By Swami Harshananda
Purohita literally means ‘one who is engaged in rites that give their fruits here and hereafter’.
Right from the most ancient days, the sages had recognized the need for a king or a ruler to protect and control the society. Similarly they had also recognized the need for the king to be guided by a purohita, not only in matters of religion but also in other fields like the dispensing of justice. Their philosophy behind statecraft was that only a balanced combination of the kingly and the priestly powers could guarantee the complete well-being of the State.
Qualities of Purohita
A king was to select a purohita endowed with the following qualities:
- He should be a brāhmaṇa from a good family, possessing great learning, eloquence and pure character.
- He must be a handsome person of middle age.
- He should also be well-versed in the science of portents and the rites to be performed to offset the evil effects indicated by the portents.
- His position was often hereditary, hence it is termed as ‘kulapurohita’.
- His status was considered as even superior to that of the mantrins or the ministers.
- If and when a king wanted to perform a Vedic sacrifice, the advice of the purohita was of supreme importance in selecting the ṛtivks.
Duties of Purohita
Even in the modern days, the society very much depends on the purohita or the priest for the performance of religious rites whether at home or in temples or in public/social functions. Some of these rites are:
- Performance of the sanskāras like upanayāna, vivāha and śrāddha all ceremonies connected with the temple worship
- Religious rites like homa performed for the betterment of the society.
Though these ceremonies include Vedic mantras, they are based more on the āgamas and purāṇas.
- Purohita means a chaplain of the State.
- Incidentally, even the devas or the gods and the asuras or the demons are said to have had kulapurohitas. The names of Bṛhaspati and Śukrācārya are often mentioned in the Vedas and the purāṇas as the two kulapurohitas of these two races.
- Rtivks means the priests.
- Sanskāras means the sacraments.
- Upanayāna means the thread-ceremony.
- Vivāha means marriage.
- Śrāddha means obsequal ceremonies.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore