President David Granger: Swami Shivanand Sankar, Swamiji- administrator of the Guyana Sevashram Sangha; Sister Rajkumarie Singh, devotees, special invitees:
It’s always a pleasure to be here. In fact, the first question I asked when I arrived was. “Why aren’t we having the ceremony outdoors?” It’s strange to be indoors because this is such a serene place, like an oasis on the East Coast but these serene surroundings of the Ashram have always, to me, seemed to be an ideal setting for the observance of this sacred and this solemn festival of Maha Shivaratri.
I was happy to be here last year at this observance. At that time of course, the Ashram was celebrating its 60th anniversary and our country, Guyana, was celebrating its Fiftieth Anniversary of Independence, so it was very auspicious.
This year again, 2017, it’s another auspicious celebration both for Guyana and the Guyana Sevashram Sangha. This year marks the hundredth anniversary, as the Prime Minister said a few minutes ago, of the abolition of Indian indentured immigration to British Guiana. We used to be British Guiana until May the 26th, 1966 when we dropped the British and just called ourselves Guyana, but it also marks the centenary of the founding of the Bharat Sevashram Sangha, the parent body of the Guyana Sevashram Sangha.
As you know, this year we mark the abolition of indentured immigration. Indentured immigration from India lasted for nearly 80 years, from 1838 to 1917. So this is the hundredth anniversary of the abolition but during that time, over 240,000 Indians came on contract to work on the sugar plantations in Guyana.
The majority of those 240,000 were Hindus and they have the honour of implanting Hinduism in this country. They were the ones who brought the beliefs, the customs, the doctrines, the rituals and their traditions of Hinduism that great religion of India, and today, this very ceremony is honouring and remembering one of those important rites, one of those important traditions.
As you know, I’m sure, the Guyana Sevashram Sangha was established one hundred years ago and the construction of this Ashram was the result of the policy, which was embraced by the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. At that time, he sent a cultural mission to the West Indies to cater for the spiritual needs and the material needs also, of the Indian Diaspora and the establishment of this Ashram came out of that policy of the Government of India to provide for the needs of its diaspora and this Ashram has become the centre and the source of spiritual strength and educational enlightenment. It is committed to the elimination of ignorance, to the elimination of inequality and to the elimination of injustice.
Again, as you know your history better than I do, this was established in 1956 by ordinance and the Guyana Sevashram Sangha subsequently constructed the Ashram, the Hindu College and the Hindu School of which you are students today and the school and the college complement the work of the Ashram.
The school and the college are consistent with the minute mission of banishing ignorance and providing a vehicle for ensuring greater equality. The Ashram itself is a source of spiritual sustenance and the schools are vehicles of mental edification. Guyana acknowledges the role of the Guyana Sevashram Sangha as a pioneer in education, particularly here on the East Coast of Demerara. The college and school opened their doors to non-Hindus.
We congratulate the Sangha on its centenary. We applaud and support the establishment of this Ashram and of course, the school and college, which are associated with it.
Today particularly, is a day devoted to the veneration of Lord Shiva. Maha Shivaratri is an important festival for all Hindus. Lord Shiva is a supreme being who creates, who protects and who transforms the universe. Lord Shiva is the source of enlightenment and the primary imparter of wisdom.
Maha Shivaratri, the great night of Shiva, is sacred. It is the high point in this Ashram’s religious calendar here at Cove and John. The observance attracts hundreds of devotees who fast and pray to Lord Shiva for his blessings and for his grace. Maha Shivaratri’s significance is to be found in the idea of overcoming the darkness of injustice and ignorance.
Although this is a solemn festival, it is associated with both moral and educational enlightenment and those are two pillars on which this Ashram is founded. Hinduism holds steadfastly to the virtue of enlightenment. It promotes knowledge.
Where there is ignorance it promotes justice where there is injustice, and it promotes equality where there is inequality. It promotes education because it is through education that you overcome ignorance, inequality and injustice.
Guyana places the highest emphasis on education. Education emphasises the importance of knowledge, of skills and of values not just book learning, but of moral values. So we need to walk on two legs, both the school, which provides the academic education and the Ashram which provides the values through which we relate to one another.
In Guyana we speak of aspiring for the ‘good life’ but in order for us to earn that good life we ask that every child, every single child goes to school and remains in school until he or she graduates. Sadly, in our country every year over 4,000 boys and girls drop out of primary and secondary school. The result is that their education is cut short and their chances of enjoying that good life are diminished.
The Prime Minister recounted some of the challenges facing our young people, but we are convinced that those challenges could be overcome if every child was enabled to go to school and stay in school and that is why it’s so important for us, both Prime Minister and [I], to be here to emphasise the importance of these values. That is why we provide buses; we provide boats; we provide bicycles to help children to get to school on time and to stay in school so that they can have access to that good life.
Today, I encourage the Guyana Sevashram Sangha to continue its work in providing spiritual enlightenment and education to our people. I extend Maha Shivaratri greetings to all Guyanese and most particularly to Hindus.
I pray that Lord Shiva’s richest blessing may come upon you all.
I thank you.

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