Pandit Avinash Maharaj is one among the many young and dynamic pandits leading the struggle to promote Hindu dharma in Trinidad and Tobago. It was a privilege listening to him officiating in a Maha Shiv Puran Yagya at the Orange Valley Vishnu Mandir, Branch No. #150 of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha. He is not only versatile in singing but also in reading the scriptures in the original language and explaining it to his congregation. The youthful pandit successfully engaged the devotees in clapping their hands and singing and brought them to the altar to make an offering of bael leaves which is sacred to Lord Shiva.
The Yagya which began on Sunday August 20 and will be terminating on August 27 has been attracting a full congregation each night. In addition to the pandit, there is a kirtan group accompanying him with other devotees of the mandir lending their voices including Devayani and Parbatie.
Another pillar of the mandir is Pandit Narine. His humility, patience and words of encouragement have always helped all devotees to feel welcomed. As the official pandit of the mandir, he works along with the Executive Committee in a most amicable manner. This tone is also enabled by other senior members including its President Parbatie Babwah. Her warm smile, optimism, and ability to listen has kept the doors of the mandir wide open to all. I was happy to see so many youths actively distributing parsad, sharing arti, acting as ushers and serving meals.
The elders of the mandir have laid down a legacy of devotion and service which has only grown. Some of those names include Ramlakhan Jaglal, Babooram and Bridgelal Ramlakhan. The spiritual guidance of Pandit Dilraj cannot be forgotten. A spiritual giant in his time, he pioneered not only the Orange Valley Vishnu Mandir but also the Waterloo Mandir and the Brickfield Mandir. Also playing a big role in securing the donation of land from Tate & Lyle for the construction of the mandir was Bhadase Sagan Maraj who was the President General of the Maha Sabha and the President General of the All-Trinidad Sugar Union.
Councilor Allan Taxi Seepersad is both a friend and a devotee of the mandir. Attending all nights of the Yagya, his family and the St Andrews Street Youth, Sports and Cultural Club will be sponsoring the parsad and the food for the final night. This gesture is also an expression of thanks to the people for re-electing him to serve another term in the Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo Regional Corporation.
The Orange Valley Mandir is an outlier in the community and would be worthy of study to identify the factors that shape the success of this institution. If I were to make a guess, I would say people centered management, that is putting people first or Siya Ram Mai Sab Jag Jani-seeing Ram in all being. Equally important was the role of the Hindu Seva Sangh on the youths of Orange Valley in the 1980s and 1990s. Through its youth development camps and other projects the youths were exposed to programs that helped to develop leadership skills. And today I can only conclude that the youths of Orange Valley have learned well, and this is reflected the success of its several activities including the ongoing Maha Shiv Puran Yagya.