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Pind daan priests of Gaya take tentative steps towards modernity

Priests of Gaya caught between two worlds

india Updated: Sep 18, 2016 19:55 IST
Poulomi Banerjee
Poulomi Banerjee
Hindustan Times
Kapil Gupt, a young man from the Gayawal Panda community, with his grandmother Chameli Devi at their house in Gaya.
Kapil Gupt, a young man from the Gayawal Panda community, with his grandmother Chameli Devi at their house in Gaya.(Saumya Khandelwal/HT PHOTO)

Any story on pind daan in Gaya will be incomplete without the story of the Gayawal Pandas – Brahmins who believe themselves born of Brahma’s image and claim exclusive right to conduct pind daans in Gaya. A small community – Govind Lal Gupt, a Gayawal panda estimates there are about 200 Gayawal Panda homes in the city now – it has been known to be both close and conservative. “For generations we have married within the community,” says Gajadhar Lal Gupt, secretary of the Sri Vishnupad Temple Management Committee.

Women of the community led an especially cloistered life. Chameli Devi, 75, was married at 11. She never went to school. “We hardly ever went out, except to meet family and then too we had to maintain strict purdah. The rickshaw we travelled in would also be covered. Even at home, we would keep our faces turned away from the male members of the family. For the past 10-15 years we have done away with the system of purdah,” she says. Her grand-daughters are sent to school.

The community is changing . Govind’s nephew, Kapil, is 26 and a teacher. “There is a lack of education in our community. I want to change that,” he says. Like most boys in his community, Kapil too was taught the scriptures as a youngster, but being a panda is not what he wants for himself. Even those who are joining the profession want to chart a new path. Gaurav Gupt, 25 has done his graduation from Delhi. He is back in Gaya now, helping his father and uncle in the family profession. “But I want to limit myself to the managerial aspect of it and not involve myself in the actual religious duties,” he says. One of his uncles is a doctor. Another had studied law, but chose to work as a panda.

Read:The great digital divide: To do or not to do online pind daan

The women of the community have many more miles to cover. While most girls today are at least educated till class 10, few have continued beyond. One exception is Khushboo Gurda, 29, who works in a bank. Her husband works as a Panda. “But it was his encouragement that helped me pursue a career in a banking. He has studied till class 12 and wished he had studies further. I was a graduate and he encouraged me to look for a job,” says Khushboo,adding, “People in our community don’t understand the importance of education. The boys start earning from a young age and therefore don’t feel the need to study. But with changing lifestyles, there is a limit to how many people this one job can support.” The mother of a three-and-a-half year old son, Khushboo dreams of a life beyond that of a panda for her child

One area where even the young generation is wary of change is marriage. “Some people from the community have married outside. But in doing so, they have made it more difficult for others to study or work outside, because elders fear that anyone who pursues higher education or a career outside will end up marrying someone from another community,” says Khushboo. Change, she feels, has to be gradual. “Maybe the next generation will have a more liberal life,” she says.

Of course, the other aspect where no one is talking of changing is a woman’s right to work as a panda. “Women don’t have that right. If they learn the scriptures in future, they may assist in the work. But only men can be pandas,” says Govind.

Read:Maharaja Ranjit Singh to Guru Teg Bahadur, all family records available here