Controversies Within Caribbean Hinduism

There arose much opposition within the Hindu community in the British colonies over this consolidation of religious authority. This opposition took the form of local movements, including the Arya Samaj movement in Guyana, which advocated for fire sacrifice as a concession to Christian critiques about Hindu image worship. However, because many Indo-Caribbeans lacked resources of religious knowledge, major reform movements typically came from within India, and in many cases took the form of guru worship.  Many Gurus, such as Swami Maharaj who visited Guyana in 1917, opposed empty ritual practice in favor of a communal style of worship. These leaders believed that religious enlightenment lay in a personal connection with the sacred texts, and thus a large part of their reform was in Hindi education. Guru movements also attempted to destroy the pandit monopoly on lingual knowledge by translating the Vedic texts, most notably the Bhagavat Gita. This allowed for a personal relationship with the spirituality behind those texts, and consequently provided a more intimate form of worship. Hinduism under the guru movements was characterized by a strong congregational community.

Among the guru movements, there was a simultaneous effort to both spread Hindu theology as well as to undermine the monopolistic spiritual authority of the pandits. Devotees no longer had to visit religious leaders for spiritual questions, but could look directly for divine knowledge in the texts themselves. The various guru movements opposed pandit authority because pandit authority restricted a devotee’s ability to progress spiritually by confining the devotees to strictly ritual pursuits. Satya compared the distribution of translated Hindu texts in Guyana to the emergence of the internet today. With translations, devotees could now form their own spiritual ideas, and begin to create their own path. The role of the guru in these movements was to provide a divine example for selfless actions and detachment from material desires.