Pandit Reepu Daman Persaud was the most popular and respected pandit in Guyana and the Caribbean and among the Guyanese and Indo-Caribbean diasporas. He was the quintessential Hindu leader. But he fought for non-Hindus as well, especially during the period of the oppressive PNC dictatorship. He was a front-line soldier in the struggle for the restoration of democracy. He was seen as a true patriot taking on the British and the rigging of elections. His spirituality touched the lives of hundreds of thousands, Hindus as well as non-Hindus. He held no animosity for anyone, not even political enemies. When basic items necessary for the propagation of Hindu religious services were banned, Pt Reepu was in the front line fighting the ban and after the restoration of democracy in 1992, he did not seek vengeance.
Pandit Reep, as we fondly called him, was an icon held in high esteem in North America and Trinidad where Hindu leaders have been speaking fondly of him and tributes have been pouring in on Indian radio stations. Pt Reep’s sermons attracted huge audiences when he was in the prime of his life. I recall attending his religious discourses (Bhagwats) in Port Mourant during the 1970s and later in New York and Trinidad during the 1980s and 1990s to packed congregations. I also read about the huge gatherings that thronged his services in Canada and Suriname. He knew the scriptures well, so much so that he did not even need to read from them – he could chant verses without looking at the pages.
Pandit Reepu and I came into close contact in New York in 1987 when I served as the organizing Secretary (Prem Misir was Chair) for the Fourth Conference of Indians in the Diaspora at Columbia University to commemorate the 150th. Anniversary of Indian Arrival to Guyana.
Pandit-ji was familiar with my writings in international publications highlighting the dictatorship and he attended one of our EIDSC’s meetings where he applauded my political activism for the restoration of democracy in Guyana and for playing a leading role in organizing the Indian conference. Since then, we remained in close contact. Whenever I visited Guyana (at least once a year since 1987), I made it my duty to call upon him for a political exchange. Also, we spoke often on the phone and I visited his mandir for darshan on several occasions. In addition, after he became a Minister, I visited his office at the Ministry of Agriculture or at the Presidential Secretariat to discuss political affairs and the state of Hinduism in Guyana. We last met in August at his home when I brought visitors from Mauritius to Guyana. Prior to that, we met in October 2011 again at his home when he invited my guests from India visiting Guyana for tea.
It was less than a month ago that I spoke with his daughter to inform her that I will be visiting Guyana with a delegation for the 175th Anniversary of Indian Arrival in early May and we would like to meet the esteemed religious leader.
Everyone I took to meet Pt Reep was in awe of level of intellect and his mastery of Sanskrit and Hindi, as well as the lingua franca of indentured Indians, Bhojpuri. He was very articulate and knowledgeable about various subjects. We talked a lot about our experiences in Fiji, Mauritius, India, Trinidad, etc.
Those who met him recently are saddened to learn of his passing. They recall him as a simple, pious and kind person with an abiding compassion for others, who especially liked to help the poor.
Indeed, Pandit Reep was an extraordinary and deeply religious individual. He came from a very religious family with his father being a pandit and the husbands of his sisters also serving as pandits.
Pt Reep left deep long lasting impressions. He will never be forgotten. Indian national Yashpal Soi, who was honoured as a freedom fighter two years ago, viewed Pt Reep as an ascetic and pious individual. I once attended a service where Pandit Jadonath of the Shri Lakshmi Narayan Mandir (Richmond Hill) spoke glowingly of Pt Reep, crediting him for his growth as a Pandit. Pt Reep also trained hundreds of others to become Pandits and they also spoke glowingly of him in NY. “There can be no replacement for Pandit-ji,” they all said.
And Pt Reep helped several religious organizations to obtain not-for-profit status in Guyana and enabled several charitable organizations to get their donations cleared at customs avoiding undue, unnecessary, complex red tape. On many occasions, leaders of Hindu religious organizations approached me to speak with Pt Reep to help them overcome red tape at customs. My visit to his office or speaking to him on the phone did wonders as Pandit-ji did not disappoint, and several groups were helped through this process. No one has done more to promote or defend Hinduism in Guyana and virtually no one was as knowledgeable as he was of the Hindu scriptures during his era.
Hinduism in Guyana won’t be the same again without Pt Reep, and the country is all the poorer.
The public should be grateful to the family for producing such an individual. My heartfelt condolences to Maharajin Aunty Indra, who was always very kind during visits to the home, their two very charming daughters and their son. Pandit-ji will be sorely missed.