GUYANA is a peaceful and complex society, where freedom of beliefs and religion promotes togetherness and teaches respect for each other, in spite of differences.This sentiment was shared by President David Granger during his address at the Hindu celebration of Maha Shivaratri, hosted at the Cove and John Ashram, East Coast Demerara, on Monday.
Thousands from all parts of Guyana visited the ashram, attended their local mandirs, or stayed at home to offer their prayers as part of an annual observance. In attendance at the ashram was Minister of Social Cohesion, Amna Ally; India High Commissioner, Venkatachalam Mahalingam; Justice Nandram Kissoon; Jailall Kissoon, special invitees, students of the Hindu College, and devotees.
In delivering a message on the occasion of Maha Shivaratri, President Granger said the Guyana Sevashram Sangha is an iconic institution that is celebrating its sixtieth anniversary, having being established by an act of the Legislative Assembly in 1956.
He said its genesis is integrally linked to the propagation of Hinduism in what was called the West Indies, which is now known as the Commonwealth Caribbean.
“Hinduism, the great religion of the East, was first brought to our shores by the indentured immigrants from the sub-continent. It was the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, conscious of the needs of the Indian diaspora, (who) requested the Bharat Sevashram Sangha to send a mission to what was then the West Indies,” the Head of State explained.
He said the mission left in 1950 by ship, and arrived firstly in Trinidad and Tobago. The mission left Trinidad for Guyana in 1951, and Swami Vidyanandaji Maharaj, who was the founder of the national arm, was left behind in Trinidad, but sent an enthusiastic mission in Guyana amongst the local Hindu community.
Nevertheless, President Granger said the swami then arrived in Guyana on October 1955, and established the ashram in Cove and John on six hectares of low-lying land donated by Mrs. Resaul Maraj.
“The swami can be considered one of the pioneers of Hinduism in Guyana. He is also recognised for the establishment of what is known as the East Coast High School, now known as the Hindu College. The college accepts students of all faiths, of all ethnic backgrounds; and the swami encouraged girls to have an education because he saw education as a means of empowering women, which is something I adopted,” President Granger asserted.
He said every Guyanese child should be in school, particularly girl children, because they become mothers and they teach their children. Underscoring his support for schooling and education, President Granger said the Minister of Social Cohesion is facilitating the three Bs (Boats, Buses and Bicycles) Initiative, which assists children on their journey to school. He said such was the message of the swami 60 years ago, along with the college that was eventually founded, which gives poor children an opportunity for an education while allowing others scholarships to universities.
Adding that the swami has a series of successes and successors, the Commander in Chief said a breeding ground was created for other swamis to emerge. “The rich tradition and festivals have not only knitted the community together, but have also ensured that Hindus remain vibrant in Guyana…
“Maha Shivaratri is an auspicious festival which is characterised by acts of devotion, piety, acts of generation to Lord Shiva — which enriches the culture of the entire country, and all Guyanese are proud of the fact that we are a land of such great religions such as Islam, Hinduism and Christianity,” His Excellency noted.
He said the Constitution guarantees religious freedom, which also promotes tolerance, especially through education.
Minister of Social Cohesion, Amna Ally, said one of the ashram’s beliefs is serving God by serving people; and as Minister of Cohesion, the religious community is one of the most strategically positioned institution in Guyana to foster peace, unity and harmony.
“Through religion, there are captive gatherings, congregations and audiences in our country and around the world…therefore there is tremendous potential for all of the world’s religions to promote peace and stability; since faiths have common principles that can be used to bring about greater unity and harmony among people,” Minister Ally said.
She noted that Guyana is a multi-ethnic and multicultural society, and this must be regarded as an asset, and not a liability. “We are a proud mosaic of ethnicities within our country,” she said.
Minister Ally noted that her Ministry aims to promote upward mobility in Guyana, and devotees of the Hindu community can assist by working collaboratively with the Ministry in building a cohesive Guyana.
(This article was originally published in guyanachronicle.com)