The Canadian Bazaar
ETOBICOKE: Devotees at the Sringeri temple here might have seen Ramakrishna Bhat guide them through rituals, puja and havan, but few know that this young priest is also a great scholar of Sanskrit.
“I am a specialist in Advaita Vedanta, the Yajur Veda and puja vidhi (rituals) and it took me 10 years to master my subjects. I learnt under the great Vedanta Kesri Brahma Shree Narayan Bhat,’’ says the 30-year-old newly married priest who comes from the green city of Yellapur near Shimoga in Karnataka.
Bhat was just 14 when he joined the Gurukul at Sringeri. His religious education included intense study of the Yajur Veda – one of the four ancient Hindu scriptures – and Advaita Vedanta. During the process of his education, Bhat became a polyglot of sorts as he learnt seven languages – English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Konkani and Sanskrit.
Apart from being an expert in his priestly duties and Sanskrit, he claims great skills in astrology as well.
“Astrology was also a part of my education at the Sringeri Gurukul,’’ he says.
Excerpts from an interview with Bhat:
Q: How were you selected to serve as a priest in Toronto’s Sringeri temple?
The Guruji (Sringeri Shankaracharya) asked me to go to Toronto, though my parents never wanted me to leave Sringeri. However, once the Guruji ordered, my parents had no choice. He blessed me with Mool Mantra and sent me here in 2010. I participated in the inauguration ceremonies of this temple which were performed by 20-odd priests from India. I stayed back.
Q: What are your daily duties as a priest?
I get up at 5.30 am. After bath, I do morning rituals such as Surya Pranam, Gayatri Mantra and praying in all directions. At 8.00 am, I come to the temple, lit lamps, offer prayers to the gods and start the Ganesh havan at 8.30 am. Then I do puja of all the 11 gods and goddesses, including the presiding deity Sharadamba, Lord Shiva, Lord Rama and family, Lord Krishna, Lord Ganesha, Hanuman, Karthik, Durga and Nav Graha and the Adi Shankaracharya. We end our morning duties at 11 am with fresh bhog (offering) to Sharada Maa.
In the evening, we start at 4.30 pm. We do Chandi paath (recitation) and then at 6.30 pm we do Lalita Sahasranama (1,000 chants of Lalita Tripura Sundari) for 30 minutes. At 7.30 pm, we do aarti and finish at 8.00 pm with Maha aarti.
Q: Do you have duties outside the temple?
I go to people’s homes for various ceremonies – havan, shraddha, home blessing, weddings, etc. I go to hospitals to comfort patients. I have also been to Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health to help patients.
Q: What are the restrictions on you as a Sringeri priest? I am not supposed to eat outside. Home-made food is a must for Sringeri priests. Also, we have to stick to our strict dress code.
Q: We are told that you will soon become Dr Ramakrishna Bhat.
Yes, I am doing my Ph.D in Sanskrit which will be completed soon. As a Sanskrit scholar, I attended the World Sanskrit Conference in Bangkok in 2015 and also performed prayers in Sanskrit for the students of McGill University.
Manjunatha Sidhanti, who is the other priest at the Sringeri temple, speaks about his duties:
Q: When did you come to Toronto?
I came here in 2010 with 20 other priests for the inauguration ceremonies of the temple. Three of us stayed back. I studied for eight years at the Sri Sringeri Shankar Mutt in Bangalore before becoming a priest. I come from a family of priests from Pavagada town in Tumkur district of Karnataka. I was also picked up by the Shankaracharya for this job.
Q: What are the special puja days at the temple?
For the public good, we do Chandi havan each year during Navratras. Each month, we perform special havan and puja. These are Ganesh and Durga puja. Every Purnima, we do Satyanarayan puja. We also perform children’s bhajan.
Q: What is the biggest day at the temple?
Shivratri is one of the biggest occasions here. The Adi Shankara Jayanti on May 10-11 is another big festival at the temple. However, Navratri is the biggest day as the presiding deity is Sharadamba – combination of Saraswati, Laxmi and Parvati.
Q: How do ceremonies at this temple differ from other Hindu temples? We follow authentic Sringeri traditions. That’s why thousands of people who are attached to Sringeri come to this temple for all their needs, including solemnization of marriages.