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Mediator to the Divine

A priest’s job Is the easiest way to save ‘punya’ for the next life.
A day in the life of Hindu Temple of Atlanta, Riverdale  priest Pidaparthi K. Phani Kumar.

My day begins at 6.30 with a series of prayers and japas. These rituals last about 30 minutes. At 8.30, I head to the newly built Shiva temple at the Hindu Temple of Atlanta, of which I am in charge. I open the temple for the public, and remain there for most part of the day. The temple closes at 8.30 in the evening. As an employee of the temple, I work eight hours everyday, and reside within the temple complex with my wife and two children (the third one is due this month). Wednesday is my day off. 

I am also invited by devotees to their homes to perform different pujas like naming ceremonies, house warming ceremonies, special yajnas etc. It gives me great happiness to be a mediator in bringing the presence of God into the home of the devotee through the pujas.

Festivals like Diwali are usually a busy time, because that is when thousands of people visit the temple. Diwali is celebrated by Indians from all over to mark the triumph of Goddess Laxmi in Trishakti formation over the demon Narakasura. Goddess Laxmi is worshipped during this festival and sweets offered by devotees. The presence of devotees in the temple creates vibrations that increase the power of the deities. 

As employees of the temple, all of us priests (the temple has seven priests) follow the guidelines (shastras) laid down by the temple management. In India nowadays, priests take the liberty of making personal interpretations of the shastras. But priests here in the US are more rigid in following the rules.

I come from a small place near Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh. My forefathers, like my father and I, were priests there. I believe that being a priest was my destiny. It was fore written by the astrological confluence of stars. It was also my parents’ wish that I serve the public as a priest. It is a great opportunity given to me by God. The fruits of labor in any other job are enjoyed in this life. But the fruits of a priest’s work are carried over to the next life too. It is the easiest way to save ‘punya’ for the next life.

As a boy, I learnt the scriptures from my father Pidaparthi Venkata Subrahmanya Sastri and my guru Valiveti Umamaheswara Avadhani. As a young adult, I worked part time at the Ramalingeshwara Swamy temple and later at the Balasubramaniam Swami temple, which was founded by my father. 

Soon, I heard that a family in Vijayawada was on the lookout for a priest for the Ganesha temple in New York. I sent in my resume, and  was called for an interview. This family was related to some of the temple trustees of the NY temple. I was selected on the basis of this interview and my certificates. I landed in New York in 1996. In the year 1999, I was invited to Atlanta by HTA to participate in a festival. The temple authorities asked me to stay back here. So I moved to Atlanta after finishing my term at the NY temple.

My father followed me to the US a few years after I landed here. He works as a priest at the HTA and is also into tourism, taking groups of devotees to visit religious centers in India. Right now, he is in Benaras with a group of tourists.

God is our father and we are his children. Just as parents are happy when their erring children realize their mistakes, God is happy too when a devotee asks for forgiveness of his mistakes. The temple is the right place for a devotee to ask for deliverance. With thousands of people praying, and with the chanting of the Vedas and the yantras by the priests, the (cosmic) energy in the deities increases, which is why people should visit temples often. All bad karma is removed when a devotee prays at the temple.

And as a priest who mediates in this process, nothing gives me more happiness. My work as a priest is sheer bliss.

-Pidaparthi K. Phani Kumar
(As told to Veena Rao)