Saturday, June 13, 2015

“I Have a Dream”: The Temple and Community Center in West Auckland - the untold tale of dream of a Reluctant and an Unsung Hero.

“I Have a Dream”: The Temple and Community Centre in West Auckland - the untold tale of dream of a Reluctant and an Unsung Hero.

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Shri Ram Mandir and Community  Center was officially inaugurated, after a week-long rituals of Pran-prathisha (This is a ritual of consecration or blessing in which the consciousness or power of the deity is brought into the image in a temple). It was opened with pomp and ceremony which reflected the multi-racial face of growing New Zealand community. It also echoed the motto of the Ram Mandir Charitable Trust to be an all-inclusive Community Centre for the benefit and well-being of all the people of all backgrounds of Auckland.
" I have a Dream" PRAVIN KUMAR- the reluctant Unsung Hero of the Temple and Community Centre project, had such a dream some 8 years ago, which slowly started turning into reality through dedication, perseverance and community support. This dream was realised on 13 June, 2015, with the completion of Pran Prathisata and official inauguration.
There is an untold story that needs to be included in the annals of this project – to be reflected in its records and history. This is the story of somebody, and unsung hero, and a reluctant one at that, who shies away from deserved accolades, publicity and praises. Read on to find out who is that Unsung Hero who had a dream which became a reality with the opening of this complex on 13 June, 2015. [I think you already know that!]

As the chariot or Rath carrying the murtis (statues) during Nagar yatra (street parade) halted in front of Waitakere College in Rathgar Road in Henderson on 7 June, 2015, like a Bollywood movie, I went into flashback mode some 8 years ago.

The Nagar/Rath Yatra  (Street parade) taking a break outside Waitakere College which was the venue for the seed fund-raising  for a similar hall project some 8 years ago.  So began the flashback of untold story of a dream.

 As perhaps the only executive of Waitakere Indian Association (WIA) of a decade ago walking in the parade, I went back into history. I knew about it as I was the Secretary of WIA for over six years from 2004, when many great tasks were undertaken. I dug up a letter written by the then president, Anand Naidu, on 28 June, 2006, reflecting the views of the then WIA team:


Waitakere Indian Association

“Working for you and your family”

                P O Box 45-206, Te Atatu Peninsula.


28 June 2006

Community Centre Building Project

The Waitakere Indian Association (WIA) is planning to build a Community Centre in Waitakere City. The anticipated project would be the biggest project WIA would undertake since its inception in year 2000.

WIA recognises that there is no Community Centre or Meeting & Function Hall for the Ethnic Indian population in West Auckland…. there is a huge demand for such facilities from the public.

The Community Centre
WIA is planning to build a facility big enough to accommodate big occasions such as weddings, birthday parties, conference, religious & prayer meetings, and other popular festivals and occasions. The facility would be located in Waitakere City…..
Bhagwat Katha in West Auckland
One such initiative suggested by some executive members is to organise a Bhagwat Katha to be delivered by a recognised Sant from India. Proceeds from this Katha will go towards the community hall project.  This will be the first of its kind for the people of West Auckland.
I propose that WIA sponsors a Sant from India to deliver Bhagwat Katha.…..
Waitakere College where 8 years ago, the initial seed for a similar hall project was planted at this site through a Bhagwat Katha by Shri Hari Suresh Acharya Ji Maharaj. A project that started with holy means, ended up in a Holy place just a stone's throw away, only a block away.
Hence this dream of having a hall and community centre was first initiated almost a decade ago when Waitakere Indian Association (WIA), comprising of mostly Indo-Fijian Indians, identified a need for such a facility in their locality. A temple was not in the project because religious projects are not easily funded, and WIA was a non- religious organisation. WIA went to the extent of getting one swami from India to raise funds for the project. Shri Hari Suresh Acharya Ji Maharaj from Vrindavan, Mathura, India, was sponsored for reciting Bhagavat Katha (religious discourse) in Auckland, from 20th to 27th January, 2007. This was held at Waitakere College. And it is here that the Nagar yatra chariot had stopped for a break some eight years later on Sunday 7 June, 2015 to mark realization of that long dream.

Some seed money was collected from this parvachan, but nothing eventuated, and it appeared very little would eventuate. One person associated with this organisation had volunteered to host the Acharya at his home. He was then an executive of WIA and was its Director of Religious, Cultural and Community events. His 2007 AGM report on the hall project read as follows:

Bhagwat Katha
This event was organised to raise funds towards a community hall for the Indian Community in West Auckland. The Bhagwat Katha was held over 7 days in Waitakere College and was well attended. Whilst the funds raised were not as expected, it however has raised the profile of WIA in the community.

From that event the residence of this devotee near coastal Te Atatu South, in Auckland West became a shrine or “ashram” for Hari Suresh Acharya. And so was this shrine continually purified through string of visiting Swamis from India, who found comfort, solace and home at this Bhakt’s (devotee’s) place. From “sant milan” (meeting sages) and on the teaching of Ramayan of Shri Ram, this person obtained inspiration for “par hitt”- service to humanity which is seen as the most auspicious deed by a human being. He took on the venture of realizing this dream, but with an addition of a temple, with the community center and hall.

In his humbleness and humility, this person had requested me not to write anything praising him, as he did all this service not for fame or glory, but as his contribution of service to humanity and God. However, FIJI PUNDIT wishes to remind him about a couplet from chaupai of Ramayan:

Auckland in general and Waitakere (West Auckland) in particular are blessed by the dedication and passion of the couple, Pravin and Kashmin Kumar in community and religious issues. May God bless them, Aayushmaan Bhava, Kashmin Sada Suhaagan Raho, Akhand Sowbhaagyawati Bhava.

Loss and gain, life and death, glory and infamy all these lie in the hands of Providence. And hence this credit to him is through that providence, as I am an instrument of Shri Ram to give credit as a journalist where it is due. And that person who was inspired from Bhagwat katha and “sant –milan” some decades ago, the one who had taken on the venture of bringing to reality this dream in Waitakere. He realised no other organisation was geared for such a big project and hence initiated to do something to bring that dream to reality. AND HE IN NONE OTHER THAN THE MANAGING TRUSTEE OF THE TEMPLE AND COMMUNITY CENTER PROJECT, PRAVIN KUNMAR

He held discussion with like-minded community leaders in 2010 and put together a small group of visionary Hindu leaders, and echoed that decade-old dream of fulfilling the need for an acute lack of appropriate public centre for cultural, social and religious activities. Through this identification of a facility deficiency, the following year, in September 2011, SHRI RAM MANDIR CHARITABLE TRUST was formed, with appointment of Trustees. A set of Trustees who are all professionals in their own right are custodians of Shri Ram Mandir Charitable Trust which is headed by a well-known community leader, businessman and Chartered Accountant, and the same person who dreamt of providing something tangible for the community. He single-handily steered this organisation in realising this dream. He is none other than Pravin Kumar of Lotus Group of Companies.

Trustees of  the Ram Mandir Project:  Giyannendra Prasad (left) and Salendra (Len) Kumar, who is also the Treasurer of the project

And this is the person I has mentioned earlier, who had been a host to many Swamis and got the inspiration for the bringing to reality a long held dream. And he is the main architect, in the metaphorical sense, of this project.  Other trustees are Barrister and Solicitor and former Fiji parliamentarian, Giyannendra Prasad, businessman and Chartered Accountant, Salendra Kumar, and a Community worker, former Fiji school teacher, parliamentarian and trade unionist Master Shiu Charan.

Another Trustee of Shri Ram Mandir, Master Shiu Charan (left) with another icon of the Project, Late Pundit Devakar Prasad, who was a Volunteer Consultant, looking forward to completion of the project, but sadly passed away just months before the formal opening. He has been appropriately acknowledged for his passion for the community. It has been the friendship of these two stalwarts of Indo-Fijian community in Auckland, that inspired others to emulate their friendship as well as their spirit for community work.

What is quite historical and astonishing is that the place where the originating Bhagwat Katha was recited by Hari Suresh Acharya some 8 years ago at Waitakere College is on the next block to the Ram Mandir and Community Centre at 11 Brick Street. Only Swanson Road separates this and strangely, the Nagar and Rath Yatra that took place went from front of the College at Rathgar Road, the venue where the first few seeds of this dream and project was laid some 8 years ago.
The top dome or Gumbaj of Shri Ram Mandir as seen from Waitakere College Grounds
There is another couplet from Ramayan: Hoi hai soi jo ram rachi rakhaonly that will happen what Lord Ram desires. And as fate had determined, who could guess that this project would be just a stone’s throw away from where the initial Bhagwat Katha was held for this project. What is more significant is that the dome (gumbaj) of the Mandir/Community Centre project is visible from the grounds of Waitakere College. Indeed God works in mysterious ways by planning events and appointing his Bhakts (devotees) who become instrument of his wishes. And this reluctant and modest unsung Hero, Pravin Kumar became that instrument. And together with him, FIJI PUNDIT, became an instrument to tell this untold episode of the project that needs to go in the annals of history of the Temple and Community centre project in Henderson.

Indeed, God works in mysterious ways...that is why we say Hoi hai soi jo ram rachi rakha....Jai Shree Ram...Jai hoh


[ About the Author: Thakur Ranjit Singh runs his blog site FIJI PUNDIT and tells the untold story of the community that the mainstream and so-called Indian print media are unable, incapable of or unprepared to tell. This is one such hitherto untold story. Just 'Google" 'Fiji Pundit' to access and read other untold stories.]

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