At 31, Sunil Seetahal Maharaj already has ten years experience as a Maha Sabha pundit making him one of the youngest Maha Sabha pundits in Trinidad and Tobago.
Having studied Hindu theology in India and with a large local following mainly among the Hindu youths, Maharaj is also the first pundit to host a radio programme titled “Understanding Hinduism” which can be heard on the airwaves of 102.7 (Radio Jagrati), the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha-owned station.
With a day job as a manager at National PetroleumMarketing Company Limited (NP), Maharaj nevertheless finds time to carry out his spiritual duties which includes presiding over weddings, cremations and as spiritual head of the Sri Krishna mandir at Jaipaulsingh Street, Lengua Village, Princes Town. He is also actively involved with the Cedar Hill Ram Leela Group in Princes Town.
In an interview with Sunday Newsday, Maharaj said he comes from a family of pundits. His uncle is president of the Pundits Parishad of Trinidad and Tobago.
He said that being a practising Hindu involves daily sacrifices such as abstinence and following the scriptures.
“For too long we have been in the dark (about Hinduism) and many people have many queries and concerns and that’s why I study the holy texts – so that I could provide answers to members of the public and my many chelas (students) who continue to probe the teachings of Hinduism and why things must be done a certain way,” he said.
Maharaj said he visited a home for the aged and was hurt to see the number of elderly Hindu men and women who were not able to practise their religion there.
“A woman came to me in tears and said that on Divali day last year the meal served at that home for the aged was curried fish and rice and she was forced to consume that meal although she is a Hindu, because she had nothing else to eat and no one to bring food for her. She was devastated,” he recounted.
Hindus abstain from eating meat or fish during the Divali period of fasting. Pundit Maharaj said another Hindu woman at the home for the aged said that her Divali day celebration was to use a glass of water given to her to sprinkle on a flower in a flower pot and recite a few mantras (Hindu prayers), asking God to accept her offering.
Maharaj also noted that a lot of Hindu children were now putting their elderly parents in homes, a practice that was unheard of in the past. He said those elderly people were living in grief, unable to feel any sense of care, love and homeliness and that the time has come to have a home for aged specifically for Hindus.
He said raised the issue with the senior pundits of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha who welcomed the idea and he was now awaiting a response on funding for a suitable site for construction of a particular home.
He also referred to another incident regarding a woman in the Debe area who lost both legs in an accident and whose husband has passed away. Adding that all her children are living abroad, Maharaj said this woman only has a dog and the 102.7 radio station as her companion but is very pro-active. He thinks she will be a wonderful inspiration to other persons with disabilities.
Asked by Sunday Newsday about how he is able to attract the young Hindus to his fold , Maharaj said:
“Age does not bring wisdom but it is the experience in life which brings the wisdom.”
He said that young people feel comfortable with him because of his age and he is better able to interact with them, listen to their concerns and give them advice to make a difference.
Involved in a charitable organisation called “Friends in Action”, Maharaj said one of his main goals was to get youths to move away from alcoholism and illicit activities.
“More parents should get their children involved in religious activities and this starts when the child is at a young age. I implore parents to bring them to the temple, expose them to their religion at an early age, encourage them to follow the teachings of the Holy Scriptures, guide them along, mold them so that they would become exemplars in society,” he said.
Maharaj reminded that mothers and fathers were the first gods according to Hinduism and children should never forget that.
He said that disrespect to parents was one of the greatest sin a child could do .
On another matter, Maharaj reminded Hindus to never consume alcohol at cremation grounds because that is where Lord Shiva (Hindu Devta) was present and one should have respect for the site and even the dead.
He said pouring alcohol into the pyre, taking a last drink for the departed, having alcohol in a car trunk to consume after cremations, blaring chutney music at cremation sites are not practices that are proper and he called those persons guilty of these habits to stop.
Maharaj reminded Hindus that they were the upholders of Dharma and they must remember to be steadfast and that they were born in a Hindu home to make a difference. He advised that religion does not take one to God but rather the way that religion is practised by a person.
Every person is accountable for his actions and people must remember that every action is like a seed sown, he advised.
Maharaj said juggling a normal life with a spiritual life was difficult at times but his love for God and his religion keeps him contented. He praised his aunt Radica Jaggernauth and grandmother Samdaye Rampersad, noting their words of wisdom that “People of the world will always wish you well, but they never want you to become better than them.”