Leadership, Authority, and Religious Roles

Who are the main Hindu religious officials or specialists?

Traditional Hindu vocabulary includes dozens of technical terms to designate virtually every imaginable variety of religious function or specialized qualification. Essential to every Hindu temple is its priestly staff. Larger temples often have many priests, sometimes called pujaris—those who engage in the daily worship called puja—on the staff, one of whom generally serves as chief or senior priest. People generally address priests as Shri, the equivalent of “Reverend.” Frequently but not exclusively of the Brahmin caste nowadays, temple priests marry and have families. At temples that have become important pilgrimage centers, specialists called pandas serve as pilgrim guides and keep records of the families who make up the regular membership of the temple. Ritual specialists called purohitas (“those who lead”) are generally Brahmins of the Smarta denominations who do mostly home ceremonies for Brahmin families. Gurus, who are generally learned Brahmins, still almost exclusively perform the various samskaras, or rites of passage, and tutor upper-caste children in the ancient traditions.


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