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The Caribbean Hindu Intellectual Ethic
Posted: Tuesday, September 23, 2003

by Stephen Kangal

I have a duty to contribute to the edification of posterity by documenting some significant and visionary Hindu ground breaking religious practices that are being initiated by the Hindu Prachar Kendra (HPK) of Enterprise, Chaguanas. The HPK has been inspired by its spiritual vyas and leader, Shri Raviji.

The cumulative effects of the HPK’s pioneering, brave and radically reforming approaches to the propagation and development of Caribbean Hinduism will firstly de-mystify and liberate the Hindu Scriptures. Secondly it will level the traditional Ramayan reading field and thirdly but most importantly, establish a new plateau (yuga or janaam) in Caribbean Hinduism.

The HPK recently pioneered the public recitation of and discourses on the Ramayan/Bhagwat Gita which were presented by reputable Indian women. That was a field that appeared to be the sole preserve of Hindu men. However, the traditional cornerstones, catalysts and true vectors of Caribbean Hinduism have been and continue to be rural Caribbean women.

The T&T multicultural community must now applaud the HPK for the "singhasans" (stages) that it provided to five outstanding Hindu professionals. That enabled these Hindu icons and role models, namely Messrs Meighoo, Naraynsingh, Tewarie, Teemul and Parmasad to interpret for us various "leelas" or "kathas" of Tulsidas’ epic, the "Ramcharitamanas" in an original and freshly innovative manner. They also enriched their Ramayanic interventions with learned, well-researched, insightful and analytical reflections.

This initiative coincided with the HPK’s 2003 annual observance of Pitri Paksha (remembrance of our ancestors). The contributions of these presenters would certainly serve to generate a positive demonstration effect on the new young Hindu intelligentsia that is now emerging as the new purveyors of Hindi norms, values and traditions that were initially transplanted to the Caribbean by their indentured ancestors post-1845.

I have attended Ramayan "kathas" (sessions) beginning as a child for well nigh sixty years. Never in all these blessed six decades that began in Munroe Road, Cunupia in 1943, was I so overwhelmed, captivated and seduced by the erudite and inspirational Ramayan "katha" conducted by Punditji Professor Vijay Naraynsingh. He is also our internationally acclaimed and recognised vascular surgeon. He zeroed in on the subject with his usual surgical precision.

Bhai Vijay explored in a most convincing and engaging manner the currently topical theme of the Educational/Intellectual Imperative for Caribbean Hindus as prescribed, inter alia, in Goswami Tulsidas’ Ramcharita Manasa ("Sacred Lake of the Acts of Rama").

It is to be noted that Sant Tulsidas wrote his 16th Century version of the Ramayan (he wrote 12 books in all) in the everyday popular dialect (Avadhi) spoken by village folks of Northern India to expand the reading audience much to the opposition of the Brahmin- traditionalists who felt that Samskrit should have been used. They even tried to destroy hand-written copies of the Ramcharitamanas because in their view the use of the Bojpuri patois (dialect) in the Ramcharita Manasa constituted a desecration of the Hindu Scriptures.

The following assessment provided by Ms Mayawati Maharaj, a young researcher attached to the HPK who outlines the emotional and religious support provided by the Ramcharitamanas to the indentured ancestors of the Caribbean is instructive:

"... They were able to survive the bondage placed on them by identifying with Shri Rama in Banvas. Ramcharitarmanas became not a mere text to them, but a living example of their lives. They drew comfort, hope and daily philosophy that enabled them to build this country and leave a legacy for us. Baba Tulsidas, therefore, was almost single handedly responsible for the continuation of Sanatan Dharma in Trinidad and the Caribbean…For this reason, Baba Tulsidas, street child and world teacher is known as Father of Caribbean Hindutva."

Professor Naraynsingh disabused our minds from continuing to believe that our pastoral-based indentured ancestors were entirely farming focussed. He demonstrated that Tulsidas, the author of the Ramcharitamanas, the fountain of Caribbean Hindusim accorded a high priority to education, training and the development of the intellect. To the interim punditji, the platform for launching the current outstanding academic performance of young Indo-Trinbagonians can be traced back, inter alia, to the principles and values embedded in the invocation verses (Mangala Aacharan) written by Tulsidas in his Ramayan.

Professor Naraynsingh proved beyond doubt that the cultivation of the intellect, knowledge and understanding was pivotal to Caribbean Hinduism (Vanday vaanee vinaayakow). It is not exclusively rituals based.

In his introduction, according to Professor Naraynsingh, to the Ramcharitamanas it is important to note that Sant Tulsidas made invocations to four separate deities i.e., Saraswatee, Lord Ganesh, Shankar and Hanuman all of who are associated with, inter alia, knowledge, the intellect and learning.

Caribbean Hindus in particular and Hindus generally from time immemorial have celebrated, respected and trembled in awe at the all-pervading super-natural power that resides in the chanting of the Hanuman Chaaleesa (Tulsidas) and the Gaytree Mantra (Vedas). Professor Naraynsingh demonstrated that in addition to deeply divine responses that they evoke in the devotees, they also instill a compelling desire for the acquisition of education and knowledge (Bala budhi bidyaa dayhu mohi).

Thank you Punditji, Professor Naraynsingh, through your instructive katha, for conducting us into the alluring threshold (duar) of a new dawn (saange) in Caribbean Hinduism (Hindutva).

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