Pundit Jankie Persad Sharma, a pioneer of the Hindu religion and culture in Trinidad and Tobago and Canada, has died. Credited with having begun the Diwali celebrations on the Caribbean island, he was also responsible for the building of several prominent temples and was known for organizing trips to India for the diaspora. The 80-year-old Sharma, who had migrated to Canada in 1989, passed away in Mississagua, Ontario, Thursday. His funeral arrangements will be announced this coming week.
Sharma’s grandfather, originally from what is now India’s Madhya Pradesh state, had come to Trinidad and Tobago in 1910. Both his father, and later he and his brother, followed priestly vocations. By 1944, Sharma was conducting public prayers and rituals on his own.
He married Badewattee Persad in 1962 and they had six children. In 1971, he began to open Hindu temples and laid the first cornerstone of the Matilda Moruga temple, after which he laid the foundation of three more temples in Princes Town, Barrackpore and Rio Claro. In Trinidad alone, he officiated at more than 4,000 weddings. As his friends have argued, Trinidad has become richer in Hindu traditions, culture, and spirituality by the presence and teachings of Pundit Jankie Persad Sharma.
In 1983, in response to the growing interest from Trinidadians who relied on listening to radio programs and viewing Indian films to satisfy their longing for connection to their distant homeland, Sharma organized his first tour to India for Trinidadian migrants. The increased demand from the public to visit the land of their ancestors, their temples, and religious leaders like Sathya Sai Baba, grew steadily out of his initiatives. With the growing Hindu awareness, the first Diwali Nagar was organized in 1986 in Chaguanas, and Sharma was asked to deliver the opening address. This has since become an annual event in Trinidad, which draws not only Hindus, but many people from all over the world who wish to celebrate and experience Diwali.
Trinidadian Hindus, who began to migrate to Canada, the United States and Great Britain in the 1970s and onwards, used to call Sharma to visit them and perform their rituals and ceremonies. Sharma and his family migrated to Canada in 1989 and settled in Ontario. There he laid down the foundation for Satya Jyoti Cultural Sabha, and continued to minister to the community, creating a visibility for Hinduism in the fabric of Canadian society.
For his contribution and service to the Mississauga community, he received commendations, certificates and honors from all levels of the government in Canada.