Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 1st 2014 Contents YVONNE BABOOLAL
More than a century after Jankie Per-
sad Sharma, born in 1894, crossed the
Kala Pani on the Sutlej to come to T&T
to work as an indentured immigrant,
his great-grandson Rajiv Ramkissoon
still holds him in awe and reverence.
Sharma became the second Dharma-
charya (highest Hindu spiritual leader)
in T&T and began a family tradition of
pundits, but Ramkissoon chose a different
career path, in information technology.
He went to pundit school for one day,
East-West Corridor, and he attended
South East Port-of-Spain Secondary
school, in an area known for gang rivalry,
But Ramkissoon has, however, retained
essential aspects of his Indian heritage,
so jealously preserved by his great-grand-
He learnt Hindi and can speak the
language almost fluently, sings bhajans
and is a strict vegetarian.
An accounts executive with Guardian
Media Ltd, on the occasion of Indian
Arrival Day, he pulled out records of his
great-grandfather and proudly told his
story and the legacy he left his descen-
Born in Uttar Pradesh
120 years ago
One hundred and twenty years ago,
Sharma was born in a small Village in
Uttar Pradesh, India.
At the age of 18, he was on the Sutlej
ship heading to T&T to work as an
Sharma was assigned by the colonial
government to a sugar estate in Trinidad,
where he worked for five years.
While he worked as an indentured
immigrant and lived in the barracks, his
spiritual ardor was undiminished.
While he toiled in the sugar cane fields,
Sharma served his community as a
According to records, he "was highly
educated as a pandit in India and brought
with him the principal scriptural texts."
He was awarded the title of Swami
and called Swamiji, the highest spiritual
After he finished his five-year term
of indentureship, Sharma settled in Debe
in south Trinidad.
It was in this rural region settled largely
by Indo-Trinidadians that he found his
bride, Gangadaye and began his family.
He fathered five children, including
Deokienanan Sharma, president of the
National Council of Indian Culture.
Ramkissoon s mother, Radhica, was
the daughter of one of Sharma s chil-
Thirst for spirituality
Family commitments did not lessen
Sharma s thirst for spirituality.
An ardent Hindu, he built several tem-
ples and schools in the South, introduced
Hindi religious festivals like the Ramleela,
taught Sanskrit and Hindi, and composed
Bhajans and Kirtans as part of his island-
wide outreach programme.
He "conducted thousands of yagnas"
and "had thousands of disciples."
"He possessed a musical voice and
devotees became enchanted by his mel-
lifluous rendition of scripture, Shlokas,
Bhajans and Kirtans alike."
He was invited to several important
state functions, including the first Inde-
Sharma was awarded the Humming-
bird Gold Medal. He passed away in 1975.
Ramkisson said, in a bid to continue
the family s tradition of pundits, he was
sent, at age 16, to pundit school.
"I stayed only one day," he said, the
kurtah and black pants his mother made
him wear still stamped in his memory.
"Being a pundit is something you have
to be serious about. It s a lifelong com-
"You have to be 100 per cent true in
what you are doing. I felt I wasn t ready
as yet," he explained.
Hinduism was a major part of his life,
though, and he was schooled at the Don
Miguel Hindu School and at the Swaha
temple in Aranguez, where he learnt
Ramkisson sings bhajans, recites
mantras and gave up eating meat at age
He loves all kinds of food, including
Chinese, Italian and Arabian, he said.
His parents are ardent Hindus. His
father Indarjit Ramkissoon is president
of the Om Shakti Mandalee temple, and
his mother is heavily involved in temple
Ramkisson s exposure to a different
type of lifestyle and culture while attend-
ing South East Port-of-Spain Secondary
school between George and Nelson
streets did not change him.
"Before or after school, I would see
a delivery van being robbed, or blood on
the pavement from someone who was
shot," he added.
His career path took him to the School
of Business and Computer Science where
he pursued a degree in information tech-
Ramkissoon said he has never been
to India and would love to go.
As for carrying on the pundit tradition
started by his great-grandfather, he said,
"Maybe later on in life."
June 1, 2014 www.guardian.co.tt Sunday Guardian Jankie Persad Sharma...
My dada from
Rajiv Ramkissoon with his wife Fahreena.
Rajiv and Fahreena Ramkissoon's daughter Anu and son Arav.
Jankie Persad Sharma
Links Archive May 31st 2014 June 2nd 2014 Navigation Previous Page Next Page