Kolkata: As the city remains busy doing last-minute shopping before the Durga Puja festivities kick off this weekend, a group of young men rehearses 'shlokas' and rituals at a crash course to counter priest shortage in Kolkata.
Due to the mushrooming puja committees in the city and its outskirts, a shortage of skilled priests has been felt each year. To match the demand, the West Bengal Pandit and Purohit Association is running a crash course at Maniktala temple for priests ahead of the Durga Puja.
"The number of pujas is increasing, but the number of priests has remained the same. As a result, those without having complete and proper knowledge of the rules get engaged as priests. Many of them chant wrong or miss steps while performing rituals," Netai Chakraborty, president of the association, said.
Applicants with a basic knowledge of rituals are allowed to enroll in the week-long workshop.
Prabhakar Nanda, a young priest from West Midnapore district, said he joined the course to learn more about the profession and brush up his skills.
Under the guidance of veteran priests, the students, mostly from the districts, are taught the rituals of worship and how to carry out the deity's puja in accordance with Hindu scriptures.
Not only does the course encourage newcomers to take their ancestral profession, but it also acts as a refresher course for those who have been into the profession for a few years.
Post-graduate student Gunjan Chakraborty said that after doing this course he would be more confident while performing the puja rituals at a community puja pandal near his house.
Veteran priest Netai Chakraborty regrets that now-a-days most of the puja committees are focusing on attracting crowds rather than having a good priest.
"This is one aspect which has been ignored completely by everyone. If we do not do the puja properly, then how can devotees expect to be blessed?" he said.
The Association had also written to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee urging her to take steps to motivate the next generation of priests who have been shying away from their ancestral profession.
"It will be encouraging for the profession if the government gives pension on retirement, provide insurance cover and help for the education of children of needy priests," he said.