere in the city.

A priest I know, who only performs Vaikunta Samaradhanam - a sort of vaikuntologist - has a streak of travel agent in him. For, his vaikunta package deals consist of Elite Class(150K), Regular(100K) and Economy(50K). That gives one the impression that the passage to the heavenly abode is some kind of an air travel. And, possibly, the souls would end up in condominiums or apartments or slums depending on the package chosen.

A priest's remuneration (read dakshina) is something that is etched in (saligramam)stone. Anyone who dares to underpay him would face ‘bovine’ retribution as one my friends found out to his utter dismay, when he paid his priest 20% less than what was demanded. During the next Ganesh Chaturthi, he lit the homa fire with wet cow dung cakes and the resultant smoke was so thick that for weeks my friend's eyes burned and remained red. And he found the hard way that hell hath no fury like a priest underpaid!

Then why is that the urban priest carries on without getting the pink slip from his employers? Well, like any shrewd businessman, he too has an ace up his sleeve. He peppers his chanting with generous interludes of humorous sermons. “We call a housewife a Grihalakshmi and then go home and beat the same Lakshmi,” he would say, sending the womenfolk into peals of laughter. The homemakers love the priest so much that the mere talk of sacking him would bring out their knives and rolling pins in his defence. And with the additional threat of wet cow dung smoke looming large, all that the men can do is to twiddle their thumbs and hope for the best.

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