PROFILE of the WEEK
By Dr. Dhanpaul Narine
Pandit Narayan Datt Bisnauth has served others all his life. His easy-going manner and charming disposition have endeared him to all. But behind his smile lie a serious scholar and thinker. Pt. Bisnauth is versed in the Hindu scriptures. He uses his knowledge to bring people together so they can learn and share in the teachings of the sacred texts.
Pt. Bisnauth was born in Blairmont in the West Bank of the Berbice River, in Guyana. His mother was Sumintra and his dad was Bisnauth Maraj Tiwari. Bisnauth Maraj was from Bath estate while Sumintra was from Number 63 Village in the Corentyne. The young Bisnauth went to Blairmont Lutheran School up to the Fourth Form. He enjoyed General Knowledge and Jimmy Wajid Alli stood out as a strict teacher.
In 1965, Pt. Bisnauth left for Port Mourant Training School where he learned to use metals. He then proceeded to the Government Technical Institute in Georgetown for further training in electrical engineering. He did well and was offered a job in Linden where he spent over a year.
In 1970, Pt. Bisnauth went to La Bonne Intention sugar estate where he worked as an electrician. In 1974, he tied the knot with the beautiful Phulmat. She was from Leguan and the marriage has produced two sons, Krishna and Mahendra.
Pt. Bisnauth continued his studies at the Technical Institute and in 1976 he was appointed as a senior Technician at the University of Guyana (UG). He was attached to the Faculty of Technology. This was a prestigious position and Pt. Bisnauth was making a positive difference in the lives of his students. He was teaching Electrical Engineering and was at UG until 1984.
The University arranged for Pt. Bisnauth to receive further training and he proceeded in 1976 to the North East London Polytechnic in England where he completed his degree. This was a great achievement and he was able to make friends from various countries.
But throughout it all Pandit Bisnauth was also a practicing Hindu priest. How did this happen? He said that he became a Pandit in September, 1977. He learned the rituals since 1958 when he was helping his father Pandit Bisnauth Maraj Tiwari. Pt. Bisnauth’s grandfather, Ragoonauth Tiwari, was from Bihar, in India, and he was also a Pandit.
Pt. Bisnauth was a good student and in a short space of time he was able to branch out on his own and officiate at various Hindu ceremonies. When Pt. Jadonath left Guyana for New York this created an opening and Pt. Bisnauth moved up to the position as priest-in-charge of the Cummings Lodge Hindu Temple. He became the religious advisor to the Hindu Society at UG from 1981 to 1984.
In 1984, Pt. Bisnauth’s life was to change in a most dramatic way. He boarded a plane for New York to start anew with his family. He found New York to be a different society and it would take him some time to adjust. He stayed in Richmond Hill with his sister Merlin and her husband Isardat Ramdehal.
Liberty Avenue was much different than it is today. There were only a few stores and the immigrant population was much less. In due course, Pt. Bisnauth was able to form associations. He met with the other Pandits that welcomed him. He became the priest at the Lakshmi Mandir but he stepped down to allow Pandit Oudit Narayan Sharma to run the temple.
By 1987, the Hindu community was growing. There were Pandit Swasti Doobay and his father Dharamacharya Arjune Doobay and other senior Pandits, including Hardowar Panday and Chandrica Persaud, among others. Pt. Bisnauth was able to find employment in the electrical field but eventually he decided to devote his time in full to the priesthood. He has had no regrets. He has given selflessly to the community, traveling far and wide, to spread Hindu teachings of peace and love.
Pt. Bisnauth has involved himself and contributed to many of the activities in the community. These include the Phagwah Parade, the Gandhi Peace March, Diwali programs, and other events. He contributes regularly to ‘Radio Mandir’ that is run by Jas Persaud on Sundays. Pt. Bisnauth has started classes in the Ramayana and the Gita. Aunty Baby and Sister Chaan Jamoona requested him to teach at the Senior Center and he was happy to accept.
He taught the Gita in 2010 and after five years the students were able to graduate. Pt. Bisnauth was awarded the title of Acharya. But there were other awards that came his way, including that as ‘Dharamacharya of the Senior Center.’ In 2016, Pt. Bisnauth read beautifully at ‘Ramayana in the Park’ that was sponsored by Ramayana in the Park Inc.
Pt. Bisnauth views the future with excitement. ‘I would like to continue with my priestly duties and it would be good if our community can learn Hindi and Sanskrit. I have started classes in the Upanishads, thanks to the generosity of Bhai Khargi. The classes are held at his residence.’ He thanks his parents for guiding him on the right path. Later, there were Pandit Oudit Narayan Sharma, Dharamacharya Pandit Arjune Doobay and Dr. Satish Prakash who played important roles in Pt. Bisnauth’s life, and for which he is grateful.
Pt. Bisnauth would like the young Pandits to take their Sanskrit and Hindi lessons seriously and to live a decent, disciplined, and moral life. The need for good conduct applies to young people everywhere. Pt. Bisnauth likes tennis, cricket and baseball. His favorite cricketers are Rohan Kanhai, Alvin Kallicharran, Clive Lloyd, Roy Fredericks, and Viv Richards, among others. He is also an admirer of the late table-tennis Caribbean champion, Anand Sookram. Incidentally, Pt. Bisnauth’s brother, Raikha Bisnauth Tiwari was the table-tennis champion for Berbice in 1965.
Pt. Bisnauth’s birthday is on the 3rd of November. As he approaches another milestone, we salute him for his contributions to academia, religion and community service. He is a true stalwart, unassuming and dedicated to his family and community. We wish Pt. Bisnauth and his family all the best in the future.