What price the dispersal of dharma in the form of either the showering of blessings in your home by a priest, or even religious discourses?

You would pay a plumber to clear the blocked pipes in your homes, or the mechanic to fix your car; so why do people whinge when it comes to paying the priest? Or, in this case, the pundit?

Hindu leader Rajan Zed, of Nevada, United States, last week stressed the need of according due reverence to the profession of priesthood in Hinduism.

Mr Zed, who is president of Universal Society of Hinduism, said that priests performed an important role in Hindu society and should be compensated accordingly.

And Mr Zed’s call has received a warm welcome from a prominent Hindu group in Auckland, New Zealand.

“Zed is telling the truth,” said Pundit Sunil Sharma, vice-president of the Sanatan Dharam Pratinidhi Sabha of New Zealand.

Mr Zed said: “Hindu priests are conducting samskaras (sacraments); studying and interpreting ancient scriptures; elaborating the true nature of dharma; performing/ officiating at worship services, including ceremonies and rituals; fulfilling the community's worship service needs; etc.

“They are custodians of our traditions and should be venerated by the society.”

He said that in India, a national minimum rate of their compensation/honorarium should be set and it should be raised after regular intervals based on consumer price index.

“They should receive some fixed percentage of the temple collections also in addition to the salary,” Mr Zed said.

“A national commission should be set up in India to look into the issues facing the priestly profession and come up with urgent solutions and relief measures. A nationwide pension scheme should be launched for all the priests.”

Sharma said members of the public who use services of pundits should understand that in this day and age, ordinary people with full time jobs were finding it hard to survive, so pundits’ religious sessions should be looked at in a similar way.

“Some pundits work full-time in the mandir and that is hard work,” said Sharma, 48, who has a fulltime managerial job at an Auckland supermarket.

“It is hard work, with no holidays or day in lieu. Full-time they would probably end up doing six poojas – it’s a huge responsibility.

“People spend so much on parties, so why do they become stingy for a pooja,” said Sharma, who’s only a weekend pundit.

“In my 26 years in Auckland, people have been fair to me; but we often get calls from pundits who complain of the meagre takings at a pooja.

“Nine times of 10 pundits say that people have been stingy. It is samaj sewa, aur samaj sewa mein khabi khabi maar bhi khaate hain.”

He said he had heard of some pundits making it clear in the beginning the amount they will “charge”.

But Sharma made it clear that pundits could not demand the amount of money they should be paid or what offerings they would like to take away with them. “That is totally against the principles, but people must understand the pundit’s needs too.”

D Singh, an Auckland resident, said he once overheard a prominent Auckland pundit mention $2000 amount for officiating at the wedding of a rich businessman’s son.

That pundit is reported to have said that at the regular “pundit gatherings” they often talked about which families gave what at their poojas, and they others should avoid officiating there.

Sharma said he was not aware of such discussions, but said the most he had ever heard about a pundit receiving for a wedding was $500.

“For a katha if people give $100, that’s not bad at all, but $100 for a roth in the morning and katha in the evening is not appropriate at all as so much time is spent.

“Having said that, I must also say that a lot of people are very generous in the money they gave and the offerings.

“But a pundit can wear only so many shirts and singlets.”

Sharma said he often donated shirts, singlets and handkerchiefs donated to him to the poor and needy.

According to Sharma, Auckland has 35-40 Sanatan dharma pundits and a smaller number of Arya Samaj pundits.