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I wish to sincerely commend the president of the NCIC Dr. Deokienanan Sharma and the NCIC for the staging of the 32nd Annual Divali Nagar. You have chosen to Honour the Legends in tonight’s Celebrations. This expression of gratitude for the role that they have played in ensuring the sustainability of our cultural traditions is warmly appreciated. Far too often we wait to thank and to commend and appreciate our Artistes after they have gone from this world. I cannot over emphasise the significance of their contribution to cultural sustainability in a society where, since colonial times, unfortunately, there has been both hostility and at times an unenthusiastic regard for the presence of East Indian culture. This has been due mainly to how we have sought to define our understanding of National Culture.

Through the efforts of the legends we have been constantly reminded and energised at the level of our hearts and souls as to our essential nature. Their songs and the emotions that accompany their renditions remind us of what we have overcome and what we have become. We have therefore not become lost souls which has happened in so many other Caribbean Countries where East Indians have migrated. What would we have been as people of East Indian Heritage if the Legends had not persisted? We would have been culturally barren. Our lives today are therefore richer because of their persistence.

Your Nagar this year emphasises the Theme “Hindu Reformers” and pays attention to a range of what you describe as reformist saints including Kabir and Tulsidas, these perhaps being the two most significant Hindu Reformers for us in Trinidad. Because of the courage of Tulsidas to write the Ramayan in the Hindi Language, and moreso in a musical form, we have been able to sing it, read it and appreciate it, today Trinidad and Tobago has been dubbed “Ramayan Country”. The birth of the romanized edition of the Ramayana has made it more accessible to those of us not knowledgeable of the hindi version to be able to sing it. My research has shown that the romanized version was first requested by Caribbean Hindus in the UK. This was a major reform of Hinduism,. If a text can be appreciated and understood then it will not remain on a bookshelf. It becomes alive. Long before the romanized version I used to write and print discourses in the romanized way. I still have booklets dating back to 1983 with such discourses from Ramayana.

Our Caribbean Hindu Scholars and teachers have perhaps done more to make the Hindu message more relevant in a Western Society than perhaps Indian Scholars have done. The growth of Hinduism in the US and Canada was fuelled by the efforts of people for Guyana and Trinidad who set up temples in societies that were Christianity dominated. Hinduism was taken to the White House for the first time in 2003.. In 2015 when the Pope visited Ground Zero in the USA a Hindu Prayer was offered by my niece at a Multi-faith Service.

Here in Trinidad and Tobago we must not forget those who have reformed and enriched Hinduism. In Guyana the name Pundit Reepu Daman stands out. In Trinidad and Tobago names like Badase Sagan Maharaj, Satnarayan Maharaj, Pundit Janki Persad Sharma, Pundit Goberdhan, Bisram Gopie, Pundit Teeluckdharry, Pundit Krishna of Caroni, Pundit Nirmal Maharaj, Pundit Ramdath Vyas, Pundit Hardeo Persad form part of a battery of Hindu reformers whose efforts must not go unrecognized. We must not also forget the countless pundits who, away from the limelight, served generations of Hindus across the Caribbean. The memories endure in the hearts of Hindus in every village.

In a Country which admittedly is Christian oriented, Hinduism has gained National respect by the efforts of young Hindu Professionals who beyond their secular strivings have sought to ensure that the values associated with the Hindu religion have not been lost in the homes and the villages. They have sought to make Hinduism understandable and have by their activism and publications claimed an equal space for the Hindu Tradition.

In the 1960’s the reform work of the late Bramchari Hari Ram who later became Swami Sachitanand and the Divine Life Society which he led together with the Arya Samaj Movement reformed the presentation of Hinduism to make it a daily activity in the homes and at the Community level. It was Swami Sachitanand who is credited with publishing the first Romanized Bhajan Book as well as booklets with Sandhya Pooja and Havan so that families could conduct these at their homes.

It was Pundit Sharma of Arouca who taught over three thousand (3000) persons how to perform a Havan. Occha Seepaul went around this Country preaching the message of Sai Baba.

Professor Anantanand Rambachan and the late Professor Ken Parmasad traversed this Country with simplified messages of the Heros of Hinduism, in the Ramayan, Mahabharath and Bhagwad Gita the message of the Gita enshrined in the immortal composition “have no fear and fight your battle of life” This period involving Professors Rambachan and Parmasad saw the composition of several Bhajans in English . These Bhajans reflected the essential Hindu Message and with classes held in Penal, Avocat, Arima, Chaguanas and Aranguez it served as a foil to conversion and alientation from the Hindu tradition. The Hindu Reformers did not go the route of conversion or attacks. Instead they taught as follows: Call him Allah, Call him Ram “Call him Krishna, Call him Christ, he is the same God to all men” – emphasizing the One who is called by many names in the world’s relgions. It is my considered view that these classes conducted by these two were the foundation that inspired the vision for Baalvikas of the Maha Sabha.

I want to also mention with gratitude the courage of Ramesh Tiwary of the Edin burg Hindu Temple who reformed the presentation of hinduism and was stoned and vilified when he went preaching publicly on the roadside.

In addition there was a period in the late 60’s and 70’s when the Kirtan Movement stormed the temples and Hindu Homes reviving Bhakti as a way to communion with God. In this regard we cannot forget the name of Sant Keshavdas who gave a boost to Kirtan in the Country.

The reform of Hinduism was also facilitated by the formalization of training for Hindu Pundits by the Maha Sabha for which Sat Maharaj and Ramdath Vyas and Pundit Dr Rampersad Parasram
Played a key role. This too is Hindu reform and deserves the highest commendation. They understood that future generations would not simply accept ritualism but would want to identify with Hinduism in a more meaningful way and as a way of life.

It is my considered view and I say so with respect to everyone that one of the reformers who caused a high level of National respect was my own brother Professor of Religion Anantanand Rambachan who graduated from Sandeepany Sadhanalaya India and came back to this Country to conduct dozens of yagnas that were knowledge based and attracted the attention of non-Hindus. These included a 21 days tag a on Bhagavad Geeta at Krishna Mandir San Fernando

The work of Swami Prakashanand must never and will never go unnoticed. His contribution to the sustainability of Hindu values through Primary and Secondary School Education at his Chinmaya Mission is the work of a most deserving individual. Hindus owe him a debt of gratitude as they do to the Maha Sabha and the Lakshmi Girls College which have now achieved four Consecutive years the President’s Medal. No school has done this. It will do well for the Min of Education and UWI to conduct a study as to why Lakshmi Girls College has turned out to be such a success. They should also study the Chinmaya Mission school to determine why they have been so successful.

The period of the 1940’s was a time when Hinduism could have been obliterated form this Country had it not been for the survival instincts of the Pundits. The visit by a group of Swamis in the late 1940’s and who established the Bharatseva Ashram in Felicity revived the energy of our Hindu People. The fighting spirit of Bhadase Sagan Maharaj ignited the Hindu flickering flame and brought about a revolution in Education which today is the proud legacy of the Maha Sabha. It is unfortunate that the Maha Sabha Schools continue to face contempt by this Government.
The 1940’s was followed by organised Hinduism in the birth of the SDMS of which my grandfathers Pundit Goberdhan and Pundit Rambachan played pivotal roles. The 1960’s marked the birth of groups like the Saraswati Kirtan Mandali and other Kritan Mandali’s across the Country. The 1970’s saw young graduates of the University going to India to study with Swami Chinmayananda and Swami Dyananad Saraswati to return to Trinidad with a more relevant Hindu message that appealed to Hindus in the new environment and the National Community to the point where a Hindu, my brother Anant was finally invited to speak at the opening of the Law Term in 2006.

One of the most significant developments of Hindu Reform took place as a result of the advent of the Sai Baba Movement launched on April 10th 1974 at Jermingham Avenue with persons like Dr. Krishna Prayag and the late Pundit Melvin Gangapersad, the late Magistrate Roderick Crawford, Ganesh Bahadoorsingh and myself. It blossomed into a Bhakti movement supported by persons such as Chilo Roopnarinesigh, Tazmool Hosein, Ramoon Sageewan Maharaj, Pundit Randir Maharaj and his wife Drupatie, Balroop Roopchan and several other great souls of this Nation. The Sai Baba Movement must be commended as one of the greatest Hindu revivalist movements in this Country and had it not been for this movement a lot of Hindus would have left Hinduism. In this regard let us not forget the reforms introduced by the Hindu Seva Sangh of which Deoroop Teemul was a guiding light.

Former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday is also a Hindu reformer. Mr Panday took Hinduism to the prime minister’s home in St Ann’s when he invited one thousand guests to a Satsangh. I had the honor of delivering a discourse from the pages of the Ramayan on the theme “the value of human birth .”

When in the 1970’s and 1980’s Hindu patriotism was questioned an event was organized in 1986 called Pradakshina to travel with a torch created by Vinoo Mohip around Trinidad to make an unqualified statement that this land is our land also and that we treat this land as Dharti Maa our motherland. This was a great moment of Hindu reform and made an important statement on Hindu patriotism. Ravi Ji , Dr Vijay Narayansingh and myself were part of this effort.

The reform of Hinduism also took place and. Continues to take place by attention to the physical accommodation and the attraction of temples. Perhaps the four that stand out in my mind tonight are the TRIVENI Mandir in Hardbargain (the construction of which was pioneered by my friend Ramoon who lived in a small

Board house while he devotes his money to construct the Mandir ) the Dattatreya Temple in Carapichima (on landsdnated by Ramesh Persad Maharaj) the Lakshmi Narayana Temple in Freeport as well as the Temple in the sea in Waterloo. There was and continues to be a thrust to inspire Hindus by constructing even more beautiful temples.

I have studiously avoided speaking of the role of SPIC as a reformer of Hinduism but SPIC brought Hinduism to the highest place of learning in the form of yagnas the first of which was conducted by Pundit Nirmal Maharaj and the first Hindu Pundit on the Campus was Pundit Hardeo Persad of SWAHA.

The reform of Hinduism took a different turn with Divali Nagar when 32 years ago Divali Nagar hosted its first Ramayan Yagna. Every year for the first 10 years the pages of the Ramayan and Bhagwat Gita where discussed under different themes by Professor Anant Rambachan from which ten books were published by him reflecting 70 topics on Hinduism. The use of themes to spread the message of Hinduism in this Country was revealed in topics like the “Child in the Ramayan”, “Women in the Ramayan”, 21st Centuray Challenges in Hindu marriages”. Divali Nagar gave an important intellectual thrust to the Hindu tradition. For this, persons like Pundit Rampersad Parasram, Deokienanan Sharma, Joe Ramkissoon and Hans Hanoomansingh must be credited. They too are Hindu reformers and should not be forgotten.

As much as Kabir and Tulsidas are reformers so too are the Women’s Arm of the Krishna Mandir in San Fernando, so too are the Hindu Woman’s Organisation so too are Raviji, Pandora Indrani Rampersad, Ravi Bharati, Pundit Abhedanand and Ramdath Vyas. I pay tribute to Raviji and the Hindu Prachar Kendra, Dr. Vijay Narinesingh, Deoropp Teemul and The Hindu Seva Sangh and Dr. Kumar Mahabir for their efforts at reform. In the case of Raviji for his work among others in gender equality amongst Hindu women preachers on the Singhasan as well as his reform of the presentation of Hindu festivals including Ramlleela. For the Hindu Seva Sangh for Hindu Youth Development and for their work with Siewdass Sadhu. Ravi Bharath is also a reformer when he introduced communal shraadh st his Param Dhaam ashram at a time when we were told that you cannot do any satsangh during Pitr paksh. Pundit Bramhanand Rambachan took
Communal shraadh to the Shore of Peace Shanto Terram. These initiatives led to a greater awareness of the significance of Pitr paksh. I hope that by this small intervention that the stage will be set for deeper research as to who are the true Hindu Reformers beyond those who are normally recognised in Bharath.

I want to note the reformers in the Kabir Pant movement and recall the name of Ajeet Praimsingh with great love as well as the Sieunarine Movement and those who have preserved the tradition of Kali worship.

The tradition of Kali worship and what is definitely an upsurge in interest in her worship gives the Hindu community an opportunity to ask some deep questions. Why for example has the DLS Temple in Chase Village become an empty edifice and the Kali temple next door is overflowing with devotees. The answer is simple. Reform means relevance. Reform means service, problem solving and hope. The next phase of Hindu reform will involve a giant leap in making our rituals and presentations of yagnas and poojas more attractive and relevant to today’s informed Hindus. It will emphasize greater educational preparation by the pundits and better organized temples through their management committees.

The work of Hindu Reform is a voluntary one and in the future volunteerism will have to play an even greater role for Hinduism to persevere in a diverse society and enlightened Hindu minds.
Sat Maharaj recently put it well when he remarked that today one can go on the internet and be guided as to how to perform a Pooja and a havan. He was really consciously or unconsciously asking a deeper question. What will make Hinduism continue to exist in this country in the future. The answer is how we make it relevant by responding to the needs of our Hindu people.

Pundit Dr Rampersad Parasram
Through the SDMS Parasram
school for Hindu learning has a great responsibility.
Survival means relevant reform and the amassing of understanding. This is the next reform Challenge.

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