A life of perseverance-the story of Primnath Gooptar
Brazil Village, Arima, neighbours Arena, the site of the infamous massacre of the priests of a Roman Catholic Mission established to Christianize the indigenous tribe. The retaliation of the colonial militia against the indigenous tribes was more brutal and murderous that the crime committed.
The exploitation of the First People continued unabated until their total demise. With the absence of labour, the region went into dormancy until the arrival of new ethnic groups bringing their cultural and racial uniqueness, but converging at the altar of the Roman Catholic Church. French planters from Grenada and St Vincent arrived with their slaves in toe; peons from Venezuela-cocoa payol- arrived to labour in the expanding cocoa and coffee plantations; the Chinese came and finally the Indian indentures.
The Indians began arriving in Brazil in the 1880s when sugar was in decline and the planters began experimenting with cocoa and coffee in the valleys and slopes of the northern, central and southern mountain ranges. It was in those circumstances that the Indians began arriving in San Rafael, Arena, Talparo and Brazil Village.
In 1953 Primnath was born to Gooptar and Sukhdaye Ram in Brazil Village, six miles south of Arima. There was little opportunity outside the plantation social structure. The only school available was the San Rafael RC Primary School. Though a few miles away, Indian families were eager to send their children to school in San Rafael. The school system was viewed as alien and one designed to undermine their culture and way of life. In 1953, the same year Primnath was born, the Brazil RC School was opened.
After the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha was founded in 1952, and an Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) branch was established in the village, members of the branch asked Bhadase Sagan Maraj, president of the SDMS to establish a Hindu School in Brazil Village. Lands were allocated and the villagers were ready to make every effort and sacrifice to have a school to educate their children in a learning institution that would embrace and mold their culture, thus building pride in themselves. With a population of approximately 2,000 Hindus the Maha Sabha was confident that it had the numbers to justify a Hindu school. The Catholics also began lobbying for the construction of a school before the Ministry of Education. With the two communities demanding a school, the Director of Education commissioned a census to measure the population. The findings revealed that the Roman Catholics were the majority community. Given the larger population of Roman Catholics, the Ministry of Education took the decision to permit the Catholic Church to construct the Brazil RC Primary School. The Hindu community was disappointed, but soon accepted the decision.
By the mid-1950s the Brazil RC School was constructed and Primnath’s parents decided that he would attend the Brazil RC School which was about a quarter mile from his home. Always a bright boy the teachers and principal were positive that he would win a place in the Common Entrance Exam to attend a government secondary school. This was not to be. Despite this setback Primnath was determined to continue his education. He was able to find a place at the North Eastern National High School, a private secondary school in Sangre Grande. The decision was more an expression of the will rather than rational reasoning and practicality. Nevertheless, his parents were determined to send him to a secondary school.
His father, Gooptar Ram, was employed as a labourer at a State-run farm in Talparo. With the money earned his father took care of his wife and children-four boys and four girls. His income was subsidized by planting corn and other marketable short crops; and engaging in burning coals in a 10-acre parcel of land the family owned a short distance from their home.
The cost of travelling to and from Sangre Grande would be prohibitive, so he stayed with an aunt at Vega de Oropouche to attend school in Sangre Grande. But that opportunity came with a high price. The aunt and her husband operated a striving agricultural estate which included rearing animals and growing cocoa. On the estate were barracks that accommodated the workers. Many of the features such as blowing a conch and beating a gong were used in the early morning to wake up the workers.
Primnath had his share of work on the estate in order to earn his keep. He would awake at 4 am to assist with the farm work. This included cleaning the pens, filling water, cutting grass and tending the animals (ducks, fowls, goats). When he returned from school the toil continued. He had limited time to complete his home-work. Tired, he fell asleep while doing home-work assignments. It was becoming unbearable, but he was determined to make the sacrifice to get an education.
After two and a half years at Vega de Oropouche, a dispute erupted and Primnath decided to return to live with his parents in Brazil Village. He thought that his education was over, but his mother insisted that he return to the same school at Sangre Grande.
He travelled from Brazil to Arima and then took a bus to Grande. His father had made an arrangement with a taxi driver to take him to Arima and back with a return fare of fifty per day. The bus fare to Sangre Grande was 15 cents. Many times, Primnath had only one-way fare to Sangre Grande and no money for lunch, but still went to school and found innovative ways to secure a return passage to Arima. Primnath would ask classmates to loan him funds to make up his 15 cents for his return passage and often drank water for lunch. He always excelled in his
school work, coming first in his class. He was first every time, except once, in the termly tests at his secondary school. The principal recognized his ability and queried why he was not the beneficiary of one of the ten annual entrance scholarships offered. Primnath thought that he would be offered a scholarship to continue his studies, but that was not to be. When the pressure was too much to bear Primnath approached his principal and requested that he be allowed to write his GCE subjects at the end of Form 4. The principal did not respond to him, but later made an announcement to the entire class for those pupils who would be interested in writing the exams at the end of Form 4. When Primnath wrote the London GCE Exams in 1971 he passed four subjects. He was invited by the principal to join the teaching staff at the school and while there took private lessons and in 1972 was able to get two additional subjects for a full certificate. In 1973 he received a scholarship to enter the Mausica Teachers College, a residential teacher training facility, where he was trained as a teacher. He completed his teacher training in 1975 and was appointed Teacher 1 at the El Dorado Hindu School. From there he taught at the Sangre Grande Hindu School before being appointed a Principal 1 in 1994.
Hinduism in Brazil Village
The Hindus of Brazil has always displayed an unparalleled heroism in their determination to preserve their dharma. As early as the 1930s the elders came together and started a kutiya on the compound that now accommodates the Kyber Complex. The kutiya was the venue for Ramayan and Bhagavat Yagyas and other religious festivals.
The kuitya at Kyber Complex later shifted to the home of a member, Saudagar, then to the Kallicharan’s residence, close to the Cemetery Road. The religious activities in the Hindu calendar continued with the co-operation of the villagers. Many villagers stepped forward and took leadership roles. In 1940 the kutiya was registered as a branch of the Hindu Maha Sabha led by Ranjit Kumar, an engineer, trade unionist and politicians and Doon Pandit of Arima. Ranjit visited Brazil as part of his mission of uniting the Hindus of the country.
In 1952 the SDMS was born. This newly formed organization was a symbol of unity among Sanatanist Hindus. In Brazil Village, the Hindu Maha Sabha branch morphed into the SDMS branch and was registered as one of the earliest branches of the SDMS
A few office bearers were Ramoutar Mahadeo (President), Doon Seetahal (Secretary) and Sookram Persad (Treasurer). In continuity, Seetahal’s grandson Sohan Seetahal is the present president of the branch, while Persad’s son, Boysie Persad, is the Treasurer.
The formation of the SDMS had a positive impact on the psyche of Hindus throughout the colony and it was no less so in Brazil Village. The SDMS branch mobilized the villagers and began hosting Ramayan and Bhagavat Yagyas annually. The level of co-operation was high. Though poor with limited income, Hindu families rallied together, pooling their resources, thus ensuring that all their events were successful.
The villagers also celebrated Hosay annually. Though the village had fewer Muslims, the Hindus took the lead role in the organizing of this event. Primnath recalled that Matthew, a Hindu, took the lead in the organization of Hosay from the late 1950s to 1970 when it was last held. That annual Hosay was held in Primnath’s parents' yard and he grew up observing and participating in the organization of the event. Years later when he got involved in Ramleela, many of the ‘costume and prop skills’ of the Hosay came in handy in the Ramleela.
Another event that held the community together was the monthly Full-Moon Pooja. Money was collected from the villagers. The average sum collected was two to three dollars, but was adequate to purchase what was needed. Many of the villagers made donations in kind, such as vegetables and rice for preparation of meals.
All Hindus participated without reservation in these activities. There was no class or sectarian distinction. Members of the Shivnarinee and the Kabir Panthis sects joined with the Sanatanist Hindus in these poojas. Many non-Hindus and non-Indians also participated.
Primnath grew up in that community well-grounded in his religion, culture and an appreciation of other’s culture as Brazil Village boasted of a mixed community
Mausica Teachers’ College
In 1973 Primnath won a scholarship for Mausica Teachers’ Training College where he resided as a student for the next two two years. He immediately became a member of the existing Mausica Hindu Society. Through the Mausica Hindu Society Primnath came into contact with Hindus from other parts of the country. In 1974 the Mausica Hindu Society sponsored a week-long Divali celebration. Orchestras and bhajan groups were invited to provide entertainment. There were fashion shows and others items of interest. Each night a guest speaker was invited to address the celebrants. One of the guest speakers was Basdeo Panday, President General of the All Trinidad Estate and Factory Workers Trade Union. In 1973 he had won significant wage increases and other benefits for sugar workers.
In 1974, while still at Mausica Teachers College, Primnath was elected the Public Relations Officer of the recently inaugurated Maha Sabha Youth Arm led by Surendranath Capildeo. The experience gained working with the Mausica College Hindu Society and the Maha Sabha Youth Arm inspired in Primnath a national vision for Hindus. Prior to Mausica Primnath’s Hindu consciousness was confined to Brazil Village. Meeting committed Hindus from other parts of the country awakened in him a national vision to serve the Hindu society.
By the early 1970s the SDMS branch went dormant and there were no Hindu or cultural activities in the area. One evening, just after leaving Mausica Teachers College, Primnath was chatting with some of his peers when one of them suggested that they host a Divali programme. Everyone agreed that it was a great idea, but the community lacked leadership and that is where Primnath played a major role in the community. A meeting was called subsequently a unanimous decision was taken to have a celebration with Primnath as the President of the group. The venue chosen was the Brazil Recreation Ground. Other villagers stepped forward, donating money and their labour to make the celebration a success. All villagers-Hindus and non-Hindus- participated unreservedly in the project. According to Partap Sitahal, that Divali Celebration saw the largest crowd ever gathered at Brazil Village for any event.
The success of the Divali programme inspired the formation of the Brazil Hindu Youth Organization. Some of the office bearers of that revival of Hinduism in Brazil were Partap Seetahal, John Jagroopsingh, Primnath Gooptar and Boysie Persad. The energy of the youths and the blessings and goodwill of the elders transformed Brazil into an enclave where Hindu culture was revived from its dormancy. Primnath played a major role in this mass awakening.
Primnath graduated from Mausica Teacher’s College and took up employment at El Dorado (South) Hindu School. He was placed in the infant department. He was coached by the more experienced teachers and soon settled into the new environment. A Hindu school provides an opportunity for a teacher to share his/her knowledge of Hindu dharma with the students. Primnath became active in the morning devotion leading in congregational singing of bhajans, teaching of mantras and telling moral stories from the Hindu Ramayan and Puranas. He compiled a bhajan book for use in the school. This was a first for any SDMS school and was shared with other Hindu Schools. That book formed part of the book requirement for students of the school.
The Hindu Jawaan Sangh
Primnath placed much effort in strengthening the cultural life of the community of Brazil. Apart from the annual yagyas and Divali celebration, he was enthusiastic in promoting new programs that would have national appeal. Soon he was in contact with his fellow graduates of Mausica-Ramnarine, Ramkissoon (Boloji), Krisha Dube, Siewdath Saroop and Haripersad Harikissoon.
In 1975 Harikissoon led the mission in establishing a National Hindu Youth Organization. Exploring the potential for such an organization, a decision was taken to host a bus excursion to Cedros. Youths were drawn from Hindu youth groups from Brazil, Endeavour, California, Rio Claro and Penal. With more than two hundred enthusiastic youths gathered at Bonasse Beach, Harikissoon called an informal meeting of leaders and a decision was taken to form the Hindu Jawaan Sangh. Some of the participants in that first meeting were Haripersad Harikissoon, Siewdath Saroop, Deo Seeratansingh, Ramnanan Gopiechan, Ramsewak ‘Lord’ Ramphalie, Lalchan Dookie, Krishna Lutchman and Ramkissoon ‘Boloji’ Ramnarine.
The Jawaan Sangh was subsequently formalized with a constitution. When an election was held Primnath was elected General Secretary and Haripersad Harikissoon, President. In 1976 the Jawaan Sangh held a meeting at Ethel Street, St James with Simbhoonath Capildeo, General Secretary of the Maha Sabha. The meeting was not cordial. Capildeo was keen on recruiting the Jawaan Sangh members to campaign for him in the upcoming General Election and Harikissoon, Primnath and the rest of the group rejected that position. The meeting ended abruptly Capildeo did not treat the youths with the respect they deserved. Refusing to be drawn into Capildeo’s political net, one member of the delegation remarked that “the Maha Sabha gave to the people Ram and Krishna; Basdeo Panday has brought them Lakshmi.” This was an obvious reference to the wages Basdeo Panday won for the sugar-cane workers as President of the All Trinidad Sugar Estate and Factory Workers Trade Union. Not wanting to be ungrateful to Panday, the Indian electorate switched their political allegiance from the Democratic Labour Party to the newly formed United Labour Front led by Basdeo Panday.
For the next five years the Jawaan Sangh blazed a trail. Its intense activities awakened the consciousness of the Hindu community and provided a sense of identity to the Hindu youths in particular. The vigour, enthusiasm and selflessness of the dynamic Jawaans resulted in an awakening of Hindu youths throughout the length and breadth of the country.
Primnath was inspired by the dynamism, oratorical skills of Harikissoon and his willingness to make the necessary sacrifices to execute projects. Other members such a Boloji, Gopie and Lord were equally willing and ready to get the work done. No less a contributing factor was the integrity of this band of dedicated Hindus. The dynamism of the Jawaan Sangh attracted youths from throughout the country.
One of the initial activities of the Jawaan Sangh was taking film shows to the villages. Primnath organized several venues in the Arima district, including Brazil Village. This provided the opportunity for other members of the Brazil Hindu Youth Organization to identify with something grand and national in scope. Primnath would also accompany other members to Cedros, Penal, Rio Claro, Siparia, Balmain, Endeavour and Bamboo. Altogether more than one hundred villages were visited in the name of the Hindu Jawaan Sangha with Indian Film shows. At breaktime, during the film shows, Harikissoon or Primnath spoke to the congregation on issues affecting the youths and Indians in Trinidad.
Innovative programs were introduced, including Phagwa and Chowtaal. At the recreation ground at Clarke Road, Penal, the Jawaan Sangh hosted Phagwa. Phagwa groups responded to the program with enthusiasm and optimism. The spectators were many. It was definitely one of the largest crowds in Penal in recent time.
The success of the Phagwa inspired the Jawaan Sangh to introduce a venue for chowtaal. This once popular genre of music was dormant with no regional or national venues to provide a forum for its expression. Randharrie Garibdass’s residence at Batcha Village, Penal became the chosen venue. The response from the people was overwhelming and scores of chowtaal groups competed for beautiful trophies and cash incentives. Meals were prepared and served to all. When the Hindu Jawaan Sangha (HJS) held its first Phagwa celebration in Penal, there were just two other venues in the country and both were in the North. This group of dedicated HJS members had set out to revive Phagwa celebrations in the country and within two years expanded the number of venues to six. The work of the HJS was critical to the revival of Phagwa and Chowtaal in this country.
Certificate of Participation presented to all participating schools in the HJS’s annual Divali Song Festival.
One of the ways the group sought to revive Indian culture among students in secondary schools was the introduction of a Secondary School Divali Song Festival. This very successful annual project was planned and executed with a great deal of effort and determination. Among the schools that participated included Lakshmi Girls Hindu College, St. Joseph Convent (San Fernando), Presentation College, St. Stephen’s College and Holy Faith Convent. By 1978, the HJS decided to organize an Indian student cultural exchange programme with Guyana and Suriname. Each school that participated in the Divali Song Festival was invited to recommend its most talented student to be part of a cultural tour of Suriname and Guyana. Primnath was part of the organizing committee that raised the funds to purchase tickets for the students. Primnath made preliminary visits to Guyana and Suriname to ensure that everything was in place for the visit of a contingent of 33 persons on that first student exchange Indian cultural tour. Among the students on that tour were Rana Mohipp, Rooplal Girdharie and Rudnath Maharaj. There were four exchange tours, with Guyana and Suriname jointly reciprocating the tours by visiting Trinidad with their own massive contingents. Hosting of those tours from Guyana and Suriname was indeed a mammoth undertaking for the HJS led by Harikissoon and Primnath. Many of the participants in those tours have gone on to distinguish themselves in the field of music and the performing arts.
Caribbean Hindu Conference
Primnath was among the few members of the Jawaan Sangh that owned a car. It was a Datsun 1200. Primnath would drive all the way to Endeavour to pick up Harikssoon and proceed to Penal and other places to meet with groups and other members of the Jawaan Sangh. On weekends, from as early as 7 a.m. Primnath would arrive at Harikissoon’s home, have breakfast and spend the entire day traversing central and south Trinidad holding meetings, touching base with members, visiting Phagwa, Chowtaal and Youth groups in an effort to revive those groups and to encourage existing groups to participate in the events of the HJS. During the week, after work, Primnath and Harikissoon continued with the same mission of contacting groups, forming new youth groups and generally seeking out existing groups.
The political instability in Guyana and the general discrimination faced by Indians in the Caribbean inspired the idea to explore the establishment of a voice for Hindus in the Caribbean. Primnath headed a three- man mission to Jamaica while Harikisoon went to Guyana and Suriname. The objective of those trips was to explore unity the of Hindus in the Caribbean thus bringing them closer together.
A Caribbean Hindu Youth Conference was held in Trinidad. It was a three-day long conference. The conference opened on a Friday evening. This was followed by the presentation of papers on aspect of Hindu culture and society. The delegates from organizations in Guyana, Suriname, Jamaica and Trinidad participated in the panel discussions, workshops and lectures. Critical issues were raised and discussed and resolutions were passed. All delegates felt that the conference was a success and expressed their satisfaction in the closing session. The conference was formally opened by the then President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Sir Ellis Clarke.
The success of the Caribbean Hindu Conference explored the need for a Caribbean Hindu Council that would act as a watchdog for the Hindus of the Community. The Burnham era in Guyana was a major threat to Hindus in Guyana and the Jawaan Sangh was determined to highlight and expose this evil.
When the Caribbean Hindu Conference was held in 1978, a delegation from Jamaica led by Dr. Hemchandra Persad arrived in Trinidad. Delegates from several organizations in Guyana and Suriname arrived. Primnath was very involved in the planning of the entire conference. In addition to the presentation of papers, arrangements had to be made for accommodation, meals and also site visits of the foreign guests.
Attorneys –at-law Sudesh Shivrattan and Kenneth Lalla drafted a constitution for a Caribbean Hindu Council which was adopted at the final session of the three-day conference. Primnath was happy with the response from the conference. He felt confident that Hindus would now have a voice in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, follow-up sessions were not actively pursued and some of the individuals charged with formalizing the council did not fulfill their tasks. Primnath was not disappointed but resolved to continue working for Sanatan Dharma.
By 1979 the Jawaan Sangh did not have money to finance its activities. While there were enthusiastic workers, few had extra income to make available to the organization. The bulk of the financing had come from Harikissoon and it was impossible for him to continue. Not a wealthy individual, his income was his monthly salary he received as a secondary school teacher.
Secondary Schools Cultural Exchange Programme.
In 1978 the HJS decided to initiate the students Indian cultural exchange program between Trinidad and the Tobago, Guyana and Suriname. Both Primnath and Harikissoon, at the different times visited Guyana and Suriname to work out the details of this program and to encourage participation from secondary schools in those countries. This was a mammoth undertaking for the young HJS as it involved accommodation, workshops, cultural programs and massive transportation for secondary school students from Guyana and Surinam participating in the program. During the course of the next few years students some Trinidad and Tobago visited Guyana and Surinam and in return secondary school students from those countries reciprocated by visiting Trinidad and Tobago to continue this unique experiment of students visiting and performing for large audiences wherever they went.
In 1979 in the run-up to Phagwa celebrations the SDMS wanted to celebrate Phagwa at two of the venues already occupied by the HJS. This caused problem between the two per organizations for the hosting of the festival in the South and also brought to the attention of the Maha Sabha the work of the HJS. Subsequently, the HJS was invited to a meeting with the Secretary General of the SDMS, Satnarayan Maharaj, to discuss the work of the group and an alliance with the SDMS. The Secretary General of the Maha Sabha indicated that he had been following the work of the HJS and commended the group for its valiant efforts at promoting Hindu Dharma and Indian culture in the country. By that time also the Youth Arm of the Maha Sabha had become dormant. He indicated that he was also aware of the fact that the group was financially in the red. He knew from experience that the group could not continue much longer without financial support and so he made a proposal to the HJS to become the Youth Arm of the Maha Sabha and continue with all the projects that the organization had started. He further stated to the group that the SDMS would finance all the projects that the group had started if the group became the Youth Arm of the Maha Sabha.
The proposal for the Jawaan Sangh’s to merge with the Maha Sabha evoked diverse responses from members. Both Harikissoon and Primnath supported the proposal for joining the SDMS. It was argued that the Jawaan Sangh did not have the resources to continue its work and that the Maha Sabha was well endowed with all the resources needed. There was strong opposition to the proposal but in the end the members agreed to give way. Primnath continued as a secretary of the Maha Sabha Youth Arm while Harikissoon retained the chairmanship of the group.
Soon after, Boloji, Harikissoon and Primnath were invited to serve on the executive. Harikissoon was elected to the post of assistant secretary while Boloji and Primnath were executive members.
The Phagwa and Chowtaal that the Jawaan Sangh had organized were now held under the auspices of the Maha Sabha. Funding for these projects was readily made available. The worry for funding was no longer there and the events were now bigger and grander. It was a big relief for the former Jawaan Sangh members that they no longer had to fret about financing for their projects. Within two years the number of Phagwa venues under the auspices of the mass of the Maha Sabha increased from 6 to 22 and since then there has been no turning back with the expansion of Phagwa in this country. Side-by-side with the revival of Phagwa celebrations, Chowtaal singing was also revived and several religious groups were revived and participated in these celebrations across the country.
Children’s Phagwa was the brain child of Harikissoon. Looking at Kiddies Carnival, it dawned on him that the Hindu community needed to have a cultural event to cater for children. He discussed it with Primnath and a proposal was taken to Sat Maharaj for the youth arm to host a children’s Phagwa celebration. Primnath recalled at first Maharaj expressing caution but agreed to fund the children’s Phagwa. The first children’s Phagwa was held at Skinner’s Park, San Fernando in 1981. The Maha Sabha schools and many youth groups came out and the program was a huge success. That the first memorable children’s Phagwa and was formally opened by his Excellency the president of Trinidad and Tobago, Sir Ellis Clarke. Today the children’s Phagwa is a fixture in the Maha Sabha calendar of activities.
Handbill of one of the early Gyaan Yagyas organized by Primnath at Brazil Village.
The Brazil Hindu Youth Organization took a decision to host a nine-night Gyan Yagya. The idea of a yagya was raised during dinner at a fast food outlet in Arima by three members of the Brazil Hindu Youth Organization-Primnath, Boysie and Partap. Primnath welcomed the idea and promised to include it in the agenda for the next meeting of the organization. When the meeting was held members agreed whole heartedly to the suggestion.
Primnath wanted the yagya to be unique and not a copy of the score of yagyas that are held annually throughout the country. It was discussed and agreed that a Gyaan Yagya would be done to cater for all. The members were eager to experiment with this new concept. Instead of having a single pandit reading every night, the decision was to have a theme for the yagya and a different pandit reading each night on a topic consistent with the theme. A few members were fearful that this new concept would be difficult and impossible to achieve. Primnath remained optimistic. Fortunately, the yagya turned out to be a success and has developed into an annual event in the calendar of events in the Brazil community. One pundit remarked at the time that he had been to many Ramayan Yagnas in the country but the one he had encountered at Brazil Village was unique. He indicated that at the time it was the only one of its type in the country.
In 1982 Harikissoon was dismissed from the SDMS executive for planning to host a lecture by Sant Keshav Dass at the Endeavour Branch of the Maha Sabha. The SDMS, skeptical of visiting Swamis, viewed this act suspiciously. The SDMS’s view was that visiting Swamis were not working in the best interest of the Hindu community but were here only to raise funds to take with them back to India.
Primnath was tempted to walk out with Harikissoon. He reasoned and decided that he should remain. In fact, he recalled Harikissoon advising him and Boloji not to leave but to remain within the SDMS and work. Primnath, being a teacher in an SDMS school, weighed his options carefully and decided that he would better serve the community from within the SDMS. He felt that if you left the SDMS all the projects that had been started by the youth arm would probably die a natural death if there was no one to administrate the programs. He felt that by remaining within the organization he could continue to work of promoting Phagwa, children’s Phagwa, Divali Song Festival, the student exchange program among other initiatives.
After Harikissoon left the organization the Divali Song Festival continued at both the secondary and primary school levels but soon the decision was taken to restrict the event to only primary schools with a change in format from the competition to a singing recital. Without the competitive edge the standard of the presentations fell sharply. Ramcharitar Rikkhi, an executive member of the SDMS was appointed the liaison officer with the youth arm and was responsible for all matters relating to the youth arm. It was at one of these Divali Song Festival presentations that he sat with Primnath discussing the just stick for in the standard of the presentations and what could be done to rekindle interest and higher performances by the schools. They both agreed that it was necessary to change the format of the Divali Song Festival to a competition once more and to include additional categories in the new format competition. The proposal was taken to the Secretary General of the Maha Sabha and Rikkhi was given the task of adjusting a complete proposal for presentation to the SDMS executive. Rikkhi and Primnath discussed the matter once more and Rikkhi developed the proposals for what would become the Baal Vikas Festival. There was the fear among some members of the Baal Vikas Committee that the support of teachers may not come forth. This, however, was proven wrong. The teachers embraced the Baal Vikas. Many teachers saw it as an opportunity to share their creative and artistic skills with the students. The competitive nature of the Baal Vikas also provided the impetus for teachers to work for the success of the event.
Primnath believes that the placing of the Baal Vikas just after the writing of the Secondary Entrance Examination (SEA), gives the schools the time to focus on the preparation of the students. Another fear was the availability of musicians and personnel to assist with the training of students.
This was overcome by the teachers engaging the services of many local/community musicians, dancers and vocalists who eagerly volunteered their time. Today the Baal Vikas is the bedrock of the Maha Sabha’s effort to promote dharma among children. Primnath indicated that it is important to note that the Baal Vikas Festival had its origins in the Divali Song Festival.
Sangre Grande became a cultural force when Primnath moved from Brazil to live in Sangre Chiquito after getting married in the mid-1980s. He was transferred to the Sangre Grande Hindu School where he met another likeminded person in Bhownath Maraj. Primnath continued to be an executive member and assistant secretary of the SDMS and his position in the SDMS proved to be an asset to his continued promotion of religion and culture in Sangre Grande and environs. Pandit Bhownath admitted that prior to the arrival of Primnath in Sangre Grande, the cultural life of the community was dormant. With Pandit Bhownath’s support Primnath initiated new several new programmes which included Phagwa, Indian Arrival Day, Ramleela and the revival of Kartik at Manzanilla.
Young girls enjoy Phagwa celebration at Sangre Grande
Primnath recalled that he and Pandit Bhownath were teaching in the infant department and that during one recess, Pandit Bhownath looked at the wide-open recreation ground at the back of the school lamenting that “this place was being wasted. No cultural activities were taking place there” Pandit Bhownath suggested that this would be a good venue for Phagwa. Primnath’s response was that should not be a problem as he was the Chairman of the SDMS Phagwa Committee.
In 1985 the SDMS had 22 Phagwa venues but none between Tunapuna and Sangre Grande. The Phagwa Committee had discussed opening a venue in Arima but no steps had been taken. When the Phagwa Committee met a decision was taken to open this venue in Sangre Grande.
A meeting of the staff of the Sangre Grande Hindu School was called to form a committee to manage the Phagwa. A few members of staff stormed out of the meeting refusing to be part of any committee. One teacher remarked that “I don’t want to have anything to do with Phagwa and the Maha Sabha telling us what to do.” The meeting was adjourned. Primnath decided that he would summon a meeting of interested individuals from the wider community. When this was done, the response was tremendous. A few members of staff stepped forward and became part of the committee.
The first major Phagwa celebration in the area was held in 1985 on the grounds of the Sangre Grande Hindu School and since there has not been any turning back. Thirty-three years later the venue remains one of the largest in the country and definitely the largest in the east.
The National Ramleela Council is today a success story. Ramleela now has a national organization to seek its welfare. The development of the Ramleela Council began at the SDMS headquarters with an input from the Sangre Grande Ramleela Committee (SGRC). In 1990, the Sangre Grande Ramleela Committee was founded by Primnath and Bhownath in an effort to promote Hindu religion and culture in the North East Region. Before that Primnath had founded the Sant Nagar Hindu Youth Group in 1988 and was on the lookout for cultural and religious activities to keep the Hindu Youths active. Ramleela provided the ideal opportunity and with the assistance of the Pierre Road Ramleela Group (Chaguanas) they started planning for their first Ramleela in 1990.However the aborted Coup in July that year caused a cancellation of Ramleela that year and so planning for ’91 Ramleela began in earnest. (The Ramleela story of Sangre Grande is told in the group’s publication by Primnath Gooptar: The Ramleela of Sangre Grande. It is available locally and on Amazon.)
Attendees at the inaugural meeting of the National Ramleela Council at the SDMS Head Quarters in 1991. Primnath Gooptar is third from right in picture.
One of the early Ramleela magazines produced by the NRC. Primnath Gooptar took the lead in compiling this magazine. After the NRC delinked itself from the SDMS in 1995, the magazine was discontinued. It is now a collector’s item.
In 1991, the Sangre Grande Ramleela Committee, a branch of the SDMS had applied for funding from the Ministry of Culture. The Ministry of Culture rerouted the application for verification by the Secretary General of the SDMS: to verify that the SGRC was indeed a branch of the SDMS. When Sat Maharaj received the letter from the Ministry of Culture, he called in Primnath and his group for discussions. When told that there was funding for Ramleela, Maharaj in his wisdom suggested that SGRC should not be the only group to benefit from this fund and asked Primnath to inform all Ramleela groups of the news and let them apply if they wished for funding. Primnath could not inform all the groups since he did not have the relevant information to contact them. At that meeting with the SGRC 1991 it was decided that both Maharaj and the Primnath would try to contact all Ramleela groups and invite them to a meeting at the SDMS. Sat Maharaj was adamant that the availability of funding from the State should be made known to all Ramleela groups. Ten Ramleela organizations came together at the SDMS HQ in a historic special Ramleela meeting chaired by Primnath and Sat Maharaj. This was the first time Ramleela groups were coming together for any purpose. The funding matter was discussed and a decision was taken to form the National Ramleela Council (NRC) and forward to the Ministry of Culture a joint application of the ten groups present at the meeting. Since this group was a new entity and there was a fear among members of rejection of the application by the Ministry, it was decided to send the application from the NRC under the banner of the SDMS, as it was felt that Sat Maharaj could use his clout with the Ministry to secure funding for Ramleela. This tactic was successful but when the funding came it sent to the Maha Sabha. The funds were distributed to the N RC groups in tranches and part was used to produce a Ramleela magazine for distribution to groups. Primnath Gooptar was elected the first president of the NRC, a post he held for the next fourteen years. (see pix of magazine and first Ramleela meeting).
In 1993, the SDMS funded for the NRC a National Ramleela Fair held at its headquarters. This was a very successful event chaired by Primnath which saw for the first time 17 Ramleela groups from throughout the country coming together to share their skills and to put on Ramleela demonstrations for the public at a common venue.
In 1995, the Ramleela groups was encouraged by a Cultural Officer of the Ministry of Culture to delink the NRC from the Maha Sabha with the promise that he would secure greater funding for them. The groups applied through the NRC and individually received direct funding with the smaller venues received $5,000 each while the bigger venues received $10,000. This was a big change from the previous funding modus operandi. Previously all funding was sent to the Maha Sabha, from where it was distributed in two or three tranches to the groups. Primnath makes the point that the National Ramleela Group had its genesis in the SGRC.
The Sangre Grande Ramleela Committee maintained a healthy relationship with the other Ramleela venues and was responsible for starting Ramleela at Rio Claro, Caroni and Tunapuna.
Pt. Bhownath Mara (Treasurer)j and Primnath Gooptar (President), leaders of the Sangre Grande Ramleela committee.1993.
The Sangre Grande Ramleela Committee is still available to assist anyone who needs its assistance.
Book written by Primnath Gooptar for 25th Anniversary celebrations of the Sangre Grande Ramleela Committee.2015.
In 2015 the Sangre Grande Ramleela Committee celebrated its silver jubilee. Eager to highlight this achievement, the Sangre Grande Committee took the decision to commission a book to tell the story of the twenty-five years of Ramleela celebration in Sangre Grande. With Bhownath as consultant, Primnath readily accepted the challenge to record the history of the group and a book was published in 2015 highlighting the twenty-five-year history of Ramleela in Sangre Grande. No fee was taken by Primnath for his research and writing. It was a gift from Primnath to the Ramleela Committee and the country as a whole. It was the first book written anywhere in the world recording the history of the Ramleela of a group. (see pix of book)
North East Regional Council (NERC)
In 1991, Primnath, an executive member and an assist Secretary of the SDMS proposed to the Secretary General of the SDMS the formation of Regional Councils of the Maha Sabha to assist in running the affairs of the SDMS in the various sectors of the country. In 1992, the SDMS established four regional councils in the country. The NERC was one of the four councils established that year, with Primnath as the Chairman. Enthused and eager to serve, members of the community stepped forward to participate in this awakening. Sangre Grande was now ready to play its role. One of the early activities of the NERC was to form branches in the outlying villages of Vega de Oropouche, Fishing Pond, Cumuto, Biche, Cunaripo, Tamana and other outlying villages. The NERC adopted the mission of taking the religion and culture to the people, rather than having them come to the central area of Sangre Grande for every religious occasion. This council serviced all SDMS branches and temples from Brazil Village to Biche, Plum Mitan, Plum Road, Vega De Oropuoche, Sangre Chiquito and Sangre Grande and environs. It hosted several outreach programmes, ‘answerback’ sessions and an HIV Aids awareness programme.
In 1994, after completing his Certificate in Education and several management and administrative courses, Primnath applied for and was promoted to the post of Principal 1 at the Mohess Road SDMS School in Penal. After two years there he was transferred to the Five Rivers Hindu School where he spent three years before moving on to the Tunapuna Hindu School.
As a principal Primnath was eager to make a difference in the communities he worked. Unpunctuality and absenteeism of pupils were two huge challenges. Primnath did not only take a note of it but vowed to eradicate it. He made field visits to homes where he would meet with parents. He discovered that many parents had a defeatist attitude. He recalled one mother remarking to him that “I didn’t go to school and I living. My son would live survive.”
Primnath participated in several summer workshops and programs between 1992 and 2018. Some of the institutions offering these courses included: School Leadership Centre, Management Development Centre, Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers’ Association, Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Women’s Affairs, Harvard Graduate School Educational Principal’s Centre, Manchester University, and Commonwealth Youth Program Caribbean Centre and UNESCO.
Some of the courses he did were: Boys to Men, Learning how to learn, When Accountability Knocks, Bullies and Victims: Response to Violence in Schools in T&T, Leading for Literacy, Emotional Literacy, and Conscious Discipline (2018).
Primnath enrolled at the St Augustine Camus, U W I, School of Education to pursue a Bachelor of Education degree in 1998. It was a big sacrifice to work all day and then attend classes after school and then to journey all the way to Sangre Grande late in the night. Courses were also held during the July-August vacation. His family readily sacrificed with him their vacations so that he could complete his studies.
In 2000 Primnath graduated with a Bachelor of Education in Educational Administration with Upper Second Class Honours. This additional qualification together with his vast experience in education made him a prospective candidate for school supervision.
In 2006 Primnath was appointed School Supervisor 1 (temporary). His district was Port of Spain and during his visits to schools he came face to face with street hoodlums approaching his car and demanding money. Primnath felt that there was no need for him to be taking such risks and requested the Ministry of Education to re-instate him as Principal at Tunapuna Hindu School. He worked for two more years then resigned in 2009 to pursue other options in his educational journey. Altogether, he accumulated 34 years of service in teaching. Primnath indicated that among the highlights of his educational career were courses he attended at Harvard University in 2005, Manchester University (Art coaching/mentoring in educational development) in 2008 and his Ph.D. at University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT).
In 2008 Primnath enrolled at the UTT to pursues research in Cultural Studies for a doctorate. The title of his research paper was “The Impact pf Indian Movies on East Indian Identity in Trinidad.” His Supervisors were Professor Brinsley Samaroo and
Ph.D. Graduation at UTT Arima, 2013. Primnath Gooptar is center flanked by the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, His Excellency Anthony Carmona (left) and President of UTT, Dyer Narinesingh.
Dr. Jerome Teelucksingh.
When asked why he chose that topic, Primnath said: “Hindi cinema was always part of my growing up life. My mother and father took me to the movies when I was a boy. When I was a teen I began going with my elder brothers and peers. Later I began reading more about the film industry to learn more about it. In my opinion, Hindi cinema helped to shape our identity.”
Primnath worked diligently visiting the archives for materials on the subject. He also toured the country taking pictures of the many cinemas where Hindi films were featured. He interviewed more than one hundred individuals who were directly engaged in the distribution of Hindi films and cinema owners. Movie goers were also interviewed to document how cinema has shaped their lives.
His supervisors were always at hand to guide him. Regular conferences were held. Professor Samaroo was pleased with the passion Primnath displayed in his researching of the topic. Primnath was unlike other students who were receiving monthly grants but failing to present their draft of their research. Primnath’s dedication to his project brought relief to his supervisors that in the field academia there were still students with integrity.
Simultaneous with the written documentation of his research was identification of relevant scenes from different movies to identify social relations such as brother –sister relationships; husband wife relationships and even the relation between the workers and their employers. These themes in Hindi movies were identified by the average movies goers.
In 2012 Primnath submitted his final thesis and defended it in 2013 and with very few alterations it was accepted. Primnath was not satisfied with having a “doctorate” but was now ready to put it to work for the benefit of the community.
He launched into a career in writing. He has published six books to date with four others in various phases of completion at the time of writing. His first book “Ranjit Kumar: Bridging East and West” was co-authored by Professor Bridgette Brereton. Ranjit Kumar was credited with bringing the first Hindi movie-Bala Joban-to Trinidad. “Ranjit Kumar” also highlighted the social, cultural and political work that Ranjit Kumar did for the Indian community and national society.
Primnath’s second publication was “Bala Joban: The first Indian movie in Trinidad, 1935.” This book highlighted the struggles of Ranjit Kumar to bring the movie to Trinidad, the intrigues and challenges to get it in the cinemas, the reaction of the audience and the general impact on the society. In 2014 his thesis was published by a German publishing company that specialized in publishing doctoral theses. A copy of the thesis can be bought online at Amazon. In 2015 Primnath had a third publication: “Cultural Persistence: 50 years of the National Council of Indian Culture by the National Council of Indian Culture (NCIC) while The Ramleela of Sangre Grande was released in 2015 and Cry of the Lotus (a book of poems) was released in 2017.
Primnath has gone on to publish several papers which he presented in conferences on the Indian Diaspora around the world. “What’s in an Indian Diaspora Name? The Caribbean Context” was published In Caribbean Issues in The Indian Diaspora Edited by Kumar Mahabir. Serial Publication. New Delhi, India. 2013.
“A turning Point for Ramleela Worldwide” was published in Divali Magazine, 2013, Trinidad and Tobago, vol.14, #2 pg: 50-62; Indo-Caribbean Divali Publications Ltd. Editor, Kumar Mahabir.
“The Transformation of Divali in Contemporary Trinidad: Filmi and other Influence,” is the title of another paper published in the R-Evolutionary, a publication of the History Society, The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine. Vol.2. Issues10-15. Editor, Shane Pantin.
Primnath has presented more than seventeen academic papers at workshops and conferences both locally and abroad. And served in several national committees including CARIFESTA (1995); Concordat Review Committee (1999); Indian Diaspora Conference (2011); and as Chair of International Diaspora Conference sponsored by the NCIC (2014,2015); First ever International Ramleela Conference 2013; Indian Global Diaspora Conference, 2017.
This dedicated social, cultural and religious worker has served as an executive member of the SDMS for 29 years; NCIC for three years (executive member); Sangre Grande Phagwa Committee (32 years as president); Sangre Grande Ramleela Committee (26 years as President); Hindu Jawaan Sangh (5 years as Secretary); SDMS branch #61 (Brazil- 15 years as President) among others. He is at present a member of a committee working on the establishment of the NCIC Heritage Centre. In 2005 he founded the Maya Indian Orchestra which has become one of Trinidad’s premier Indian Orchestras based in Sangre Grande.
Primnath continues to be active as an academic, planning and executing conferences and editing papers on aspects of the global Indian Diaspora and in the recent past attended Diaspora conferences England (Warwick), Mauritius, St Vincent, Suriname and India.
Primnath has certainly come a long way from his humble beginnings in Brazil Village, Arima. He is well known locally and internationally in the Indian Diaspora. He is married with two children, Dev and Devika (Cassandra). Devika graduated in 2017 with a Ph.D. at Korea University, Seoul in 2017 while Dev is an entrepreneur.
His hard work, dedication, determination and focus has molded him into an exemplary individual working for the improvement of the Indian Diaspora. He thanks his wife and children for their support, sacrifice and patience in allowing him to continue along his chosen path and credits four persons who have influenced his life in this direction of Public Service: His Mother, Haripersad Harikissoon (HJS), Satnarayan Maharaj (SDMS) and Professor Brinsley Samaroo (UWI/UTT).