Hindu rites in trouble as youngsters shun priesthood's path

It’s that time of the year when pious Hindus pray to their ancestors. The fortnight-long pitra-paksh began this week but an acute shortage of priests — with the younger generation no longer interested in this vocation — has forced families to bring them from other places in the country.

Traditionally, Vedic hymns are chanted and religious rites performed in honour of one’s ancestors. There is an elaborate feast that marks pitra-paksh. Family and friends are invited, and pandits too are fed on the occasion. Many of those who observe the rituals believe that observing pitra-paksh in honour of one’s forebears ensures peace and prosperity in the family, explains Surendra Sharma of the Brahmin Maha Sabha.

Over the years, however, even finding a priest to feed for pitra-paksh has become quite a task. The shortage of Karma-Kandi pandits, who perform the ceremonies and are offered a meal, is acute in the Braj region of Uttar Pradesh. Anurag Shukla, president of the Agra Panditya Maha Sabha, said: “The new generation of Brahmins here is no longer interested in this as it is not lucrative, and the social status accorded to a pandit is not attractive either.”

Rakesh Sharma, convener of the All India Brahmin Mahasabha and editor of www. brahmantoday.com, said: “Agra district has a Brahmin population of around 5,00,000.

In the absence of proper guidance and directions, the younger generation is not being attracted to traditional practices. It’s not that there is no market for the Karma-Kandi pandits, we receive enquiries even from abroad for trained hands. But there is no proper mechanism for updating and training professionals.”

Pandit Hari Dutt Sharma, who abandoned his family vocation as a priest to work as a schoolteacher, says, “Many more people would probably serve as pandits if there were round-the-year economic activity to support them.”

Agra University started a specialised course for producing Karma-Kandi pandits a few years ago, as there was reportedly great demand for them abroad. There were not enough students interested in the course, leading to the closure of the programme. At Vrindavan and Mathura, pilgrims at Yamuna ghats make a beeline for trained hands to conduct the shraadh, according to Acharya Jaimini of Vrindavan.

“Since pandits cannot be found to be fed on the day, many have now taken to feeding beggars, orphans or cows instead, on the day when shraadh is supposed to be held,” Jaimini said.

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