Sacrilegious act of some priests impersonating Vyaasa

We write to raise awareness in the Guyanese Hindu communities, both in Guyana and the Diaspora of a disturbing theatrical trend.  Some Priests (Purohits; also called Pandits in our community) are personating the ancient Hindu scholar Shree Vyaasadeva when they conduct certain religious events.

Sacrilegious act of some priests impersonating Vyaasa
Photo : Dr. Somdat Mahabir (scientist) and Dr. Ramesh Gampat (Economist)

We write to raise awareness in the Guyanese Hindu communities, both in Guyana and the Diaspora of a disturbing theatrical trend.  Some Priests (Purohits; also called Pandits in our community) are personating the ancient Hindu scholar Shree Vyaasadeva when they conduct certain religious events. This ridiculous display we label “arranged Purohit worship”. The trend has dangerous cultish implications. Legal scholar, K. Kaur on page 724 of his book “Textbook on the Indian Penal Code” (2011) stated: “A person is said to cheat by personation if he cheats by pretending to be some other person, or by knowingly substituting one person for another, or representing that he or any other person is a person other than he or such other person really is.”

As part of the attempt to impersonate Vyaas, the Purohit (Pandit) sits on a specially reserved seat of opulence called the singhasan (a throne) which is usually raised above the floor on which the audience sit and even above imagery of Gods and items used in worship. Like a king, when the Purohit arrives on site for the commencement of the session, another Purohit leads a procession that includes the sponsors, alternately ringing a bell and blowing a conch shell, while others sprinkle water in the path of main Purohit as he slowly and deliberately walks in regal splendor to be seated on the singhasan. The symbolism and ostentatious pageantry signal to the audiences the arrival of the divine, of God in the form of the Purohit.  After the “divine Purohit” is comfortably seated in his singhasan (throne), the assistant Purohit usually make loud pronouncements pointing to the Purohit in the singhasan: “Vyaas Maharaja ki” (victory to King Vyaas), “Veda Vyaas ki” (to Vyaasa who is master of the Vedas), “Bhagavan Vyaas ki” (Vyaasa who is God). Each time several people in the assembly responds to the pandit’s exhortation: “jai!” (victory) – victory to the man who has apparently been transformed into Vyaasa. Then, as part of the rituals, the sponsors would symbolically wash the feet of the man who has become “Vyaas” sitting on the throne, artie (wave a special fire over him) and garland him with flowers, etc. This sacrilegious act of some priests impersonating Vyaasa is sickening.

An important part of the symbolism is that the singhasan would be built in such a way that a big book neatly wrapped in cloth would be visible for all to see. In most cases, the man who has become “Vyaas,” sitting in the singhasan, wears a pagrie (a turban). To be clear, not everyone in the theatrical assembly, especially the folks educated in Hinduism, cheer to the mind tampering pageantry done in the name of Hinduism.

Recently, we received in our inboxes, information regarding a special event, and observed the names of several Guyanese Hindu priests changed to include the name “Vyaas” as their first name for a Ramayana “jag” in a yard of a temple. Interestingly, the emails to our inboxes also make the ridiculous claim that the event would take place in Ayodhya. However, Rama was not born in a temple yard in Queens – the Ayodhya in the email.

Those men who use the sacred of name Vyaasa for their convenience, self-aggrandizement and pageantry are doing the things that Vyaas’s writings and life history contradicts.

Vyaas is not usually linked to Ramayana, absolutely not to Tulsi Das Ramayana that is the staple diet of Guyanese Purohits. It is mind-boggling why the Purohit would want to impersonate Vyaas for Ramayana events.

The practice may be part of a remaining vestige of the so-called brahmin orthodoxy in our parts of the world, but that too does not make sense. The word brahmin is an English word not found in any Sanskrit Hindu texts. The brahmin system based on hereditary claims is illogical, scientifically unsound and self-serving. Paradoxically, Vyaasadeva is never remembered in any manner linked to Brahmanism because his mother was the daughter of a fisherman. Vyaas’s guru was Narada Muni and Narad also came from ordinary parentage. Narad’s mother was a daasyaa (maid servant). Once Hindus educate themselves by learning about Vyaasa they will surely reject any personification of Vyaas.

There is no evidence that Vyaas wore a “pagrie” (turban).  In fact, the “pagrie” has no Hindu religious significance. It is commonly worn by Muslims, Sikhs, and section of Hindus, including the laboring classes. The political leaders of Iran, for example, are usually seen wearing turbans. However, the pageantry’s symbolism is obvious: singhasana (royal throne), Bhagavan Vyaasa (God), and pagrie (crown), and the big wrapped book (knowledge) -- the Purohit is “King”, “God,” who is about to unravel divine knowledge. The pageantry is enabled by “lobbyists” who keep tight controls, calculatingly glorifying the Purohit who has become “Vyaas Maharaj” with such terms as “learned Pandit”, “great scholar”, “great guru”, “tremendous asset to Hindu dharma”, etc. Yet, the sad truth cannot be hidden that a vast majority of these “pandits” have no formal training in Hinduism, Sanskrit or even English Language.

Vyaas was an extra-ordinary Hindu sage and scholar arranging the Vedas, Upanishads, Mahabharata, Bhagavat Puran, etc. It is great shame Hindus are allowing such desecration in the name Vyaas. Vyaas was never a Purohit, never ran temples, never lived an extravagant lifestyle.

Vyass, like other Rishis such as Suka and Soota, as noted in our history have always taken questions from people who listened to them. In fact, at Naimisaaranya where more than 1,000 Rishis assembled to pose questions to Soota Rishi (a great Hindu scholar) regarding corruption in the age of Kaliyuga. The rishis had so much respect for knowledge and scholarship that they appointed one of their colleagues, Saunaka Ji, as the moderator for questioning. Saunaka himself was a scholar of great reputation. Like this example at Naimisaaranya, Hindusim has a rich history of questions being asked and answered provided such as in the Bhagavad Geeta, Upanishads, Vishnu Purana, etc. However, we are not aware of any Purohit who take questions in public or take public stand on issues of societal or national importance – totally unlike Vyaas. Unfortunately, many “Purohits/Pandits” apparently due to inferiority complexes have the tendency to denounce scholars. We know that in the Guyanese Hindu community, even the most highly trained Hindus scholars are rarely invited to give lectures in our temples, an insult to the legacy of great scholars such as Vyaas. 

We hope this essay would heighten awareness, which, in turn, lead to a discussion of the degrading act of personification of Vyaas by “pandits.” This is no less than an insult to Hindus, to Vyaas, and the very idea of “purohit/pandit”. The sad part of the tragedy now unfolding is that most Hindus cannot recognize the insult because of heavy dependence on “pandits,” many of whom are uneducated and crude, most likely because there are no educational and testing requirements for becoming a pandit.  Anyone can become “pandit” anyhow.  Our heavy dependence on unlearned “pandits” has led to the closure of the Hindu mind when it comes to dharma. In this way, Plantation Hinduism encroaches on Sanatana Dharma – and many are not even aware of it!

By Somdat Mahabir & Ramesh Gampat