Pundit Anil Maraj believes the future of Hinduism in Trinidad and Tobago is dependent on the willingness of leaders of the faith to explain and translate religious practices to young people.
And Pundit Maraj is speaking from experience, being just 21 years old himself and a member of the University of the West Indies’ Hindu Society.
Hinduism is one of the world’s oldest religions, but it is deep-rooted in Indian tradition meaning worship is done in Hindi, a language that may be more familiar to generations closer to the period of indentureship in this country.
Pundit Maraj believes more young people would be involved.
“If it is we explain these things to the youth, it would make it so much easier for youth to grasp what they are doing, for example when you’re singing a Bhajan and you know the meaning of that Bhajan you sing it with more heart and love, so, if you explain this to the youth and give them this inside information, they will be attracted to the pooja(worship),” Pundit Maraj said at the Ramjit and Basso Persad Temple in St Helena.
But the young Pundit said while some already do that, more of them must make themselves approachable to questions.
“I urge you, ask your pundit, ask your gurus, don’t be afraid to ask them, it is their duty to explain what you are doing, this is their role, to guide the student, teach them about the religion and show them how beautiful it is.”
When asked if there was a ‘Sunday School’ system at religious institutions, the Pundit said other than the Chinmaya Mission Trinidad and Tobago, he is hard-pressed to think of any system in place for Hindu religious education outside of the school system.
While Hinduism is seen as a universal religion with believers having the freedom to find their own answers to the true meaning of life, it has its rules.
The slaughtering of animals for food and the consumption of alcohol are frowned upon.
Hindus fast on specific days dedicated to certain forms of God. Pundit Maraj said while he would always encourage those of the faith to adhere to the religion’s rules if one does not, it makes them no less of a Hindu.
“When you go to God, and you go with a clear mind and a clean mind our God will accept our prayer, I am 200 per cent sure, I always encourage my friends and tell them it is how you go to God in your mind, because fasting is mostly about cleansing the mind,” Pundit Maraj said while adding that not all religious leaders may share his view.
The caste system is also a sore point in the religion.
And it could also be a deterrent for youth participation as many reject that ancient social order.
The Hindu caste system is divided into five tiers.
Brahmins (priests and teachers), Kshatriyas (warriors and rulers), Vaishyas (farmers and merchants), Shudras (labourers) and Dalits (outcastes). But Pundit Maraj said his answer to young Hindus can be found in the Bhagavad Gita.
“Bhagwan (Lord) Krishna said that a Brahmin is how you carry about yourself so no matter what your name is, if it is you carry about yourself in the proper way, you are considered a Brahmin, and my take is if you cut my blood and your blood you get the same thing, so, you cannot be above no one.”
But the young pundit is optimistic.
He said attendances at Hindu youth festivals are always high and he believes come the year 2050, a now 51-year-old Pundit Maraj will still be preaching to a full congregation.