Bheeshan and Ajay Maharaj

REST IN PEACE: Bheeshan and Ajay Maharaj, grandsons of the late Maha Sabha secretary general Satnarayan Maharaj, light the pyre at the Caroni cremation site yesterday as they perform Hindu final rites for their grandfather. —Photo: Ishmael Salandy

Satnarayan Maharaj left an indelible mark on Trinidad and Tobago through his bravery, courage, fight for justice and achievements.

Maharaj, 88, secretary general of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) died on Saturday after suffering a stroke on November 7.

At his funeral service yesterday held at the Lakshmi Girls’ Hindu College, St Augustine, testimonies from his family, teachers, religious leaders and friends told a story of a man who contributed not only to strengthening educational and religious ties but who had impact on the nation’s history through his patriotism and raw controversial nature.

Hundreds came out to pay tribute to Maharaj whose body lay in a gold and white casket garlanded with flowers while his trademark mukdar (a golden club-like sceptre which was the weapon used by Hindu God Hanuman) lay atop him.

In his eulogy, Maharaj’s eldest son, Vijay, said he faced discrimination when he grew up in London in the 1950/60s as the society then was flush with racism and “Pakibashing” was the name of the game.

His father, he said, was his only friend who became his confidante and protector.

Vijay said when his grandfather, Bhadase Sagan Maraj, died in 1971 that void was immediately filled by his father and from then onwards for 40-plus years till death he dedicated his life in service to his God, the Maha Sabha and the people of Trinidad and Tobago.

“To describe Sat as a strong man would be an understatement, his courage to say what was needed to be said at a time when no one was prepared to say it to a country that didn’t want to hear it is a true measure of his bravery,” said Maharaj.

‘Trini to the bone’ 

“Sat was prepared to speak the uncomfortable truth that would upset the status quo. Sat never wanted anything more than a level playing field,” he added.

He said his father’s mind was filled with questions about the inequality that existed against the Indo and Hindu Trinidadian community — such as they not being able to have a radio and television station, not being able to accept the nation’s highest award because it was a Christian symbol, and not being able to educate their children beyond the primary level.

Maharaj had all these “soul searching” questions that bothered him and he moved forward to change all this and he did so while maintaining his patriotism to country as he was a “Trini to the bone”, he said.

He said his father’s struggles changed the national landscape and this journey was not easy but today the achievements are seen in the excellence emanating from Lakshmi Girls’ Hindu College.

Maharaj said his father had not only predicted the fifth President’s Medal for the school but was confident of moving on to a seventh.

“Sat my father said to me, from five we go to seven, not six,” he said as the audience applauded.

Principal of Lakshmi Girls’ Hindu College, Sonia Mahase, in an emotional tribute, said teachers in the SDMS owe him a debt of gratitude for placing them in a noble profession where they can contribute to nation building.

She said Maharaj was the driver of girls soaring to the top and achieving educational accolades.

“More than anything else Sri Satnarayan Maharaj dedicated his life to the children of our nation in a manner no other individual has done in the educational landscape of our country.

“He was personally driven to ensure the education of females and the Hindu girls in particular. The strong influence of his paternal grandmother in shaping his life was reflected in his emphasis in the empowerment of young girls,” she said.

She said he was proud of the strides made by female students in the fields of medicine, law, engineering and teaching and the institution he established will continue to flourish.

Honesty and conviction 

Education Minister Anthony Garcia thanked Maharaj for being an “education icon” and assisting in producing quality education.

“This morning when I was getting ready to go to work and the clouds were hanging very darkly overhead, (I remembered) my grandmother told me that even the heavens were weeping for Mr Maharaj and that tells us how much everybody in this society looked upon Mr Maharaj.”

He further disclosed that he had asked Mahase what was her success mechanism behind the school producing five President Medal winners consecutively and “off the back she simply said, ‘we follow the vision of one Sat Maharaj’, and that is significant”.

Garcia said Maharaj was a disciplinarian and was also controversial but one could not deny the fact that he stood behind his views and he expressed them with honesty and conviction.

While Maharaj was hailed for his passion to education he was also praised for his contribution to the religious sectors of society.

Inter Religious Organisation representative, Fr Martin Sirju, said Maharaj was a big supporter of the IRO and even offered temporary premises for the organisation’s offices.

Sirju said Maharaj sought truth in everything. “He did not always express that truth or his concerns in the most delicate manner but he was never without an opinion and he sought to defend it with a ferocity of a Durga-like figure (Hindu goddess with eight hands) brandishing his swords and aiming his arrows at his opponents. Many fell victim to his weapons and pen, he took no prisoners,” he said.

He said Maharaj worked hard in fighting off Government encroachment, real or apparent, to the Concordat and it was a victory for all denominational schools.

“The nation is better because of his struggles,” he said.

Students of the Caroni Hindu School sang Maharaj’s favourite bhajan (song) “Hey Prabhu Ananda Daata” which he had mandated all students to learn.

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