If you are not a TamBrahm, you might not appreciate the following post. For it is about the unique species, the Tamil priest, popularly called ‘Vadhyar’. Some senior ones call themselves ‘Dikshitars’, and I have always wondered when do you graduate from a mere ‘vadhyar’ to a ‘Dikshitar’?
It is very easy to identify a vadhyar, even from afar. He wears a veshti to work. He generally has a generous ‘kudumi’, not to be mistaken for the latest hair style though. His belly has to be protruding by several inches, and the size of his belly is one sure indicator of how many years he has been in business. All that ‘saddhi sappadu’ after every poojai has to show up someplace, right? He generally has two to three junior vadhyars clinging to him, doing their internships to learn the ropes of this tricky business of making sensible people pay through their nose for an activity best described as ‘lighting a small fire at home and pouring 100% good quality ghee into it’. Of course, he chants some mumbo-jumbo in Sanskrit while doing this, and unless there are some real old people around who have an ear for these things, he can get away with chanting the latest Rahman number in a typical ‘swaha-ha’ tone. Some vadhyars actually do, but then who cares?
If there was one symbol to denote the confluence of modernity and tradition in India, especially South India, it is the Vadhyar.
He tots around the latest Nokia camera phone, but has ‘Suprabhatam’ as the ring tone. If he has an iPod, rest assured that it will be playing the latest bhajan. He can deliver Vedic verses with perfect pronunciation (and a Himesh type nasal twang), but secretly listens to Indi Pop as well. Some of the younger ones even listen to Metallica. He wears a simple white veshti while coming to do pooja, but can buy an Armani if he wishes to. He is still not contaminated by the ‘love’ of money, and even today, accepts dakshinai only on a plate (with vethalai pakku, pazham etc., as accompaniments), and not by hand. Of course, he has a family to support, so his ‘fees’ (dakshinai) has gone up by a rate far higher than inflation. He sends his children to the most modern, hi-fi convent school in town, but also packs them off to the Veda patshaala in the nearby temple. He travels by a TVS moped, even though he has enough dough to buy four Mercs. As he gets older, he travels by rickshaw, and ask the ‘clients’ to pay for it.
There are a lot of perks attached. You get free lip smacking food as part of your job, and you get it first, even before the ‘clients’ have it. You get good money, all in cash, and thus virtually tax free (for all their vedic virtues, very few vadhyars are spiritual enough to actually declare income and pay tax). Beautiful girls fall at your feet to seek your blessings, and you can get away with a snide comment too, if said in the right tone. Some families are so attached to their family vadhyars, that when they migrate abroad, their vadhyar also gets an all expenses paid, on-site posting to USA, UK and exotic places.
Truly, the vadhyar is an inseparable part of a TamBrahm’s life. He is there when you are born. He is there when you have your first ‘meal’, other than mother’s milk. He is there for your ‘kadhu-kutthal’, thereby indicating what he is going to do to you for the rest of your life. He is there when for your first ‘mottai’, again an indication of what lies ahead. He is there when you have your upanayanam, and gives you what is called ‘Brahmaupadesham’. He is of course an integral part of your wedding, and hogs more limelight than the bride and the groom combined. Damn it, he even decides when you get to first ‘do it’ with your wife. (No, your ‘mood’ or your wife’s ‘mood’ doesn’t count; what counts is the alignment of some obscure stars in some planetary orbit!!!). He is there when you buy a new house, start a new business or even get a new job. When your child is born, the cycle repeats itself. He is there on your sixtieth and eightieth birthday, if you mange to survive that long.
And at last, when your Maker calls you for an appointment, he is there to guide your way with the auspicious Vedic chants. But, if you think you are done with him after you are gone, you are mistaken. He is there to perform the rites for your first and every subsequent ‘devasam’.
In short, he rules your life long before you are conceived, and long after you are deceived, oops deceased.