"The Dharm Shala: From Pandit Ramsaroop Maraj to Harry Saran Ramsaroop"
History This Week
By Tota C. Mangar
May 3, 2007
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Harry Saran Ramsaroop emerged as administrator of the Dharm Shala following the death of his father, Pandit Ramsaroop Maraj in October, 1950.
In his new role Harry Ramsaroop quickly realized that it was no easy task attempting to follow in his father's footsteps. He needed the confidence of the public in order to garner much-needed financial assistance for ongoing projects and the maintenance of the institutions, something which the founder Pandit Ramsaroop Maraj did with remarkable ease during his lifetime.
Immediately, the wooden Dharm Shala building was in dire need of repairs. To this end a Dharm Shala Building Repair Fund Committee was formed under the chairmanship of the then Mayor of Georgetown, Mr Rahaman B. Gajraj, and simultaneously help was solicited from the Government and in particular from Mr M B Laing, head of the Local Welfare Department of the Colony.
After careful consideration a plan of total reconstruction was pursued. The old three-storey structure was dismantled and in its place a well-designed ferro-concrete building measuring 86 feet by 44 feet, was constructed at a total cost of $40,000. This new Dharm Shala building was declared open by Governor Sir Alfred Savage on 3rd October 1953. It had the capacity to accommodate 100 persons comfortably and included most of the conveniences of modern civilized living. In the meantime the Society continued to pay attention to the spiritual needs of its Christian inmates and it was no surprise that a new St Francis Chapel was constructed through generous contributions from private individuals and business houses. The building was erected on six-foot reinforced concrete blocks and was formally rededicated and opened by the most Reverend, Dr Allan John Knight, Archbishop of the West Indies, on 20th July, 1954 in the presence of a representative gathering of citizens. The opening ceremony was described by the Daily Argosy as follows: - "His Grace the Archbishop of the West Indies last evening re-dedicated the restored Chapel of St Francis at 140 King Edward Street, Albouystown - a Chapel that will serve as the spiritual sanctuary for inmates of the Dharm Shala as well as for those residing in the district."The Chapel, though maintained by the Hindu Religious Society, was placed in full charge of the Anglican Diocese of Guyana. Services were then conducted by priests attached to the St Phillip's Vicarage, including Reg. Canon, L.J. Rowe, Father Welton Ward, Father E Herdson and Rev Canon H. Worlledge and other reverend gentlemen.
The Chapel was certainly a valuable addition to the institution. Indeed, its dedication stone aptly illustrates the situation as follows:- "To the greater glory of God this Chapel of St Francis was rebuilt by the Hindu Religious Society through the good offices of Mr Harry S. Ramsaroop and dedicated to the worship of God by Dr Alan John Knight, D.D. C.M.G., Archbishop of the West Indies on 20th July, 1954."
Harry Saran Ramsaroop and the Hindu Religious Society continued to work unceasingly for the improvement of amenities at the Dharm Shala. Members of the public contributed generously to the Building Fund and a Government loan was secured for the construction of yet another building in late 1954. This new three-storey building was declared open by the Honourable F.D. Jakeway, Officer Administer-ing the government, on 10th June 1955. The newly-arrived Governor, Sir Patrick Ren-ison, paid a visit to the institution on 11th May 1956. He was so impressed with developments there that he made a public appeal for continued assistance to this Home of Benevolence. With an increasing infant population in the Albouys-town area, the Superintendent of the Dharm Shala, Mr Ramsaroop and the Hindu Religious Society felt that there was need for expansion to the kindergarten school. As a result, he negotiated with the Ministry of Education and other relevant bodies and extension work was subsequently effected to the building. A dispensary was also built to serve residents of the Dharm Shala.
Both the school and dispensary were completed by June 1960. On these recent additions to the institution The Evening Post of 22nd June, 1960 in an editorial, reported:
"Another inspiring chapter was written in the History of the Dharm Shala yesterday, when the Minister of Health and Housing, the Hon. Janet Jagan, declared open an extension to the organization's nursery school and ispensary. According to Mrs. Jagan the dispensary is Mr Harry Ramsaroop's dream come true; it would not be surprising if it is just one of his dreams come true, for Mr Ramsaroop is surely walking in the footsteps and keeping up the tradition of his father in dedicating his life to the service of humanity." The editorial continued: "It is encouraging to know that there are men and religious and social organizations which are not prepared to sit down and leave the job to government alone, but are coming forward in the cause of their less fortunate fellowmen and putting their shoulders to the wheel. They fully bear out the contention that Government alone cannot mould a nation."
By 1960 it was quite evident that Harry Saran Ramsaroop had emerged as the live-wire of his great charitable institution. Despite the numerous demands of the Dharm Shala this gentleman still found the time to be associated with related social activities external to his organization. For example, he served as a Notary Probation Officer, a member of the Governing Body of the YMCA, Chairman of the Discharged Prisoners' Aid Committee and a member of both the Committee of Prisons and the Reconstructed Printing Industry Wages Council.
The Dharm Shala was honoured with a visit from her Royal Highness, Princess Royal on January 30, 1960. The Princess, at the time, was on a five-day official tour of the Colony of British Guiana. After being warmly welcomed and garlanded in the presence of leading Government dignitaries and other prominent members of the community, she was taken on a guided tour of the institution and it's Nursery School. The Princess subsequently presented a signed portrait of herself to the Dharm Shala through the then Governor of the Colony, Sir Ralph Grey.
While there has been no large-scale construction work at the institution within recent times, there is certainly ongoing maintenance and repair work to the impressive network of ten buildings in existence. The Dharm Shala is the permanent home of all its residents and some of these inmates have spent over twenty years of their lives there. The administrative aspect continues to be serviced by Harry Saran Ramsaroop and his immediate family. In keeping with the rules of the Society, committee meetings are conducted quarterly and the books are audited at the end of the Society's financial year by certified auditors. Harry Saran and a daughter are full-time voluntary workers of this institution.
The Superintendent of the Dharm Shala is proud that his dedicated service is appreciated by those to whom it is extended and acknowledged by many others in the wider society. He himself is the recipient of the following prestigious awards for dedicated social service:
(a) Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) as part of Queen Elizabeth II's New Year's Honours List, 1960.
(b) Guyana's Medal of Service (M.S.) in 1974.
(c) Guyana's Cacique Crown of Honour (C.C.H) in 1990
The History of the Dharm Shala is integrally linked with the Ramsaroop family from the time of its founder, Pandit Ramsaroop Maraj, and later with the emergence of his son, Harry Saran. This strong family inspirational chain with a great sense of compassion, lost a key link in August 1990, with the passing of Mrs Anna Callie Ramsaroop after 54 years of blissful marriage life. This loss was a serious setback, since over the years she was an ardent supporter of her husband, especially in his demanding role at the Dharm Shala. Fortunately, their daughters have risen to the occasion quite admirably to ensure the noble work continues.
Indeed, one has to agree with the Reverend Derek H Goodrich, former Anglican Dean of Georgetown, when he described the work at the Dharm Shala as "a labour of love aimed at relieving the sufferings of destitute and homeless people."
Some views on the Dharm Shala
Ever since its establishment many prominent figures have visited the Dharm Shala and have expressed their appreciation as to the crucial role this institution has been playing in Guyanese Society. The following are a few of those comments:-
1. Sir Alfred Savage, then Governor of British Guiana, in October 1953: "The most impressive social contribution my wife and I have yet seen in British Guiana."
2. Mr. F.D. Jakeway, Chief Secretary of British Guiana in July, 1954 "It has been a privilege and an education to visit this Institution".
3. Sir Patrick Renison, Governor of British Guiana, in May, 1956. "It was an experience which we shall long remember of my wife and myself to be shown all around the many activities of the Dharm Shala. We join all those who so greatly admire the charitable, educational and religious work which the Hindu Religious Society is doing for young and old of all races and creeds".
4. Mr Delmar R Carlson, United States Ambassador to British Guiana, in July 1965: "This evening Mr Ramsaroop conducted us on a tour of the facilities of the Dharm Shala. The mission which he and his family are carrying out so ably for those who have no home in the community is impressive. The spirit which prompts service of this kind is exceptional and inspiriting. With every good wish for the continued success of a truly good work".
5. Sir David Rose, Governor General of Guyana, in August, 1962: "It is inspiring and edifying for us to behold in this fine Dharm Shala … a living, an enduring and an expanding work of practical charity and home which refuses to recognize any barriers of race or religion. This is the really measure of charity, be it Christian, be it Hindu, be it Muslim. May it ever be so at the Dharm Shala".
6. Sir Kenneth Stoby, Chancellor of the Judiciary, in November, 1967: "Once again after many years I have been offered the opportunity of visiting the Dharm Shala. I was astonished to see how many improvements were made and how this great work of charity was maintained. Mr Ramsaroop is to be congratulated for the sacrifice he is making in carrying on this noble work."
7. Sir Edward Luckhoo, Chancellor of the Judiciary in July, 1969: "It is difficult to probe the depth of frustration which the destitute have to bear. But after a visit to the Dharm Shala I am left with a vivid impression that an abundance of faith and hope abide within its walls. May what is being done continue to prosper."
8. Mr Spencer M King, US Ambassador to Guyana in January, 1974: "The work being done at this wonderful institution is greatly inspiring and all too little known. Everyone should be eternally grateful for what the Dharm Shala is doing and for the dedicated leadership of the Ramsaroop family in their magnificent undertaking".
Through the dedication and determination of the Ramsaroop family the Dharm Shala or "Home of Benevolence for All Races" is certain to continue providing valuable service to our country's poor and needy senior folks as we march on in the twenty-first century of ours.