Seventeen years ago, he began learning Sanskrit – an ancient Indian language which was being taught at the Indian Culture Centre in Georgetown. And not long after, he began passing that knowledge on to Hindu leaders across the country.
The Hindu religious texts – the Bhagavad Gita, the Vedas, the Mahabharata and the Ramayan – are all written in Sanskrit.
Mr. Purshotam Persaud Shivraj, now 82 years old, or as he says “82 and a half,” began learning the primary sacramental language in 2001, following his retirement from an Accounting profession which spanned several decades.
Shivraj said that he opted to learn the language to have a better understanding of the texts and then to teach this to others.
“Sanskrit is the mother language. It is usually said to be the language of the Gods. Lord Krishna spoke in the Sanskrit language in the Bhagavad Gita; and all of our rituals, all the Pujas, the weddings, all Hindu rituals, when the priests chant, it’s in Sanskrit. They don’t chant any other language, but Sanskrit,” he explained.
While the texts have been translated, the teacher believes that “no English Language translation can bring out the full meaning of a Sanskrit word.”
He went on to give examples. The word ‘Dharma,’ he said, is one which is often misconstrued when translated. “Dharma, depending on the context in which it is used, can mean duty, religion, righteousness, state of being and so many other meanings. But when people translate that word into English, they would just use one of them.”
On the other hand, when a person knows the language and is able to read the texts by themselves, they are better able to understand the teachings, the elder man said.
The retired Accountant said that learning Sanskrit also helped him to cope with the loss of his dear wife who died suddenly on New Year’s Day of 2001.
His learning, he said, was made easier by the little Hindi he remembered from his much younger days in the Mahaica River.
He wrote his first Sanskrit Examination in 2001 at the age of 65, administered by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan – an Indian educational trust out of Mumbai, India. The Scholar also wrote the Bhagavad Gita examinations administered at the Cultural Centre.
“From the time I started and finished the first Sanskrit Examination, the same teacher at the Cultural Centre, Guruji Bala Krishna, asked me to teach. He sort of saw in me the qualities of a teacher,” Mr. Shivraj proudly stated.
That would be the start of his second stint at teaching. With his first class of ten students, the elder man began teaching Pandits from across the country. He taught the levels of the language as he wrote the exams.
“As I passed one level, I taught that; as I moved on to another level, I taught that. I was teaching at the Indian Cultural Centre, the Mahatma Gandhi Organization, the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha (GHDS) and the Pandits’ Council and then in Berbice at the No. 73 Mandir,” Shivraj said.
In 2006, he wrote the last level of the exams, which he said is called Kovida.
To date, the teacher has taught a number of Pandits who have now began teaching the language to others in their district.
“I get a lot of satisfaction in passing my knowledge on to others who are eager to learn,” Mr. Shivraj said.