LIKE most Americans, the only thing I knew about Guyana is that a very tragic event transpired some 40 years ago in the jungle that featured a megalomaniac preacher. There is a saying that we in the U.S. can’t locate a country on a map until our military bombs it.
Among all the things I learned over the past few years was that Guyana had a sizable Hindu population. Thankfully, attending the annual Hindu Mandir Executive Conference in Trinidad some four years ago resulted in a serious offer to visit. The trip would be sponsored by a few Guyanese along with my advocacy organisation, The Hindu American Foundation (HAF), where I sit on its National Leadership Council (HAFSITE.ORG). Though the A in HAF specifically indicates “America,” as in “United States of…” the board and staff agreed that we must not dismiss such sizable populations in close proximity.
The scenery in Guyana is awesome, but it is the people who really make the lasting impressions. I was immediately overwhelmed with great kindness and hospitality.
The first few of my nine days were spent at The Social Services Centre of Excellence in Woodley Park, WCB. This was founded by pandit and educator, Ram Rattan; Ram currently spends most of his time in Florida, but continues to maintain a presence in Guyana. This is truly a jewel of a place, offering classes for social and individual improvement. Sri Ramji was kind enough to provide me with a room and all meals when he learnt the purpose of my trip. He even joined me for several of the lectures I gave in that general area.
Since so many Indians who became indentured in Guyana were from Utter Pradesh, my experience allowed me to sample new tastes — seven curry on lotus leaves.
One breathtaking trip was the ferry from Parika to Essequibo. Everything about it—the water, passing the beautiful islands, and the wonderful breeze all contributed to a feeling of great content.
Guyana has absolutely stunning homes. What impresses most is the originality of the designs and architecture. All the houses are unique unlike our dull sub-divisions. I know that Guyana is not a “rich” country, but everyone in the U.S. with whom I shared my photos would like to visit. I saw many inspiring temples, outstanding among which was the one at Gay Park, overseen by female Pandita Srimati Maraj. Our guide for the day, generous and always willing to help, Rudy (back shop) Rampersaud, made sure that we visited the site where indentured servants first landed in 1838.
I would encourage Hindus from the U.S. and India alike to take a lesson from the way pujas and yagnas are conducted in Guyana. We spend too much time in rituals that few can understand, but in the land of endless summers, the rituals are briefer. There is always an accomplished harmoniumist and percussionist. The power of bhajans create an atmosphere of true bhakti. The kathas delivered by the pundits are the centre of attention.
Drawing from the stories of the Ramayana (mostly), they engage the devotees in a way that I don’t often see in standard American Hindu temples. There are exceptions here, but they are rare.
At US temples, people overindulge in socialising. No matter if it is a church, synagogue or mosque, members have to be constantly told to stop talking. However, at a yagna with over 500 in attendance at Hampton Court on the Essequibo Coast, all eyes and ears were on presiding pandit Lalaram from the Bath Settlement, Berbice. They were also very kind to me when I was asked to speak.