Tributes and condolences flowed in on Saturday following the news that Secretary General of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS), Satnarayan "Sat" Maharaj, died in the early hours of the morning.
Despite feelings about his personality, his commitment to the Hindu community and the improvement of TT were never questioned as some called him a misunderstood patriot.
About a week ago Maharaj, 88, suffered a stroke and was admitted to Medical Associates Private Hospital, St Joseph.
A statement by Radio and TV Jaagriti – which Maharaj founded – said he passed peacefully in his sleep. He had been taken off all life-support systems on Friday. “In his dying moments he clasped a copy of the Hanuman Chalisa which he always kept in his possession when he was alive. His passing was entirely free of any pain and suffering and was a smooth transition from this mortal world.”
The statement said hundreds of pundits across the country offered prayers, and in addition to SDMS Dharmacharya, Dr Rampersad Parasram, there were visits and prayers by Archbishop of Port of Spain Jason Gordon, Abbot of Mount St Benedict Rt Rev John Pereira, Seventh-day Adventist pastor Clive Dottin, and Head of the Islamic Front, Umar Abdullah.
“We are extremely grateful to everyone for their dedication of prayers and offerings of support in varying forms and fashion,” the statement said.
In early responses, various religious organisations expressed condolences to the Maharaj family, the SDMS and the Hindu community.
Abdullah described Maharaj as outspoken and an upholder of truth. He said the religious leader was “an honourable man with huge aspirations” and who stood firm in his beliefs.
“We have lost another of our patriots, another son of the soil, one who chose his way of life to be in service to the people of this great nation. Some of us may not have agreed with his opinions, some of us may not have connected with his personality, but we can all agree that he stood as a man for the growth and development of our national culture that is TT.”
In a statement, parish priest of St Benedict’s, Msgr Christian D Pereira said Maharaj often worked with the Catholic community to ensure the rights of denominational school boards and thanked him for his commitment to what was best for the nation.
Perreira described Maharaj as “a truly colourful figure in the national community, profoundly committed to education and the support of the Concordat.”
Perreira added, “He fought very hard for the right of the Hindu community to educate its members in an environment that was both conducive to the strengthening of their faith and to the formation of citizens committed to the well-being of the nation.
“Often misunderstood and maligned he relentlessly pursued his commitment to what he believed to be best for the nation. We certainly need many more leaders of his calibre and trust that his passing will be an awakening for all our people who seek the best interest of the nation to cultivate that zeal and enthusiasm for what is noble and best in our respective traditions.”
When contacted, the Dharmacharya declined to comment on Maharaj’s death as he did not wish to step outside of established means of communication with the media, namely Radio and TV Jaagriti.
However, in a previous interview after his instillation as SDMS spiritual leader, Parasram said he knew Maharaj for many years and his focus was often on the youth and the future. He said Maharaj was insistent on combining the secular and the sacred and described Maharaj as refreshing and progressive.
“I have respected his battles because he has fought for the community. Some people would not say what he says because they do not have the moral confidence to speak what he is talking about.”
“The truth is I don’t have to defend him he defends himself. People must have the courage to speak their minds and I think he has that courage. I said to him I want to thank him for what he has fought for, for social justice.”
President of the Faith Based Network of TT, Rev Winston Mansingh, noted that Maharaj was vocal on several issues and “might have been controversial at times” but said he had the strength to stand for his convictions.
He said Maharaj was instrumental in fighting for and or ensuring that the Hindu community had its fair share of influence. “His was an uncompromising stance for his faith and its devotees. To promote and protect the practices of the Hindu faith many temples and pundits were raised up and many cultural attractions utilised.”
He said Maharaj also helped expand a healthy education system by the SDMS in which hundreds of thousands of children throughout TT gained an education because of his struggles and resourcefulness.
“Mr Sat stood strong against many opposing forces at times when most others would have backed down. You may not have agreed but his posturing and articulate, provoking speeches would always capture and tickle one’s mind. In many ways Sat Maharaj, like him or not was a national icon, a man of strong convictions, a visionary, a protector of his faith and defender of certain rights.”
The spiritual head of SWAHA, Paramacharya Pt Hardeo Persad, said Maharaj was known as a resilient and outspoken Hindu leader. He said Maharaj’s death was a loss to the Hindu community and his contributions to the development of TT would not be forgotten.