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Pandit Jankie Persad, Spiritual Leader, Mentor
Pandit Deokienanan Sharma, President NCIC, best demonstrates the unbroken links between India and Trinidad. Indentureship and the abolition of indentureship did not impact on many families and their relationships despite the passage of time. The Sharma family maintained their relationship throughout the years.
Deokienanan pursued his university education in India and that made it easier to keep contact with all his relatives there, even up to this day. In fact, Pandit Deokienanan and his sons recently returned from a visit to his ancestral village. His children, Pravin and Ashwin have now become acquainted with their relatives in India and this relationship is further strengthened by regular communication.
Deokienanan has noted that since his last visit over 15 years ago, his ancestral village has undergone several changes. The house where his father was born has been rebuilt. The grass roof and earthen walls have been replaced by brick. Additionally, a road now runs through the village so that homes now span both sides of the roadway.
Since his last visit, the brothers of his father have passed away. However, one of his uncles is still alive. His uncle converses in Hindi while the cousins and their children are fluent in English and Hindi. They also are engaged in legal practice as well as other professions. This Sharma story should serve to encourage Hindus and others who came from India to reconnect with families.
Pandit Jankie Persad Sharma, the father of Pandit Deokienanan was the second Dharmaachaarya (Spiritual Head) of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha. He was born in the village of Basentpur, Badaun in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The place was also called Rajpur where the post office was located. He was born in 1895 and died in 1977 at the age of 83.
History records that he was the son of a Brahmin family. Over 12 per cent of this leadership class came as indentured labourers, yet there are some historians who continue to propagate the falsehood that Brahmins did not come to Trinidad during indentureship. His family in India ensured that he learnt Hindi and Sanskrit, the two languages that would be most required.
He left India in 1912 under the indentureship system to settle in his new home in Trinidad. As the eldest son in his family, he was well prepared for his new role in a place far away from where he was born. However, being born in an orthodox Brahmin home he was fully prepared for the challenges of a new world. The tradition of learning and teaching the scriptures prepared him for this new life.
He was knowledgeable in the sacred Hindu texts when he left India at the age of 18. He left behind five brothers and a sister as he boarded the Sutlej at Calcutta in 1912 to travel to Trinidad, together with other indentured labourers.
They arrived in October 1912 at Nelson Island, the quarantine station for all immigrants. The publication, Hall of Pioneers, notes that, “After a two-week stay on the island, he began another long journey, first by boat to Carenage then by road to Brothers Road Estate near Rio Claro.”
Given his religious background, it was inevitable that his spiritual/religious leadership would be available to other immigrants. His duty was clearly to officiate and preside at pujas and pravachan (discourses). It is well documented that he was an adept singer. This facilitated his early emergence as a leading Pandit in Trinidad. The extent of his skill was recognised by the demand for his religious services across many plantations.
In 1915, Pandit Jankie Persad Sharma was wedded to Gangadaye Maharaj. At that time, Hindu marriages were not recognised by the state. The non-legitimisation of Hindu marriages was unacceptable to Pandit Sharma and he became one of the champions for the legitimisation of Hindu and Muslim marriages. It is through advocacy of people like Pandit Sharma that our marriages are now legal.
The Hindu Marriage Act removed legal and other barriers encountered by Hindus. Panditji continued to spread Sanatan Dharma (Hinduism) throughout the country. His early background and life in India prepared him for this learning and teaching role. Before the establishment of formal religious schools he undertook the role of a teacher.
He conducted classes for Pandits and exposed them to knowledge of the scriptures and the languages. His propagation of Bhagwat Maha Puraan and other scriptural texts has elevated him to exalted status.
He also actively promoted Krishna Leela (a play of Lord Krishna), which is today growing in popularity. He is also credited as the founder of the Krishna Mandir (temple) located at the entrance to Debe.
This temple has been used as the Debe Hindu Primary School, to be relocated next-door upon completion of the Parvati Girls Hindu College in Penal. Pandit Jankie Persad Sharma was the co-founder of a Pandits’ Parishad (Council of Pandits) in 1950.
The work of Pandit Jankie Persad Sharma as a religious leader resulted in his ascension as the second Dharmaachaarya (Spiritual Head) of the SDMS upon the demise of Pandit Basdeo Misir. The life and legacy of this great son of Sanatan Dharma continues through his family into the future.