Homecoming of a Hindu Pujari and His Life Transforming Story
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CSD: It is wonderful to have you with us to share your life’s testimony. Why not begin by introducing yourself.
Veeru: After my birth, on 10th July 1981, I was named U. Veeranjaneyulu. I was the last one born, after my two sisters, to U. Adhinarayanachari and Laxmidevi. We were Vishwa Brahmins, hailing from Gondireddipalli of Ananthapur district, which is in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India.
CSD: Family background is something which is always intriguing to know. Can you share with us the key incidents of your family’s history?
Veeru: I come from an Orthodox Hindu priestly family. We, the Vishwa Brahmins, occupy the highest position among the four varnas (castes) in Hinduism. My grandfather was a devout guru who mastered meditation. Incidentally, I was named after my grandfather—Veeranjaneyulu. He possessed some mystical powers and performed extraordinary acts. People considered him as a powerful being and held him in high regard. One day as he was doing his tapassu (meditation) on a tree, positioning upside down, the loud noise of the children distracted his mind, causing him to fall heavily on the ground. He was severely injured. This accident left him almost half dead. He then urged his people to do jeeva samadhi (bury him alive). After much consideration, his wish was eventually fulfilled—he was buried alive.
After my grandfather’s burial, people built a temple on his grave and began worshipping him, along with other gods and goddesses. The temple was named “Shri, Shri, Shri Veeriah Swamy Ashramam”. And in this temple my father was appointed to serve as a pujari (a priest)—to do pujas (worship), to chant mantras (hymns), and to act as a mediator between devotees and deities. My father was also skilled at palmistry and fortune telling. He served in that temple for not less than thirty years.
CSD: That’s an amazing history of your grandfather. Now tell us something about your immediately family.
Veeru: I am the youngest, not to mention pampered, son in my family. My mother Laxmidevi assisted my father in his priestly activities. All our family members were diligently involved in doing puja (worship), playing traditional music and performing various rituals in the temple. We were strict vegetarians, not even eating eggs. My grandfather’s brother, the elder of the temple, was a representative of Rayalseema’s Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which is an offshoot of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). He was a teacher of dharma (religious law) and taught us Sanskrit. During Ayodhya’s debate (in 1992) concerning the Ram Janmabhoomi temple and Babri Mosque, we took a major part in processions, motivating people in various places to contend for building up the temple for Ram in Ayodhya.
Furthermore, as a family, we regularly visited pilgrimages and offered pujas. To us snakes were gods and we worshipped them too. Our kula devudu (family god) was Veerabrahmendra Swami, who is well known for kala gnayanam (prediction of the future). My father’s task was to recite the life story of Veerabrahmendra Swami. In every major festivity and festival my family acted as a catalyst in performing all kinds of religious rituals. Our world was filled with gods and pujas. We had the upper hand on all religious and ceremonial matters. Yearly once we had a special aradhana program (different pujas to different gods) for three days and nights, during which it was our custom to provide food for the whole village (anna dhanam), do jagarana (whole night vigil) and have harikatha (story recitation).
CSD: How was your young life then?
Veeru: As a pujari’s son I held an honorable position wherever I was. I was devoted to the gods of my religion and unfailing in my religious duties. In the school assembly I was responsible for leading prayers in Sanskrit. I had a vital role in doing Saraswati puja conducted in the school (saraswathi puja is performed every year to invoke Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom, into homes and educational institutions). However, I had a dual life—at home I was very religious but outside I was a bit mischievous. I picked up bad habits and corrupt friendship. I was a close friend of Srinivas who was a village goon. In a clash between two villages his life was at stake. I had to carry a sickle on behalf of him for his protection. Sadly, one day, he was brutally killed by some assailants, which I got to know to my utter shock while reading the newspaper. Fear then gripped my heart.
CSD: Thank you for letting us know about your family and your past life. We are curious to know how the transformation occurred in your family.
Veeru: As we were immersed in the religious activities of our ancestors’ faith, something interesting happened in our family. My eldest sister, Nagaratnamma, had a friend named Kamala. Now Kamala was from Vaisyha background (another high caste sect in Hinduism) and was a secret believer of Christ Jesus. She underwent severe persecution for believing in Jesus. Nevertheless, she was strong in her faith and shared about Jesus with my sister who was doing her B.Com then. Kamala also introduced her to a Bible study group. My sister, who was apprehensive at the outset, finally got convinced of the truth about Jesus and became His follower.
After her faith in Christ Jesus, she immediately stopped performing pujas and worshipping our religious gods. It came as a complete surprise to our family. Not long after even my second sister, Ashwarthamma, came to believe in Christ through my eldest sister. They both got baptized and became ardent followers of Christ. Their lives were radically changed and brightened. Later on they shared with me the uniqueness of Christ Jesus, the forgiveness of sins and the attainment of moksha (salvation) found only in Him. They gave me a copy of the New Testament and asked me to read the gospel of John.
CSD: How was your perception about Christ during that time and what really transformed your mindset?
Veeru: I thought Christ was just one of the gods. I had no understanding of who He was and neither had I any interest in knowing about His life and teachings. But having observed the transformed life of my sisters, which was considerably different from others, I became curious to know who this Jesus is and why my sisters renounced our ancestors’ religious faith to follow Him. In my honest pursuit, three questions beset my mind: first, am I worshipping the true God?; second, what is the uniqueness of Christ?; third, who will satisfy my desperation? I went ahead to examine the life of Jesus with the gods of my religious faith. After thorough examination I was convinced that Jesus was incomparable. None could match His holiness, love and might.
As I was reading the gospel of John my heart was thrilled to come across the assertion of Jesus, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (14:6). Out of those words I clearly heard God’s voice in my spirit saying, “I am the only true God; there is no other way for you to be saved from your sins.” Although I was active in performing all kinds of religious activities and appeared to be nice, deep in my heart I was desperately in need of someone who can give me peace and deliver me from my sins. None knew who I actually was and my struggles within. When I found Jesus I found my redeemer and the source of peace. The glorious day came when I confessed my sins and gave my life to Christ to become His follower.
Never before had I experienced such an indescribable joy—the gladness of knowing Christ as my Lord and Savior. It was as if my eyes were opened to see for the first time. The song of John Newton resonates powerfully with me, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me; I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.” What’s so marvelous about faith in Christ is the transformation that took place in my personal life, apart from my intellectual belief.
CSD: The sincere seekers of the truth are never disappointed in their pursuit. How true are those words of Jesus, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:32)! Well, I think your parents were taken aback to hear another dramatic transformation in your family.
Veeru: My father, of course, received another shock after knowing my faith in Christ. His hope of me succeeding his position, as a pujari, vanished. I stopped performing religious activities in the temple. I even went back to my school and shared about my conviction of believing only in Christ and abstained myself from doing pujas. I gave up leading prayers in Sanskrit. I said no to bad friendship and to evil habits. My belief in Christ impacted my conduct. I was never the same. My life took a different turn. Although not claiming to be perfect I was glad to know the holy standards of the Living God and how I need to live a life obeying His commands.
CSD: It’s amazing to know how Jesus changes sinful lives. I recall how He also changed my life, or else I would have become a smuggler or a criminal. Not many understand the fact that Christ has come to changes lives and to give hope and not to establish a religion. Oh, by the way, what happened to your parents?
Veeru: After the three of us came to know Jesus we began to pray earnestly for the salvation of our parents. Although we shared the gospel with our parents, it wasn’t easy for them to believe, since they held a highly responsible position in the society. Fear of people and concern for their reputation blinded their minds against the truth. One day it so happened that a few followers of Christ came to my father’s temple and explained clearly to him about the nature of God and how He had to die and rise from the dead to offer salvation to the perishing people. Miraculously, my mother and then my father were eventually convicted of the truth about Christ Jesus. They boldly decided to follow Him irrespective of the consequences.
We three were spellbound to learn about our father’s transformation. He took off his saffron dress, threw away the books of astrology and palmistry, gave up worshipping idols and publicly declared his faith in Jesus. Everyone was astonished, including the surrounding villages, to hear about my father’s radical change. My relatives became indignant because of our new found faith. They had the misconception that Jesus is the god of the low castes. No wonder we had to face insults, rejection and hatred from our people. We were considered as a disgrace to the Hindu community.
CSD: I understand we live in a culture which only pays lip service to the idea of freedom of belief but in actual fact crucifies you if you exercise that freedom. Your family was blessed, for Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (Matt. 5:11). Share what happened with your family later.
Veeru: Having come to know of our family’s conversion, my grandfather’s brother (a VHP leader), relatives, temple committee, confronted my family and gave us a week’s time either to give up our faith in Christ and redo our ancestor’s religious activities or face excommunication from the community, temple and village. They even offered us material or monetary reward if we renounce our faith in Christ. Nothing moved us, for we were not lured to Christ by the offer of money and material blessings. We believed in Him because He is the only one who died for the sins of the world and rose from the dead to give hope to everyone who believes in Him.
However, we were in a critical situation. We had to lose everything. It was a tough decision to make—either to continue following Christ or give up everything: our Brahmin caste, our status, creature comforts and the goodwill of our friends and relatives. We would inevitably become an outcaste from the society. During that painful time the Lord spoke to us through 1 Peter 4:16, “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” We were encouraged by this Scripture, our weak faith was strengthened, and we took a firm step to continue following the Lord, no matter whatever the tragedies.
Because of our faith in Christ, we were banished from the village, compelled to leave to another town and confined to live in a small house. We had to face various trials as a test for our faith. My father, who held an honorable job in the temple, had to work as a watchman to provide for our family. But the Spirit of God enabled us to endure all kinds of suffering and made us keep growing in the knowledge of the true God. Though externally rejected our hearts rejoiced to suffer for the One who laid His life on the Cross. I got baptized, along with my parents, on 20th March, 1996.
CSD: Wonderful to hear how the Lord saved your family. Your family made a choice which is of eternal worth. Jesus did not promise a smooth path for His followers. He said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will save it” (Lu. 9:23-24). Tell us more about how your family went ahead in Christ.
Veeru: The Lord spoke to my sister, “Since you have been pujaris of the created things, I have chosen you now to become My pujaris.” After hearing from the Lord, our family dedicated to serve Christ Jesus. My sisters and I underwent theological education to know more about the Word of God. I received my Bachelor of Theology from South India Biblical Seminary. I also received my M.A in Theological studies from SAIACS, a premier evangelical theological institute in South Asia. I even have an M.A in Sociology.
We are glad to be in the service of Jesus, proclaiming to many the hope that we have in Christ in the world of uncertainty. The Lord has been with us in all our struggles, took care of our needs and guided us further to live for Him. My sisters got married to godly husbands, committed to Christ Jesus, and happily serving the Lord with their entire families. Because of what Christ had done in our lives we want to now labor for the welfare of our nation.
CSD: What is it that you now found in Christ which you didn’t find in your former religious faith?
Veeru: My life was hopeless, purposeless and meaningless. I was a miserable creature. There was no personal relationship with the deities of my ancestors’ faith. I was blindly following the customs and rituals with no remedy for my heart’s tragedy. I had no idea about my destiny after death. What I found in Christ is hope, meaning and purpose of my life. I came to know the God who is majestic and yet personal. I got the freedom to call Him, “My Father, my Friend, my God.” Now I am certain about my destiny. I have no fear of death. I have the assurance of eternal life in Christ Jesus.
CSD: This is wonderful. What a difference Christ makes in our lives when we turn to Him! For this reason we share the gospel of Christ, not to populate Christianity, but to deliver people from their sins and misery. God’s Word says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). Finally, before we close, what is the message you want to convey to your community?
Veeru: This is the message I wish to give to my community: our good works and religious rituals cannot result in achieving mukti (salvation). What we finite human beings could not achieve is attained for us by Jesus Christ through His birth, death and resurrection. He is not just the God of the low caste, but the Creator and the Savior of the whole world. He gives peace, purpose of life, and promises eternal life. I urge my community to stop trusting the creating things and turn to the Creator who freely gives mukti (salvation) and samadhanam (peace).
CSD: Thank you Veeranjaneyulu for sparing your time to share your wonderful testimony with us. We are excited to hear your life’s story. May the Living God continue to use you to be a blessing to the ends of the earth. Peace be with you!