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Honouring The Ramayan
As we celebrate the 168th Anniversary of the Hindu and Indian presence in this part of the world, we reflect on the core reasons for our strength, sustenance and robustness in spite of the multiple and diverse obstacles and distractions over the course of our history.
It is important and instructive for us to review the sources from which we have sought comfort and succour when trials, distresses and tribulations assailed us. No community can survive if it does not possess an instinctive and inherent internal mechanism to which it can withdraw, recover and then respond in a manner that satisfies requirements of its adherents.
Hindus in T&T can feel justifiably pleased with how much of our tradition we have preserved, developed and propagated, not only in this country, but also as a contributory force to our brothers and sisters in other parts of the Caribbean, North America, England and several other places.
When one examines the reasons for our strong presence, self-identity and successes in various spheres, it is clear that the strength of our community is derived from the legion of scriptures which were expounded and taught across time. Our ancestors were the earliest gatekeepers of this treasure trove of the highest ideals, philosophies and principles ever known to humanity.
Our scriptures are studied in every learning institution throughout the world; they are published in many languages; and are embraced by all the eminent scholars and philosophers, past and present. Our scriptures have informed the most important breakthroughs in numerous fields over the ages and provide answers to the most intractable dilemmas known to man.
In T&T and the wider Caribbean, there is a single scriptural text which surpasses all in popularity, and which constitutes a formidable platform for transmitting every tradition of Hinduism. It is a religious text which resonates with every person and appeals to all temperaments and tendencies.
It is about the highest ideas, philosophies and principles presented in the context of an amazing blend of music, drama and song skilfully combined when text is read, recited or listened to in countless homes every single day of the year.
What is this religious text? It is the Ramayan that has been a constant companion since the earliest days of indentureship. It is one of the priceless jewels brought by our ancestors. It supported them through all their difficulties and provided them with mental and spiritual strength to withstand all the vicissitudes of life.
The first arrival of Indian indentured immigrants to Trinidad was aboard the SS Fatel Razack, May 30, 1845. And this year we observe the entire month of May as our Heritage Month with special emphasis on May 30.
Our ancestor arrived in Trinidad carrying tattered ends of the Ramayan and the Hanuman Chalisa, in what was referred to as their “Jhaji Bundle,” a substitute for a modern-day suitcase. The Jhaji bundle was a square piece of cloth with the four ends tied together and carried by hand or held on a stick across the shoulder.
The Ramayan and Hanuman Chalisa written by the saint Tulsidas, sustained the Hindu throughout this harsh period of indentureship on the sugar estates of Trinidad. Today, we pause and pay homage to Goswami Tulsidas, the Hindu saint and poet who captured Hindu thought and philosophy in these two masterpieces.
Tulsidas wrote: What is the use of a Kambal (blanket) when one can use a chadder (ordinary sheet)? He demystified the story and glory of Bhagwan Rama from a highly selective language to one commonly understood and used. This language facilitated the development of a deep-seated devotion for God which spans eternity. Tulsidas is in many ways the father of Hinduism in the modern era.
Saint Tulsidas was born in North India, in the city of Hastinapur (Delhi), in the home of a kanoja Brahmin. His father was Atmaram, a man devoted to religion and virtuous deeds. Tulidas grew in stature and during his early years his parents made him study the Vedas daily according to the prescribed traditions.
After marriage, he and his wife were extremely attached to each other and found it difficult to endure separation. His wife, Devi Mamata one day left to visit her mother and Tulsidas missed her so much that he ventured through flooded waters and used a snake, which he mistook to be a rope, to pull himself up to where Mamata was.
This was the crucial and critical moment in his life. Based on his behaviour, his wife gave him the highest counsel: “Men love their sons, wives, wealth and properties more than their own lives. If men remembered the feet of Shree Hari (God), their lives would have value.” These words constituted a spiritual initiation for Tulsidas. He agreed with the words of Mamata and experienced a change.
Tulsidas told Mamata: “What you say is true…So today you have done me a great favour. I have become an avatar (incarnation) in the world of mortals, that I may sing with my lips the story of Rama, and that I may turn men to devotion to Him.”