Sri. Raja Rathna Bhattar – His Memories Always guiding us.

Sri. Raja Ratna Bhattar

     To be asked to express about someone you hold in high esteem is an honor that I cherish immensely. I am privileged with that honor to write about Sri. Raja Rathna Bhattar, Priest Emeritus of Sri. Meenakshi Temple of Houston. I also consider it a blessing to have been closely associated with a person of such intense knowledge and devotion, during my fortunate involvement in the activities of the temple.
     Priests in Hindu traditions occupy an exalted status in terms of respectability and reverence, yet are not the bastions of power wielding politics, like in many other religious hierarchies. In our religious customs, they function as the mediators between the sanctum and the devotee, invoking the divinity of the deities through ritualistic practices. The priests also function as the teachers of our rich religious wisdom, by interpreting and explaining the profound philosophy enshrined in our sacred scriptures.
     Sri. Raja Rathna Bhattar has been a godsend to our temple, spearheading the evolution of our phenomenal growth, from its humble beginnings to the present glorious accomplishments. Since the most basic function of a temple is to provide religious, ritualistic services to the visiting devotees, the priests shoulder the major responsibility of its success. As the chief priest of Sri Meenakshi Temple for many years, Sri. Bhattar was instrumental in establishing, sustaining and promoting the high standard that it has achieved now, attracting many thousands of devotees from far and near. I can honestly and sincerely credit Sri. Rathna Bhattar for having guided us in the marvelous strides we have made in meeting our religious needs in an alien land so far away from ‘home’.
     Sri. Bhattar has been instrumental as a guiding force in all our temple religious activities, like daily poojas for the various deities, planning the various special poojas arranged as needed, making the yearly temple calendars, giving discourses explaining our traditions, providing input in the expansion of our facilities, organizing cultural activities and participating in various educational needs. Even after retirement, he has been tirelessly available and been graciously helpful in all our temple needs. On a personal level, in times of need, he is always there to advise you and to guide you, with compassion and sincerity.
     Sri. Rathna Bhattar and his elder brother Sri. Thanga Bhattar was called to divine duty to Houston many years ago, from the illustrious, priestly background of the famous Madurai Meenakshi Temple, for the benefit of the Hindu population of Texas and surroundings. For someone hailing from a strict, almost rigid religious legacy, adhering to fundamentalism and observing fastidious, orthodox practices, would seem to be a practical impossibility to adapt to modernistic, western attitudes in an almost hostile environment. But Bhattar Mama, as we reverently and affectionately address him, not only lived up to the needs but surpassed our expectations, by his uncanny adaptability and scholarly comprehension of the circumstances. With vast, in-depth knowledge of the true meaning of our scriptures and its application, he has been successful in providing the needed guidance to Hindus here, to fit their needs as demanded by our new lifestyle.
     On a personal note, he has been very close to our family, providing advice on a variety of religious and adaptability issues that we face in this land, accommodating the practical differences in a cordial and prudent fashion without diluting our time-honoured tenets. Even if he tries to snub some issue that cannot be accommodated, with his diplomatic and authentic understanding, he makes it palatable to those listening. Bhattar Mama conducted the weddings of our two daughters, one to an American Catholic and the other one to a Gujarathi Jain; and he held on to all our traditions and incorporated their valued customs without offending either of us and doing phenomenally authentic rituals.
     In Hinduism, as in most religions, one can easily get bewildered and go astray if one does not comprehend the basic tenet that divinity dwells in all. Bhattar Mama has set an exemplary example of a true Hindu scholar by his broadmindedness, his understanding, and interpretation of our philosophy, his application of the knowledge in our religious practices and daily life and his ability to convey the essence of our faith and convince us about it. Speaking at the InterFaith assembly, I have heard him saying to an astonished group of mostly onetrack believers, that Krishna and Christ or Mary or Maariamman are the reflections of one and the same Almighty
     As we celebrate his birthday, it is my honor and good fortune to felicitate his accomplishments and pray for his long life, health, and peace of mind. May Goddess Meenakshi shower her blessings on this enlightened individual, his devoted wife, and his affectionate family and protect him for the benefit of the many of us, who look up to him for his guidance.
(Bhattar Mama has been gone, but he will always remain in our thoughts)

Author: Dr. Venugopal Menon

Was born and raised in a loving family in pre-independent India, became a doctor, served Indian army, got married, then came over to America with wife and a daughter, established as a successful Allergist, raised a family of three children, was involved in many social establishments, retired, and wrote memoirs, 'My Mother Called Me Unni, A Doctor's Tale of Migration'.

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