Maha Sabha’s Baal Vikas in an institution

It was late afternoon when I rushed to the final session of Baal Vikas last Sunday (June 09, 2019) at Maha Sabha’s Headquarters in St Augustine. Students, teachers, instructors, parents, officials of the Maha Sabha and members of the public, were all assembled celebrating this major cultural event in the calendar.

 Maha Sabha’s Baal Vikas in an institution
Photo : Rajan Seemungal, music instructor, with pupils of Monroe Road Hindu School at Baal Vikas Finals.

It was late afternoon when I rushed to the final session of Baal Vikas last Sunday (June 09, 2019) at Maha Sabha’s Headquarters in St Augustine. Students, teachers, instructors, parents, officials of the Maha Sabha and members of the public, were all assembled celebrating this major cultural event in the calendar.

Baal Vikas is a competition held among Maha Sabha schools in the month of May/June annually. Now in its 34th year, the event allows schools to compete for more than $200,000 in prizes including cash and trophies. Two categories of schools are identified- the larger schools or A category and the smaller schools or B category.

Photo : A lage crowd looking at students performing a folk songs

The areas in the competition include knowledge of Ramayan through the form of quiz, recitation of verses from the Gita and Ramayan. There is a compulsory list of items that include folk singing, chanting of the Lakshmi Chalisa, singing of bhajans for all schools; and there was the optional category.

I spoke to Shanmatie Ramsundar, a retired principal and member of the Baal Vikas Planning Committee. “Planning for Baal Vikas begins in October. Firstly, we identify a theme. This year’s theme is the Hindu Wedding. Whatever is planned is printed in a booklet for circulation to all schools but before that is done, the Secretary General must vet the contents,” said Shanmatie.

I was pleased to find out that the Maha Sabha has not discarded their retirees.  “Our Committee is comprised of current and retired principals and teachers. Our Chairman is Ramlogan Palloo, a retired principal,” said Shanmatie.

I have had the privilege of working with Shanmatie and she has always displayed a strong inclination toward promotion of culture. Shanmatie last served at Arima Hindu School where she retired as Principal 1. I was happy to see her playing such an active role. While the average retiree goes on tours, plays playwhe, drinks at a bar on Fridays and waits to die, Shanmatie has chosen to get involved in the promotion of Sanatan Dharma.

I must laud this effort of the Baal Vikas Committee because a culture of complaining has crept into our psyche while we sit on our laurels. Complaining is not a balm but an expression of guilt and failure. Complaining has become part of our national culture-do nothing and lay blame at the feet of the pandits, Sat Maharaj and politicians!

Rajan Seemungal, a well-known musician employed with the Ministry of Education, has been teaching music for the past six years at the Monroe Road Hindu School.  Also employed by the Ministry of Education is Katrina, a dance instructor. “I have seven schools under my watch including Monroe Hindu,” said Katrina.

Katrina and Rajan worked with the teachers to train the pupils of the Monroe Road Hindu School.  Most visible was the cooperation of parents who provided meals, transport and assisted with the costumes and other props.

Baal Vikas is carried live on Radio Jagriti. “The coverage of Baal Vikas on Radio and TV Jagiriti has boosted the attendance,” said Shanmatie Ramsundar. The Maha Sabha is no longer dependent on the generosity of the Port of Spain-centric creole media to highlight its programs.  Thanks to social media events like Baal Vikas are shared making the public aware of social and cultural events in the country. Trinidad and Tobago is no longer an outpost with its natives aping European values and other cultural concoctions that arise time and again but a vibrant center for Indian/Hindu cultural expressions.

The brainchild of Ramcharitar Rickki, a former principal and school supervisor, Baal Vikas is now in its 34th year. Thanks to the hard work of so many over the years and the guidance of Sat Maharaj, Baal Vikas is now an institution. This is no mean achievement and became possible only because of the commitment and hard work of so many.

Baal Vikas is a cultural fortress that the Maha Sabha has successfully constructed. For generation to come such a fortress will always be ready to protect and serve the Hindu community. The induction of our children into Baal Vikas inoculates them with a cultural vaccine that will help them fight the epidemic of conversion which is threatening our community.