Eyes half closed, I extended my hand holding a 100 rupee note towards the hundi at the Kashi Viswanath temple in Varanasi. Eager fingers snatched the money away. Alarmed, my eyes flew open only to see the head priest crumpling the note within his palm. “More”, he said, “I need Rs 400 more.” Disgusted, I moved away. This is a common story of devotees in many North Indian temples. Behaviour of these priests, known as pandas drives many away in horror. Why are they so greedy? Recall the curse of Sita.
While performing the annual rituals for my parents at Gaya, I heard this amazing story from the Ramayana. After Rama, Sita and Lakshmana had left Ayodhya for the forests, they received news of King Dasaratha’s demise. The two brothers immediately went to the banks of the Phalguni river in Gaya and performed their prayers for the passing of the soul. Meanwhile, Dasaratha’s hungry spirit demanded food from Sita. Reluctantly she rolled some wet mud and fed her father -in-law because she was not allowed to give rice until the prayers were concluded. Rama and Lakshmana had closed their eyes in prayer but the pandas saw Sita’s actions. Completing the pujas, Rama served rice for his father’s spirit only to find that it did not appear to take the offering. Sita told him what she had done. Unconvinced, Rama demanded a witness. Sita requested the pandas to verify her act of feeding. Unwilling to get involved in a domestic squabble the priests remained silent. Enraged, Sita uttered this curse. “For your betrayal you shall never be satisfied. However much you get, you will always want more.”
It was an Akshaya tree that finally bore witness for Sita while the pandas morphed into the avatars of avarice.