Agra, Sep 20 (IANS) The start of the fortnight-long annual Hindu ritual of pitr-paksh, or feeding dear-departed souls, was blessed with welcome showers Friday morning at Taj city Agra.
There are those who believe that showers bring down blessings from heaven on the occasion of pitr-paksh.
The faithful lined up on the banks of the Yamuna in Agra and Mathura to offer obeisance and "tarpan" early Friday to their forefathers.
"Since there is a shortage of the "karmakandi pandits" who perform this, mass puja has become necessary. Earlier, family pandits used to go to each home and carry out the elaborate rituals, which took more than an hour. These days, people are busy and the learned pandits are scarce," Mahesh Shukla, a pandit and resident of the Trans-Yamuna colony here said.
Shukla keeps a busy schedule during pitr-paksh, with an average of five to six "shradh bhojs" each day.
"There are occasions when we eat at three different places with hardly a gap of one hour," Shukla, whose family has been specialising in the shradh rituals at the Yamuna, said.
The pandits too have their own problems: Kashi Nath Pandey, who has been performing the rituals, says: "Middle class clients here pay Rs.11 or Rs.21, though we spend up to two hours on one shradh. In big cities like Delhi and Mumbai, a pandit can get Rs.500 for a single shradh."
Dinesh Sharma, another old-time family priest of Agra, says: "People take short-cuts these days, they pay a lump sum to the pandit and request him to feast himself at some halwai shop. Others prefer making a donation to the orphanage or some school."
There are however, pandits from Bihar who are coming to the rescue: Acharya Madhukar Chaturvedi, a resident of Lawyer's Colony, says: "The acute shortage of trained pandits has been more than met by Bihari pandits who charge less and are easily available. Temples in most new colonies of Agra have Biharis or pandits from eastern UP."
Chaturvedi says: "Few old families of karmkandi pandits in Agra are no longer interested (in the priestly work). Their children, mostly highly educated, dislike the profession. In recent years, there has been a shortage of puja samigri (material used to perform the ritual) also. The Yamuna is heavily polluted. The established pandits no longer run gurukuls or pathshalas to train new hands. I have to feast at three places today."
Deena Nath, a Jha (Maithli) from Darbhanga, says: "Yes, I have several 'chelas' (disciples) and we conduct the shradh according to Vedic texts. Those who have the time and patience carry out elaborate rituals, while others just feed you and pay a token dakshina."
Anurag Shukla, president of the Agra Panditya Maha Sabha, says: "The new generation of Brahmins is no longer interested in this profession of Pandit-giri, which they do not find sufficiently lucrative or attractive in terms of image. The younger set is focused on higher education and prefers joining some dignified profession like media, medi-care, law or even business."
Pandit Mahesh Sharma, a well-known priest in the region, says he has little time, and also faces health constraints. These days, he cannot eat much. Sharma also uses a laptop with the latest astrological software to prepare kundlis.
"This is also the season for part-time pandits. Many office-going Sharmas, Dubeys or Dixits, also engage in 'pandit-giri' during the pitr-paksh. The real problem is of finding panditanis (women pandits). For the shradh of a female relative, one has to feed a female pandit, but not many of them can be seen these days. The girls are educated and consider it demeaning to eat shradh food at somebody's home," home-maker Padmini says.
(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)