The Temple Priests

Two pujaris (priests) at a South Indian temple in Wembley. The main deity is Lord Shiva.

Each temple will have its priest or even a whole team. They often come from the brahmana community. As well as performing the regular worship, (puja, the arti ceremony, etc.) they may conduct special ceremonies such as various rites of passage, both in the temple and at people’s homes. Traditionally only men are allowed into the priesthood, though certain movements such as ISKCON also welcome women.

Within the UK, trained priests were originally brought in from India, but certain organisations and sampradayas now train their priests locally. They are expected to follow certain rules and regulations such as following a vegetarian diet, and abstaining from intoxication and gambling. Traditionally many priests were learned and hence called “pandit.” They were expected to be knowledgeable in scripture and Sanskrit.

Some traditions allow women to enter the priesthood. Here an Indian lady at Bhaktivedanta Manor temple performs ritual bathing.

Key points

  • The temple priest is called the pujari (one who performs puja)
  • They are often called or named purohit
  • They are often addressed as pandit (or pandit-ji), out of respect for their learning
  • They are usually brahmanas (by birth and/or qualities)
  • Priests are expected to follow strict rules regarding inner and outer purity in order to retain the sanctity of the temple
  • Most are men but some groups accept women as priests

Most priests are brahmanas, whose other main function is education. Brahmanas are often called pandit, meaning “learned scholar.” Here a western-born brahmana tells the story of Rama and Sita to schoolchildren.