Thursday 9th February 2006

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The cultural connection

On behalf of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha of T&T Inc, I was invited by the Government of India to make a presentation at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2006 in Hyderbad (Global Indian Diaspora Days), on the “Role of social/cultural organisations in promoting Indian culture in the diaspora and linking the diaspora with India.”

Jaipal Reddy, Minister of Culture and Urban Development, India, was chairman of the fourth plenary session. Included in this panel with me was Dr Karan Singh, maharajah of Jamu and Kashmir and president of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations:

“Culture is expressed in every area of life. But the most important aspects of a culture are not heard or seen. It is the way of thinking. It is the way of looking at the universe. It refers to elements such as values, norms, beliefs, attitudes, folkways, behaviour styles and traditions that are linked together to form an integrated whole.

In his History of Indian Culture, Prof N Jayapalan writes:

“Culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, moral, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”

Aleena Ali, in an essay, India came to the Caribbean, wrote:

“One evening in February 1845, the sailing ship Fath Al Razak departed the Calcutta harbours on the Hoogly River and moved slowly into the Bay of Bengal, leaving behind a low green outline of the Indian mainland. Aboard were 232 men and women bound for Trinidad, a British sugar colony, some 14,000 km away. They came from all walks of life—victims of farming, paupers, landless, indebted tenants, and even the adventurers.

“On the evening of May 30, 1845, after 103 days, the Fath Al Razak, the first ship ever to bring Indian immigrants in Trinidad, docked just outside the old lighthouse at South Quay in Port-of-Spain.”

For more than 100 years our community remained isolated, ignored and uneducated. The “pass law” confined them to specific plantations. The first major break occurred in 1952 when my organisation, the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, was incorporated by Parliament’s Act #41 in 1952. We were then given the right to establish schools and in the process hundreds of mandirs and to create a national Hindu structure.

Our chief purpose was to bring a western-type education via the national school curriculum to our community that was more than 65 per cent illiterate. And to anchor our people in our ancient Hindu traditions was a prime purpose of our creation.

To date, my organisation has established 60 colleges and schools in which the teachers are Hindus. With joint arrangements, their salaries and all expenses are borne by the State.

The national curriculum permits the first period of every school day to be used for the propagation of the Hindu religion, Hindi, the playing of musical instruments and promotion of other Indian traditions. We have created our own syllabus that teaches the Ramayan, Bhagwat Gita and other Hindu texts.

At a national level we have been able to influence the general population and bring India not only to the diaspora but to all our citizens as the culture is not confined to Divali, Phagwa, Ramleela and Shiva Ratri.

The food we eat has been influenced by India. Bara, kuchela, chutney, dhal, phoulorie and the dhalpourie roti is regarded as a national dish of my country. Curry and massala are the preferred condiments. Through the palate of the population, India influences T&T on a daily basis.

Carried in their bundles, our indentured immigrant foreparents transported seeds of many of the Indian vegetables we eat today. Aadi (ginger), urdi, baigan (eggplant), carailli, chalta, elichi, hardi, jhingi, lauki, karapule, katahar and scores of plants and vegetables ensure an eternal link with India.

Trees like the neem, paan, peepal, ashoka, saijan, tulsi, dhatur, chameli, madar, chandan, bael and the mango can be found in all parts of my country. A living dynamic presence of India.

Even the language links my country to India on a daily basis. We communicate through Hindi words like “political pundits,” “mantra,” “khoorchar,” “jhanjat,” “neemakaram.” Greetings of “sita ram,” “namaskar” and “namaste” could be heard on the radio and TV stations and on streets. In politics, the cry of “apna jaat” is a call to racial voting.

Indian dance, music and drama are now an established part of the cultural landscape of T&T. Every one of our 60 schools and 160 mandirs have musical instruments, like the harmonium, sitar, santoor, dholak, tabla and brass cymbals like the jhal. J&R Overseas, based in Delhi, are producers of “Bina” instruments and they supply these instruments to us.

Many of our Indian songs and music creations have been exported to Canada, USA, Guyana, Suriname and even India. Some years ago a local songster by the name of Sundar Popo created a song that vibrated across the Indian diaspora. Phoulorie Bena Chutney Kaisa Bena was a monster hit.

In this area of culture, India can assist my country by completing the Indian Cultural Centre. Apart from turning the sod twice, no work has been done.

SATNARAYAN MAHARAJ is the Secretary General of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha





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