The Issue of Dakṣina or Honorarium
Dakṣina is the giving of a financial remuneration to the priests in exchange for their services, as a sign of thanks and respect from the families which the priest has officiated. Through giving Dakṣina, one is supporting the priests who in turn are the upholders and the teachers of the Sanātana Dharma. It is upon the householders that the priests and the monks (sanyasis) depend for their livelihood and ability to continue their work of teaching and promoting values. Householders should express their heartfelt love of the Dharma and appreciation of the work of the priests and gurus through giving generously according to their financial means.
However, this is an issue which is being constantly challenged, with many young people asking “Why should we pay the priests? Shouldn’t they be doing it as a spiritual act of service to the community?” and questioning how can you mix spirituality with money; doesn’t it demean the sacredness of the ceremony. As a priest myself, I shall say that it must be remembered that all the other religious communities through their organizations, churches, synagogues and mosques etc. employ their clergy. They have employment contracts, free housing or subsidized rentals, superannuation, medical insurance and all the other privileges of an employee.
Hindu priests are divided into two categories — Temple Priests (archakas) and Domestic Priests (purohits). Temple priests in the UK are usually hired in India and brought out to work under contract, where they are paid a salary and all amenities are provided. Domestic priests, however, are completely independent and have no organisational support, even though most still need to support their own household in the UK and often back in India too. Unless they are working part-time as priests and have a day-job, they have no independent source of income. To survive, the priests rely on the generosity of the public. Everyone living in UK is subjected to the same cost of living: rents, mortgages, insurance, travel costs, bills, schooling for their kids. All the priests are required to pay taxes and also make their own superannuation arrangements. Priests need to be self-sufficient in their old age and have an income stream via their self-funded Super. As there is no employer contribution, we need to save 20% of our gross income for the future. This alone is why the generosity of the Hindu community is so vital to priests through the sacramental and ceremonial needs they share.
Giving Dakṣiṇa is an integral part of every religious ceremony as per Scriptural quotes in which the Rules of Dakṣina from the Śatapatha Brahmana can be seen below.
- One who hosts a yajña without giving dakṣina to the priests obtains sinful reactions. (S.B i ;2;3;4; S.B.ii 2;2;2)
- No oblation (homa) should be offered without dakṣina. (S.B. ix ;1;3;7.)
- There must be no haggling for the sacrificial fee, for by haggling the priests are deprived of their place in heaven. (S.B. ix 5;2;16.)
- By means of dakṣina to the priests the yajña becomes successful; for this reason, gifts are made to the priests. The glory of the yajña is the priests and their glory is the sacrificial fee (dakṣina). This means the priest must not give it away that same day. But rather it can be given away after having acquired the glory, from the following day. (S.B. xiv ;1;1;32)
- The yajamāna should give as much as he can afford – yathā śaktyā. (S.B. ii 2;2;3.)
- Such is the measure of the priests’ fees, but the yajamāna may give more, according to the depth of his conviction. (S.B. ii 2;2;5.)
- A priest must not accept a dakṣina which has been refused by another priest; nor should the yajamāna offer the refused remuneration to anyone else. (S.B. iii 5;1;25.)
From the Smṛtis
- The yajamāna is able to perform other meritorious acts (like pilgrimages, fasts etc), but not in a way at which he gives dakṣinas which are less than those prescribed in the śāstra. (Manu Smṛti xi 39)
- The sense organs, honour, bliss, longevity, fame, progeny and domestic animals are all destroyed by a yajña at which too little is given as dakṣina; hence a person of limited means should not offer a yajña. (Manu Smṛti xi 40)
- By giving 16% of his produce to the king (in taxes), 5% to the Devas (upkeep of temples) and 4% to support the Brahmins, a cultivator is exonerated from all sins. (Parāśara 2:14)
- To the brāhmaṇa who has performed a homa, a pair of garments must be given. (Viṣṇu Smṛti xc 4.)
- The yajamāna should not choose a priest who is not taught in the Veda, or one who haggles about his fee. (Āpastambha Smṛti ii;5;10;8)
- Any yajña performed without direction of scriptural injunctions, without distribution of food, without Vedic hymns and without dakṣina to the priests and without faith must be considered to be in the mode of ignorance (tamas). (Bhagavad Gita 17;13.)
From the Purāṇas
- Having performed a ritual, one should immediately give dakṣiṇa; this is the injunction of the Vedas.
- If the yajamāna through ignorance does not give the dakṣiṇa to the brāhmaṇas, the sacrifice is rendered completely futile and the results of this sinful action are disease and poverty.
- Lakṣmi departs from the yajamāna’s house and curses him. The ancestors (Pitris) never accept anything that is offered by him in the śrāddha or tarpana.
- The one who does not give the dakṣina and the priest who does not request it; both of them fall into hell.
- The yajamāna who does not give the dakṣina when asked becomes devoid of all sense and certainly, falling into the hellish realm Kumbhipāka naraka (Brahmavaivarta Purāṇa prakṛti -khaṇḍa).
- A cow, a metal vessel and an unwashed (new) garment constitute the sacrificial fee. Asvalayana Grihya Sutra 4:6:19
- Dakṣiṇa, however little, be should always be given to the brāhmins and the devotees during the performance of yajñas. Therefore a yajamāna should give according to his means with faith and devotion because dakṣina is a segment of the yajña. (Pancarātra – Pādma Samhita 11;267 – 269.)