Introduction to the Hindi Language

19th century Bhagavad Gita Manuscript

One of the main barriers presented by colonialism for early Guyanese Hindus was their linguistic isolation from their Hindi roots. After the first generation of indentured servants, there were no direct lines to Indian culture because of geographical distance and colonial insularity. English was the official language, and the only language taught in schools. Hindi survived in part through the hybrid creole language spoken by lay Guyanese, which was a mix of English and Hindi words and constructions. 

However, this intentional linguistic and geographic separation resulted in a separation from traditional teachings as well. All spiritual texts were either in Sanskrit or Hindi, and thus to the majority of Guyanese Hindu’s, the spiritual knowledge within these texts was inaccessible. Satya explains that Guru movements, in their efforts to spread the doctrine of personal worship in the Caribbean, found that the language barrier was the most important obstacle to self-discovery. Thus there developed many movements aimed at promoting the Hindi language among the Guyanese, including the establishment of a few secular elementary and high schools by various saints in Guyana’s capital, Georgetown, which taught Hindi as a part of their curriculum. There was also much important work done in translating the sacred Hindu texts, most notably the Bhagavad Geta, into English, in order to enable the masses to directly learn from these texts. This was done to provide understanding of the rituals already performed by devotees. Satya compares this activity to modern day Evangelical activity, describing that inexpensive translations of Hindu texts were made and given out for free among the Guyanese public.

Satya recalls that in her own childhood, an elderly woman, who was not a saint but rather a devoted seeker, would travel around from village to village teaching the Hindi chants and prayers. Satya was lucky enough to study under her, and learned a number of basic mantras that gave her an early introduction into the guru teachings. However, she had to memorize all of these mantras because the older woman did not explain their meanings. Satya stressed that she never inquired about the meanings because to do so was impolite. Inquisitiveness was discouraged even in this atmosphere. Thus, despite the presence of the guru teachings that stressed independent worship, strict adherence to religious rules and practices was strong in Satya’s childhood.