The Woman Priest at Lord Hanuman Temple

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
At any place of worship, Christian, Muslim or Hindu, not often one finds a woman priest. Read about a woman priest at Lord Hanuman Hindu temple in Pineappleville, a town on the southeastern coast of India.

Submitted: December 22, 2013

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Submitted: December 22, 2013

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A Woman Priest at Lord Hanuman Temple
Subba Rao

 There were several Hindu temples in Pineappleville, a large town on the southeastern sea coast of India known for pineapples. The temples with deities known for fulfilling devotees’ wishes were always crowded.  There were other temples in town that attract crowds only on auspicious days according to Hindu calendar. Then there was this small Lord Hanuman temple on the main road that was sparsely attended by the devotees even on the auspicious days.
 Lord Hanuman, a half-man and half primate, a devout servant of Lord Rama in Hindu mythology was one of the incarnations of god. Lord Hanuman maintained lifelong celibacy to conserve physical energy totally for acts of good deeds.For example, he pulled a mountain from the ground up and carried single-handedly flying with it to a far distance with its fauna and flora to supply the magic herbal plant on it to restore the life of Lord Laxmana died in a freak accident during the holy war of Ramayana.  Lord Hanuman with help of his fellow primates built a bridge using rocks from the ocean depth to connect the island of Lanka to the mainland India to facilitate the army of Lord Rama to reach the island to defeat the evil king Ravana and release his wife Sita from forced confinement. The exemplary heroic acts with immense physical strength made Lord Hanuman a symbol of physical strength in Hindu mythology. The deities of Lord Hanuman were always exhibit his physical attributes of pure muscles from neck down. Some of Lord Hanuman’s devotees remain celibate throughout their life time to use their physical energy for good deeds.
 Most Hindu deities were adorned with pure silk and valuable gold and precious stone jewelry but the deity of Lord Hanuman was always bare exposing his humongous muscles painted in scarlet red sticky dye characteristic to Lord Hanuman deities. The devotees visiting Lord Hanuman temple were offered a small sample of sticky scarlet dye to rub against their forehead or neck as a marker for others to encourage a visit to Lord Hanuman for blessings.
 The sparsely attended Lord Hanuman temple was only temple in Pineappleville with a woman priest Purnima.  Though she was not trained in Hindu traditions as a priest, she performed the duties of priesthood. In the past, a wealthy immigrant business family brought Purnima along from a far distance in north to work in their family home as live-in cook. She was fair skinned and diminutive in stature and stood apart from the locals.  On her retirement, her employers gave her a small strip of rocky land on the main road with a large boulder on which somebody engraved a figure of Lord Hanuman. The engraved figure was deep and very descriptive. Purnima built a small masonry structure around the rock to turn into a shrine and made living as a priest.
 Purnima lived within the temple compound using the backyard for cooking and living in a thatched hut under the shade of a large tree. The rocky backyard supported Plumeria trees also called Temple trees as most temples plant Plumeria trees on its premises for abundant supply of flowers of white, yellow and red shades with sweet fragrance good for making floral garments used as a offering to the temple deities.
 The Hanuman temple was a private shrine not recognized by the government and Purnima was not qualified for government salary like priests at the other temples. The only income for Purnima was from the donations left in the collection plate which was meager considering the most of the devotees were working class poor like day laborers and rickshaw pullers that worship Lord Hanuman for strength in performing physically demanding jobs.
 Devotees generally prefer a male priest over a female priest at any place of worship in any faith. At Hindu temples across the land, one can hardly find a female priest let alone at the temple of Lord Hanuman known for lifelong celibacy. 
 Purnima spent time in the temple in making floral garlands with colorful Plumeria flowers collected from the trees in the backyard and coating the engraved rock with freshly made oily crimson red dye.  The devotees help themselves to get a pinch of red dye to rub on their forehead before leaving the shrine leaving few coins in the collection plate, the only source of income for Purnima.  Some devotees purchased floral garlands for a small price to adorn the rock.
 Decades later, Juggernaut on a recent visit to Pineappleville found the Hanuman shrine abandoned with no priest and the engraved figure of Lord Hanuman on the rock was still intact and visible in faded red paint. He touched the oily red dye with his finger that stuck readily like glue to the past to remind the woman priest at Hanuman Temple. 
 In years past, majority of doctors, engineers, lawyers and judges were all men; very few women far in between occupied these positions. Women were employed only at grade schools in numbers, beyond the middle school; men dominated the teaching and administration positions. But today, over 50% of the professions were rightfully occupied by women except the profession of priesthood in any faith. Old Purnima received scant recognition as a priest at Lord Hanuman shrine from the years past,  similar sentiment still prevails even now at places of worship.


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