A Hindu priest distributes food offerings during the Arti ceremony.
A Hindu priest distributes food offerings during the Arti ceremony.

A Hindu priest, also called a "pandit," has many responsibilities to his or her congregation, including the performance of rituals and ceremonies, temple upkeep and religious instruction. Hinduism is a decentralized religion and there is no overarching religious institution to appoint priests, who learn scripture and sacraments at schools throughout the world.

Faith

Priests are the principle spiritual resource for a Hindu community, and according to the Sanskrit Religions Institute a pandit is expected to be both "spiritually deep" and "theologically wise." Priests must be well versed in Sanskrit, the sacred language of Hinduism, in order to recite chants and mantras and perform rites of passage for their congregation. Many priests also provide faith counseling for the community and visit the sick and dying in the hospital to perform last rites.

Rituals

"Puja" is the daily worship service performed by a Hindu priest, sometimes several times a day for attending worshipers. Puja can include a variety of complex rituals wherein the priest rings bells, lights torches and leads the congregation in chants to the gods. Priests also perform blessings during puja.

Ceremonies

Hindu priests are also responsible for the performance of ceremonies such as weddings and rites of passage like the sacred thread ceremony that symbolizes the coming of age of a young Hindu man. Many ceremonies are performed by priests throughout the year to honor the gods. During the Arti ceremony, for example, the priest distributes food, water and flowers among the congregation to be shared and then offered to the deities.

Temples

Hindu worship takes place in a temple, and it falls to the pandit to keep the temple orderly and maintain daily operations. These duties can include maintenance of the temple altar and the writing of temple newsletters, as well as communication with media outlets. Temples also offer religious classes, serve as a place of gathering during Hindu festivals and generally house a religious library, all of which are taught or organized by the pandit.