Secretary General of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha and a man who carved out a legacy for himself as a fighter, Satnarayan Maharaj, 88, has died.
He died at 12.01 am Saturday, eight days after he suffered a stroke.
Maharaj had been warded at Medical Associates in St Joseph in critical condition and yesterday his son Vijay Maharaj announced that he had been taken off support systems.
In the lead-up to his passing, over 100 pundits and devotees gathered at seven mandirs across Trinidad for pujas, havans and jaaps, as it was becoming clear that Maharaj may not have had long again to live.
The devotees chanted the Rudri, recited the Maha Mrityunjaya mantra and read from the Gita, chapters devoted on the journey after death.
A statement by Radio and TV Jaagriti said that Maharaj passed peacefully in his sleep.
"We are extremely grateful to everyone for their dedication of prayers and offerings of support in varying forms and fashion," the statement said.
"As per Hindu traditions, Sri Satnarayan Maharaj was under the protection of Tulsi Leaves and he also drank holy water from the most revered Triveni River. In his dying moments, he clasped a copy of the Hanuman Chalisa which he always kept in his possession when he was alive."
The statement went on to say that his passing was "entirely free of any pain and suffering and was a smooth transition from this mortal world".
Maharaj was a devotee of Lord Hanuman which in Hinduism is the god of strength, which matched his life of fighting for the Hindu community and the East Indian community.
The statement said: "We, therefore, have no doubt that none other than Prabhu Sri Ram and his Chief Servant, Lord Hanuman attended upon Sri Satnarayan Maharaj to take him on to his new journey to their heavenly abode."
Three days of mourning have been declared in his honour and his family said they will announce funeral arrangements within 24 hours.
The tribute paid to Maharaj in the statement continued: "Satnarayan Maharaj was a true fighter for the betterment of Hindus, East Indians and by extension, the entire society. Indeed he has achieved immense success in his battles for our enhanced welfare. Each and every one of us identify with him on an individual level. His legacy will certainly continue through all of us and the collective starting point will be the manner in which we honour him at this time."
Maharaj's last days were blessed with prayers from Hindu and other religious leaders.
Among them were the Dharmarcharya, Pundit Dr Rampersad Parasram, Catholic Archbishop Jason Gordon, the Abbot of Mt St Benedict, representatives of the Seven Day Adventist Church, Pastor Clive Dottin and the president of the Islamic Front Movement, Umar Abdullah.
“There has been an overwhelming amount of support coming from the Hindu, and non-Hindu community as well,” Pundit Rishi said on Friday.
Opposition Member of Parliament for Princes Town, Barry Padarath was among the first to respond, telling the family that they are not alone and would have the support of his party in their time of grief.
Devotees described Maharaj as the "godfather of the Hindu community" in Trinidad and Tobago but his reach spanned well beyond that community alone.
He was awarded the Chaconia Medal (Gold), the nation's second-highest award, in 2010.
He fought a legal battle in 2006 to change the name of the nation's highest award from the Trinity Cross because he argued that the Christian symbol of a cross did not represent the country's multi-religious nature.
It was later changed to 'The Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago".
The SDMS under him modernised 42 schools and built five secondary schools as well as 12 early childhood education centres.
He revived the observance of Phagwa and was instrumental in the creation of the Indian Arrival Day holiday and annual celebrations.
He led former weekly newspapers, the Bomb and the Blast and fought in court for a license to open Radio Jaagriti and TV Jaagriti, dedicated to the Hindu faith.
He was no stranger to controversy because of his strong views.
He fought with late cultural icon Ras Shorty I over a calypso, "Indrani", which Maharaj insisted was degrading of East Indian women.
He also took issue with Shorty I's calypso "Shanti Om" which Maharaj insisted was trampling upon the sanctity of the Hindu religion by the use of sacred words.
He was also on the other end of the calypso spectrum, with some calypsonians chiding him in their lyrics.
Among them was Cro Cro's parang 'Dougla Wedding', with the words, "I want a wedding, a dougla wedding, I want to see Sat Maharaj frowning".
Earlier this year, he came under investigation for sedition following statements he made on air during his TV show, "The Maha Sabha Strikes Back".
Among other things, he described Tobagonians as "lazy people who don't want to work" during the programme.
Officers of the Special Investigations Unit executed a search warrant at Radio Jaagriti for evidence in relation to the audio-visual clip which aired on Tuesday April 16.
He challenged the Police Service in court, claiming that the search warrant was not read to him.
High Court Judge Ronnie Boodoosingh upheld the judicial review lawsuit brought by Maharaj and his company, saying that they were entitled to challenge the issue and that the police's decision was unlawful.
As part of the decision, Boodoosingh gave Police Commissioner Gary Griffith seven days to provide a copy of the warrant and have the original available for inspection by Maharaj and the company's lawyers.
Maharaj would later challenge the Sedition Law in court, a matter that was not concluded before he died.
He drew the ire of many in 2017 over his stance against the outlaw of child marriages.
Maharaj had said that a team of lawyers representing the SDMS was looking at the Miscellaneous Provision (Marriage) Act, No.8 of 2017 to see where it breached the Hindu religion’s right to practice and was to advise on what action to take against the State.
The law was eventually passed despite his short campaign against it.
In 2011, Maharaj was hailed as the most powerful Hindu outside of India by then-government minister Chandresh Sharma during Maharaj’s 80th birthday celebration.
Another government minister in 2011, Rudranath Indarsingh said Maharaj gave a voice to not only Hindus but to a wide cross-section of the national community and reshaped socio-economic and political thinking in the country.
“Governments fear this man in this country, it’s a good sign,” Sharma said of Maharaj in 2011.
Maharaj was also a long-standing columnist with the Trinidad Guardian newspaper.
Radio and TV Jaagriti ran a three-hour programme on his death from midnight to 3 am Saturday, receiving calls from members of the public, the Hindu community and members of Parliament.
Announcers said they will continue to provide updates over the next three days leading up to the funeral.
He was born on April 17, 1931.
by Sampson Nanton