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The Diaspora Of Hindu Priests
By M.J.Raju
As Diwali comes nearer, it is interesting to find out as to how our NRI friends are served for their religious needs. Till two decades ago, Hindu theologians had been dreading the end of India’s Brahmin priesthood, as very few of the priests/purohits were willing to let their progeny take over the profession, on account of the meager income.. One used to see very elderly priests officiating in marriages/ pujas and it was feared that soon there would not be any purohit left even for funeral ceremonies. But the building of more than one thousand Hindu temples since the 1980s all round the world for the Indian diaspora (697 in USA, 144 in U.K and 64 in Canada) and increasing at the rate of 20 per year has made the profession for an NRI Hindu priest, very attractive ( conservatively with an minimum income of 50 thousand US dollars an year) and veda pathshalas/ Hindu religious institutions are working overtime to provide the 5000 priests required world wide every year by the Indian Diaspora, mainly to the dollar rich USA..

In 2012, there are about 800 Hindu Temples in USA & Canada and about 2500 Hindu priests provide exemplary conventional religious services in these temples. Some temples have only two priests and other larger ones have as many as eight. American Hindu Temple managements are constantly looking for scholarly, soft English spoken well qualified priests who have following qualifications

1. Fluency in English, Tamil Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, or Hindi,

2. All community Skills i.e. Sampradaya 3. Ready to do Poorva and Apara karma (Sradham, Last Rituals, etc).

The selected priests appear to be as varied as the Hindu deities. As they'd are to be brought from India, the process of immigration further complicates matters. Typically, priest Visa will be for a period of two to three years. If the temple likes the priests, then they can come back to the same temple after one year in India.

Another aspect is that what is done by family priests or purohits in parts of India, such as performing home blessings and sacraments, must be performed by temple priests in America. Thus, a temple priest in America has to perform the role of a purohit as well as temple priest. Therefore, men of higher caliber than that of the Indian temple priest are required as NRI priests. But at a time when the "tribe of Vedic scholars" is practically vanishing in India, it is not really possible to get profound Vedic scholars to accept the priestly jobs in America, and the selection of eligible priests is becoming more and more difficult.

There are 2 types of Hindu Priests typically in America.. The first type is one ( mostly elderly fast vanishing tribe) who is truly dedicated to their profession and who serves God more than money their profession brings in...They are highly respected and the temple who could have such priests are fortunate, as they are assets to the temple.

The second type of priests are the successful younger ones who are enterprising with risk taking. In colder cities, they come to work in long johns, jacket and gloves, woolen socks and hat. Chat with them long enough, and don't be surprised if they let slip an occasional "cool" or "neat," phrase.. Present day Hindu priests in the U.S. are almost all first-generation immigrants, and are increasingly becoming a curious mix of the trendy and the traditional.

Let us profile their growth path. These priests once they settle down, adapt fast with the American culture. They establish contacts with the devotees. They can talk fluently in Telugu or Tamil or Hindi or other language and are also fluent in English. They learn car driving very early as they know their future depends on mobility.

The local US temple Management has 2 options. Either promise the second type, green card in a few years or rotate priests from India. They normally prefer the second option except in the case of high profile priests. This is similar to Indian IT firms who want to keep their professionals at H1B Status for ever, in their own self interest instead of processing for green card.

These enterprising Indian priests who come here on R-1(Religious Visa) do not want to return back to India. Unlike IT where labor certification is required (that the Indian does not takeaway any American citizen’s job) priests do not have to go through the labor phase because of their unique stature. The US temples can go straight for the green card processing directly for these priests and the actual green card processing time also is much shorter.

These priests, who decide to move out of the temples start collecting the contact information of the devotees a few months in advance and once they are convinced of enough customers, they take the plunge.. Many priests after serving about 5 years in temples obtained an Immigration Visa (green card) and start their own group practices. Three to four priests together provide Hindu Services like Satynarayana Pooja, Graha Pravesha, Thread Ceremony, Naming Ceremony and Marriage Ceremony etc by visiting houses in their own cars by driving or flying on commercial planes and provide Hindu Religious Services at homes in metropolitan cities like Washington DC., New York, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles. The same is true for Canada /Australia and new Zealand too and in Britain...

These is little doubt that the need of the day is to build up an orderly, enlightened and disciplined Hindu priesthood in America, where Hinduism is there to stay. Recently a workshop was organized by the Hindu University of America which is starting a program to train Hindu priests to meet the expressed needs of temples in the USA for priests who can communicate with the younger generation and with the interfaith community. Legal aspects, media and interfaith relations, successful temple management practices, and financial resource development were key issues discussed with much sharing of ideas. It is a matter of time, before Indian diaspora from all parts of the world, will patronise a Hindu Priest University in USA, to cater for the 20 million strong diaspora community all over the world.

—Maharaja Features
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News Updated at : Sunday, November 11, 2012
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