Dharamacharya Laldharry Seeratan, of Jamaica, Queens, formerly of Corentyne, Berbice, Guyana has passed on. He died peacefully on July 12th ; he was not ailing. He was a kind and warm-hearted spiritually minded man. It is hoped that his kindness would be infectious and in indeed it has spread among his large extended family. His children said he lived a full life. The last time I saw him, about a month ago at the home of his son, he looked very healthy and in good spirits.
Pt. Laldharry was born on October 5th 1933 in # 56 Village in Corentyne, Berbice, Guyana to Shivrattan Merhaj and Sanpatti Merhaj. He was the 8th of 9 children – a big family that was needed to assist in the farm. Continuing from the tradition of his pitaji, Laldharry himself became the proud father of eleven children.
He migrated to New York in 1983 to join the extended clan who had settled in the US, escaping persecution in Guyana. In New York, he along with other members of his extended family founded the Devi Temple in 1987 in their yard in Jamaica, 173rd Street attracting a packed following for Sunday services and for auspicious festivals. His children and in laws were all religiously oriented people making it easy to launch the Devi Mandir. All of his children, in laws, and grandchildren were deep into the faith as well as the bhajan and music that go with it. He taught his extended clan to be kind and generous towards others. This has been a trait of the family.
Pt. Laldharry was the father of the popular Pandit Tillack Seeratan of New York; the younger Pandit Tillack (the son) performs yagyas and Ramyayana discourses across the US, Canada, Guyana, and Trinidad. Tillack also traveled to Jamaica, West Indies with Dr. Tara Singh Humanitarian group to assist with the propagation of Hinduism there.
Pt. Laldharry was widely regarded as a stalwart in the Indo-Caribbean community in New York and Upper Corentyne. He subscribed to the philosopher of Sanatan Dharma. Tributes flowed in at his passing with many saying he was a great pandit who possessed noble qualities.
He was called “Old Dad” by his grandkids. And one of his sons, Rocky, said “he exuded righteous traits like no other. His exuberant and humble upbringing led him to a life-long love and commitment to Bhagavan (God)”.
According to his granddaughter Lakshmi, at the age of 11, Laldharry’s parents sent him to the village Hindi School where he was one of 30 students. His guruji sponsored a 3- day yajna in honor of their graduation where Laldharry was asked to recite his first doha from Uttar Kand: “Raama Beraha Sagar Maha Bharata Magan Man Hote Bipra Roop Dharry Pawana Suta Ayea Gayea Jimmy Poot”. And he mastered it impressing his guru as well as the congregation.
His granddaughter, Deepa, said: “Old Dad is the husband of the beautiful Oomriah Seeratan. Out of this blissful marriage, they were fortunate to celebrate 67 years together. His legacy continues in his 11 pikney or batche (children), 29 grandchildren, one of whom is part of the deaf community, 40 great grandchildren and 1 great great grandchild. His grandchildren have gone on to work in esteemed fields such as health and medicine, aviation, education, clinical research, finance, technology, art, business, travel, and engineering, among others”.
Paying tribute, granddaughter Chanda, said that in 1983 along with his family, “Old Dad embarked on his journey to the United States in pursuit of a better life for his family”. This was a most difficult period for anyone, particularly Indians, living in Guyana. They were targeted for persecution with paraphernalia used in Hindu religious practices and foods inherent in their cultural diet banned. Indians had a most difficult time practicing their faiths in Guyana. Settling in the US, Hindus also encountered difficulties but of a different kind from Guyana. “Like many immigrant families, there were struggles with assimilating into a new life in a foreign country. However, Old Dad demonstrated his will and determination in fostering care for his family, which paved the way for his success. Throughout his life, Panditji provided an education for his children, and set the foundation of humanitarianism”. In fact humanitarian work was a feature of the mandir he and his family founded. The entire family often came together to raise funds to help the poor and needy in Guyana, Jamaica, India, and elsewhere. In addition, they helped to raise funds for Hindus activities in the island Jamaica.
Granddaughter Radha said her father studied his culture and Dharma under the guidance of his Guruji, the late Pt. Misir of Corentyne. “In February 1987, he founded Sri Devi Mandir, which still stands with great pride and dedication to dharma for 33 years. His teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, Mahabharata, Ramayana and the Vedas captivated his devotees. In 1995, Old Dad and Old Mai built Shiv Shakti Mandir in No. 56 Village, Corentyne, Guyana. He and his wife contributed financially to the maintenance of the mandir”. They were also very supportive of religious activities at other mandirs in Guyana and in America. I was very fortunate to visit the mandir along with the late Bhai Ramesh Kalicharran. We were accorded a most warm welcome and gracious hospitality garlanded and pleaded upon to address the congregation.
As part of his humanitarian mission, their granddaughter Chandanie said: “Old Dad and Old Mai shipped barrels of clothing and food items every month to be distributed to the villagers of Number 56 and surrounding area. He also oversaw the continued feeding of school children in the area. To this day, the mandir is home to many people for worship. Old Dad was also instrumental in the establishment of Shri Devi Mandir Global Humanitarian Foundation Incorporation in 2014, where he served as the Religious Director”. That foundation has been providing significant financial assistance (hampers, clothing, etc.) to the poor throughout Guyana without regards to religious or racial background.
Pt. Laldharry also did charitable work in New York. His grand daughter Radha explained that “Old Dad dedicated his time to many charitable organizations in NY. In the early 1990’s, he donated cardiac equipment to Queens General Hospital where he was given an award for his contribution to healthcare. In 2005, he collaborated with the Hindu organization, BAPS Care International to build a drinking water well for families in rural India. His initiative led to villagers in the area to have purified clean drinking water preventing the deaths of thousands. Laldharry traces his roots to India; his grandparents are from India.
His granddaughter Nadia explained that the old man made enormous “contributions to international temples and to natural disaster relief as well as towards cancer and cardiology research. He sponsored 25 eye surgeries and 15 cleft lip surgeries. With his exemplary vision, Old Dad continued to help the underprivileged. He assisted in building homes in Guyana for families in need, the distribution of food hampers to the unemployed sugar cane workers in Guyana”.
His grandson Gopaul said “Old Dad offered financial assistance to families struggling with increased tuition costs for their children to pursue higher education. During the current pandemic, Old Dad and members of Shri Devi Mandir GHFI provided relief to the citizens of Guyana by sending 16,000 face masks, distributing 2,500 food hampers, and providing 2000 children with meals”. These relief measures were praised by community leaders in Guyana and made the news in several papers as well as TV coverage.
Paying tribute, granddaughter Vidya, said: ”Old Dad is loved and adored by his Dharam Patni Oomriah Seeratan and his bountiful loving family. His Dharam Patni’s life intertwined with his life and their bond was unbreakable. They were inseparable till death. Together, they built a meaningful life filled with laughter and love. He illuminated the lives of many with his infectious smile. He left the world with the Lord’s names on his lips and the Lord’s prayers resonating through him: ’Om Namah Shivaay’. Old Dad lived to be 86 years. But in the Hindu philosophy, those united with the almighty never truly die. Only the body dies. The soul lives on”.
One of Pt. Laldharry’s proudest moment was in August 1995 when he presided over the ordain of his son Pt. Tillack as a Vyas, reading his first yajna. As he advanced in age, Dharamacharya handed over he torch to Pt. Tillack to lead Sri Devi Mandir and Shiva Shakti mandir. Pt. Tillack has dedicated to fulfilling his father’s legacy. He is proudly doing so on a wider scale globally. He is ably supported by the extended family and Chelas in America and by supporters in Guyana as well.
The Covid pandemic has made it difficult to attend wakes and funeral that is an old age tradition in the Indian or Hindu community. Nevertheless, his beloved chelas and other pandits and community leaders fondly remember him and praise his contribution towards the development and institutionalization of Hinduism in New York.
Various people described him as being affectionate, pious, humble and faithful to his religion and his people. He was held in good esteem and was viewed as an inspiration to many. I remember him for his smile and mannerism in welcoming guests whether in the mandir or at the home of his children, and I also remember for his soft, gentle voice and warm hospitality. His deeds and acts of kindness would be remembered for a long time.