Prominent Caribbean Hindu community leader dead

By Paras Ramoutar, IANS,

Port-of-Spain: Pundit Jankie Persad Sharma, a pioneer of the Hindu religion and culture in Trinidad and Tobago and Canada, has died. He had begun the practice of celebrating Diwali on the Caribbean island, apart from constructing several temples, conducting weddings and organising trips to India for the diaspora.

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The 80-year-old Sharma, who had emigrated to Canada in 1989 on the request of many Trinidadians settled there, passed away in Mississagua in Ontario Thursday. His funeral arrangements will be announced next week.

Sharma’s grandfather, who hailed from what is now India’s Madhya Pradesh state, had come to Trinidad and Tobago in 1910 with his son, who was then 12 years old. Sharma’s father, who officiated as a priest, married here and had eight children. Sharma, the eldest, and his two younger brothers began to study with their father to carry on their priestly vocations.

By 1944, Sharma was conducting public prayers and rituals on his own.

He married Badewattee Persad in 1962 and they had six children.

In 1971, he began to open Hindu temples and laid the first cornerstone of the Matilda Moruga temple, after which he laid the foundation of three more temples in Princes Town, Barrackpore and Rio Claro.

“His family fully understood and supported his role as a pundit and community leader with little time for all else. One special aspect was that he was not driven by material rewards, and treated rich, poor, man, woman, child, young and old with empathy and respect. In Trinidad alone, he had officiated at 4,000 weddings and become the guru of over 5,000 godchildren after baptising them as Hindus. It is fair to say that Trinidad has become richer in Hindu traditions, culture, and spirituality by the presence and teachings of Pundit Jankie Persad Sharma,” Boodram Ramoutar, a close confidante, said.

In 1983, in response to the growing interest from Trinidadians who relied on listening to radio programmes and viewing Indian films to satisfy their longing for connection to their distant homeland, Sharma organised the first tour to India for the diaspora.

The increased demand from the public to visit the land of their ancestors, their temples, and religious leaders like Sathya Sai Baba, grew steadily out of his initiatives. Such was the respect for him that on every subsequent visit, the Sathya Sai Baba personally called him from the crowds to meet privately and bless the travellers from Trinidad.

With the growing Hindu awareness, the first Diwali Nagar was organised in 1986 in Chaguanas and Sharma was asked to deliver the opening address. This has since become an annual event in Trinidad, which draws not only Hindus, but many people from all over the world who wish to celebrate and experience Diwali.

Every Hindu festival and religious occasion begun to be celebrated on a grand scale on the island

Trinidadian Hindus, who began to migrate to Canada, the United States and Great Britain in the 1970s and onwards, used to call Sharma to visit them and perform their rituals and ceremonies. With the increasing requests from his growing body of followers, Sharma and his family migrated to Canada in 1989 and settled in Ontario.

There he laid down the foundation for Satya Jyoti Cultural Sabha, and continued to minister to the community, creating a visibility for Hinduism in the fabric of Canadian society.

For his contribution and service to the Mississauga community, he received commendations, certificates and honours from all levels of the government in Canada.