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Flashback: Divali Nagar 2010


My dear Brothers and Sisters

The National Council for Indian Culture by inviting me to be the Chief Guest at this year Divali Nagar has bestowed upon me a most significant Cultural honour, one that I value immensely and for which I express my sincere gratitude and thanks. I accept it on behalf of the many who have believed in me, who have stood by me in good and in bad times, who have had the courage to admonish and praise me in a spirit of genuine friendship, who have shared my vision and mission and who have been the recipients of both praise and criticism simply for being my loyal friends. I particularly share this night with the members of my family and the Saraswati Kirtan Mandali who celebrated forty four years in April of this year.

My acceptance of this recognition and by also accepting to be your Chief Guest, also confirms that I share your vision and your mission, which I have always interpreted to be an equal place, space and opportunity for the development, promotion and practice of East Indian Cultural traditions and religious expression. In our country, there should never be any arguments about cultural space. We have all built this land, each group contributing to what has today emerged as a vibrant diversity characterized by mutual respect.

With the introduction of a formal policy on multiculturalism in Trinidad and Tobago, and with the cross cultural understanding that is now more evident in our national consciousness, the way is being paved for an environment which will make real the promise of our national anthem, “ here every creed and race find an equal place.”

I boldly say that had it not been for the intervention of the NCIC as an organization geared specifically to the promotion of East Indian art forms, the East Indian population may very well have found themselves struggling for a cultural soul. In a western dominated society, where success and acceptance depends on joining the perceived dominant culture, it is easy to be acculturated. While this is happening, the awareness created by NCIC acts as a stumbling block to total acculturation (a change in the cultural behavior and thinking of a person or group of people through contact with another culture).

The work of the NCIC  in no way denies the equally important and pioneering work of institutions like the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, The Bharatiya Vidya Sansthaan, ASJA and the hundreds of mandirs, Pundits, Imams, and individuals who have also laboured to ensure cultural persistence. The virtual loss of language has not seen a diminished interest in Indian culture, nor in attachment to Hinduism. Far from it, efforts like those of the NCIC have as we say “kept the culture alive.”

One of the outstanding projects of the NCIC has been the annual Yagnas. I have had the opportunity to conduct three of these including my 100th Yagna. From these yagnas I have  published three books of discourses. Before me my brother Anant conducted ten Yagnas including the very first at Mid Center Mall. Eight books were published as a result of those yagnas. The intellectual contribution of the Yagnas to Hindu thought, and the interpretation of the Scriptures in a 21st Century context is unparalleled  in any country where Hindus form a significant part of the population.

Divali Nagar has become not only a place of beneficial interest to the East Indian community but also it has served to educate the wider population about East Indian life, traditions and religion. In so doing it has carried forward the goal of national understanding, so necessary in a multi cultural environment.

This Nagar has been successful not only because of the vision of its leadership past and present but also because of the artistes and cultural volunteers who give of their time and material resources every year in a spirit of true sacrifice for the benefit of the community.

There is always a risk that you will forget some names when you give praise. However, it is to the credit of the SDMS and Baal Vikaas, Sandra Sookdeo Kala Mandir, Sat Balkaransingh’s Nrytangali Dance Theatre, Rana and Susan Mohip, Shivananad Maharaj’s Shiv Sangeet, Sanskriti Sangam, Raviji and the Kendra, Swami Prakashanand’s Chinmaya Mission, Ravi Bharati, the Satya Sai Baba Movement, writer Dr Kumar Mahabir, Ramesh Persad Maharaj, Triveni Mandir, Krishna Mandir (Todd St Temple), Stri Sevak Sabha,  the Ganapati Mandir in Orange Field Road, Kamaluddin Mohammed and his brothers Sham and Moean,  Haniff Mohammerd, Yussuf Khan, Ruby Khan Gupta and Nazemmol Khan,  amongst numerous others, that children in particular continue to be initiated into the beliefs and practices of their faith and culture, and adults are motivated to sustain their cultural practices. It will also be remiss of me if I did not mention the Indian Christian community especially the Presbyterians  several of whose churches carry hindi names. For example the Susmachar Church in san Fernando, whose meaning is “good news.”  Indian culture thrives in many ways in the Muslim community as well as in the Christian community as much as it does in the Hindu community. The mosques are also place of pilgrimage as are many Presbyterian churches.  The catholic Church in Siparia becomes a place of pilgrimage for thousands of Hindus with the annual Soparee Mai celebrations, this “crossover” being a most delightful example of multi culturalism in action. Mount St Benedict, is for many non Christians also a place of pilgrimage. Perhaps in Trinidad and Tobago we have realized the oneness of God much deeper than we profess on the exterior.

One must not forget the Ramleela celebrations held in so many venues each year. It is another form of pilgrimage where each year open spaces become the theatre for communities to remind themselves of the values taught by Rama in Ramayana. People who attend leave with a new vigour and inspiration to live a values based life.

The theme of this year’s celebration relates to global places of pilgrimage. This is a most important choice for it gives us the opportunity to examine our religious and social history by looking at the various religious sites which have been developed over the years of the East Indian presence. But there is another value to the choice of this theme. It focuses on the very idea of pilgrimage, the value of pilgrimage and the possible transformation that occurs as a result to pilgrimage.

In this regard, Divali Nagar is in itself  for many an annual pilgrimage, where one connects with one’s cultural and religious self, where one is reminded of one’s ancestry, where one asks and answers in varying degrees, who am I, from where have I come, what is my mission.

Divali Nagar is a pilgrimage where one is not only reintroduced to one’s ancestry  but also where reconnects with ones ancestry.

Divali Nagar is a pilgrimage where one arrives and within minutes sheds the acculturated cultural personality and re-clothes oneself in the culture and traditions of the ancestral villages.  Divali Nagar brings an end to cultural estrangement which often occurs as a result of what a dominant culture suggests needs to be done to succeed.

Divali Nagar is a pilgrimage where one comes to pay tribute and to be inspired by the icons of Vivekananda and Gandhi.

Divali Nagar is an annual pilgrimage to the shrine of Lord Shiva, who sits majestically at the entrance to this village an annual pilgrimage for those who make the journey for spiritual knowledge through the discourses and spiritual music in the hall transformed into a temple.

Divali Nagar is the place of pilgrimage for saada roti and aloo, pepper roti, doubles and phoolourue, jaleebi, kurma and pera.

Nevertheless, tonight I pay hearty tribute to the NCIC for bringing into the national focus places of pilgrimage in Trinidad  and Tobago. Each place of pilgrimage that will be venerated has a history, a story to tell, a story mainly of human aspiration, spiritual experience and achievement. I will with your indulgence refer to a few of them.

The name Gheerahoo Trace, I am told by MP Chandresh Sharma was the first place in T&T where miracles were recorded as a result of worship of the lingam. The story goes that a villager was stung by a scorpion. Being alone, and at a time where cell phones were non-existent, he crawled to the lingam and touched it. He was miraculously healed.

The story of Patiram Trace, perhaps one of the earliest places of pilgrimage is the story of the Nancoo family, of a cutlass that struck a stone from which milk flowed, a stone that has grown and is worshipped as a lingam, worship which has blessed many a life, caused many a miracle, created much happiness.

Patiram Trace Shiva Temple at Penal is famous for a Swayabhu (self manifested) Shivling. The Shivalingam in Patiram Trace Shiva Mandir is still growing according to devotees who are regular visitors to the temple. According to local people about a century ago, a man was hired to clean the bush on top of the hill on the outskirts of Penal. After clearing some bush, he tried to sharpen his sword on a stone protruding on hill. Suddenly, the stone chipped and milk flowed from the stone. Some people also say that blood flowed from it. After the incident the man lost his eyesight.

But he realized the power existing there and soon a small Shiva shrine was erected and he took care of the divine Shivling. Being blind he could not take care of the lingam properly and the man prayed to Shiva to have his eyes restored. It is said that soon he got back his sight and devoted his entire life to the care of temple. Now, his family members are the custodians of the temple.

Surprisingly most Trinidadians have never heard about the small Hindu temple (mandir) nestled amongst the lush greenery at Chacachacare.

The Mandir was opened in 1945/6, built solely by the efforts of Doon Pandit (1900-1958) a Hindu priest and community leader from the Las Lomas/Arima/Tacarigua area who was known for his guru-like qualities in administering healing miracles. Touched by the plight of the lepers who were regular visitors at the Mandirs at Las Lomas and Arima seeking his healing powers, he felt compelled to provide a place of worship for them at Chacachacare which to that point was run by the Dominican sisters of the catholic church. Once per week, Pandit would organize a pilgrimage to the island. The pilgrims would take along food, offerings, musical instruments and other articles of worship and embark on the boat journey to Chacachacare visits which the lepers enthusiastically looked forward to.

Such was the authenticity and high esteem of this Hindu holy man that His Majesty King George VI in 1949 conferred upon him the title of MBE (Member of the British Empire). His reputation as a healer had spread to as far as India, England, Venezuela and other Caribbean islands. Perhaps his most recognized act was in curing Josephine Shaw, wife of the then-Governor of Trinidad. People seeking him came from diverse racial, religious, age, class and gender backgrounds. As I said before the places of pilgrimage are stories by themselves of our peoples.

A well known site of worship for Hindus and a tourist attraction, the Waterloo temple was built by Sewdass Sadhu, an indentured labourer who came to Trinidad in 1907.

The story is well-known: Sadhu built his first temple in 1947 on lands owned by the sugar cane company, Tate and Lyle. It was broken down and Sadhu was charged with trespassing and fined £100 or 14 days in prison. Declaring that if he couldn’t build his temple on the land then he would build it in the sea, Sadhu began the work that would realise his dream. With two buckets and an old lady’s bicycle with a carrier at the back, Sadhu began the laborious and painstaking task of building the temple in the sea.

Five hundred feet into the quiet waters of the Gulf of Paria, it today continues to stand on the very spot Sadhu first built it, if not in the same condition since repair works were carried out with help from the State and private business in 1994.

Over the years, Hindu devotees and tourists alike have made the journey to the Temple-in-the-Sea, once described as the first of its kind in the western world by Dharmacharya Pundit Krishna Maharaj. Siewdass Sdahu site should become a UNESCO heritage site for what it represents.

AS we speak of places of pilgrimage I want to invite you to make a pilgrimage to the Triveni Mandir and experience the life ambition of Ramoonsingh; make a pilgrimage to Calcutta Road and experience the Chinmaya Mission and the vision of Swami Prakashananda.

This year’s theme has suggested that we can make every home a place of pilgrimage. Can you imagine if every home in this country were to be given a name, what will be the impact on that home and by extension the community? Can you imagine going home on an afternoon and seeing a sign Shanti Bhavan or Sukh Bhavan? Can you imagine if each place of work can be seen as a place of pilgrimage what will be the impact upon interpersonal relationships, innovation, productivity? Can you imagine what will happen to our competitiveness as a nation if each person instead of seeing himself/ herself as a worker would begin to see themselves as devotees going to work where all work becomes an act of service and worship?

This is what the theme of this 2010 Divali Nagar implies. Our religion and cultural ideals must be integrated into our daily lives if impactful social change is to be realized. We must come to the realization that the very religion and cultural traditions that inspire us at our places of worship  are what we need to inspire us to higher levels of achievement ant the realization of our best potential. Let us think as to how we can make all of life a grand pilgrimage not only to secular success but to satiating the hunger of the spirit for fulfilment that can only come from how we choose to work and to serve.

This is the essence of the light of the deya at this Divali celebration.

Happy Divali.

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