For any nation or civilization to prosper, it must be built on the foundations of a moral and ethical character
For any nation or civilization to prosper, it must be built on the foundations of a moral and ethical character. And this character must be built on the principal element of its strength as it is the only guarantee for its permanence and prosperity. To my mind, this summarizes the life and character of Gurudev Prof. Hari Shanker Adesh, whose work as an international philosopher, thinker, author, poet, and scholar, continue to live in the hearts and minds of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
He was instrumental in founding the Bharatiya Vidya Sansthhaan (Institute of Indian Knowledge) in Trinidad and Tobago in 1966. He died on Sunday, December 27, at the age of 84. He was a recipient of the National Humming Bird (Gold) Medal in 2001 for his dedicated service to Trinidad and Tobago.
Since 1966, the India-born Prof. Adesh had been working tirelessly and selflessly in the promotion of Indian culture and had offered free classes in Hindi, music, religious knowledge, dance, drama, and music. Later, he organised an annual cultural camp, which still exists. There is no doubt that he single-handedly sowed the seeds in structured learning which led to the first renaissance in Hindu thought, since the arrival of our forefathers between 1845 and 1917, in this Southernmost island country in the Caribbean.
Described by many as ‘son of the soil’ Trinidad and Tobago was fortunate to have had Prof. Adesh, who ushered and introduced Hinduism, all of which gave the country a strong fabric to build and promote the concept of diversity. His teachings helped thousands of nationals from varying socioeconomic, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds, thus benefitting them immensely.
Then Trinidad finance minister Winston Dookeran, in an address marking Prof. Adesh’s 75th birthday had noted: “Our concept of nationhood requires a synthesis that must be developed from the bosom of the aspirations of all our people in society, and the values of inclusiveness, the values of diversity, and the values of pluralism are foundation blocks, which are of quintessential importance for the full flowering of the human mind, especially our young people.”
Like Indian Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, who worked on the premise that education and philosophy are intertwined, Prof. Adesh thought the same and tried to bring the same idea to Trinidad and Tobago. My interpretation of Prof. Adesh’s contribution was more than just literature or religion. He was more concerned about the psychological and spiritual development of the people.
Prof. Adesh and his wife hailed from Kashmir, India. He came to Trinidad and Tobago to work in the Indian High Commission through the auspices of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR). Following his stint there, he was besieged with requests to continue to stay in Trinidad and Tobago. He decided to adopt Trinidad as his home.
One of Prof. Adesh’s major writings was the release of the 1,500-page book, which is described as a “super-epic” and compared to the Hindu religious text The Ramayana. The book Raghuvansh Shiromani Shri Raam (Sri Ram, the gem in the crown of the Raghu clan) was described by local pandit as, “of the caliber of the scriptures.” At the launch, Prof Adesh said that with the blessings of his parents, his life had been, “immersed in Lord Rama and the Hindu religious text, the Ramayana.”
He wrote several books, all of which enriched Hindu religion in the Caribbean and is considered to be used for encyclopedic reference points. Prof. Adesh showed us the way to elevate ourselves and to improve the human condition through Indian culture and Indian thought. Through his work here, he has become an international icon.
(The author is an Indian-origin journalist based in Port of Spain, Trinidad. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)