Sanatan Fiji is the largest organization of the Hindus in Fiji. It was founded on 29 November 1958. However, the Sanatan Dharm was in Fiji for almost 80 years prior to its official inauguration, and for a timeless period before that in India.
In fact, the Sanatan Dharm entered into Fiji with our ancestors who were brought here as indentured labourers in 1879. In the times of difficulties and happiness, they muttered ‘Hanuman Chalisa’ and ‘Ramayan’ which provided them the space for retaining Sanatan values and strengthening cooperative community living.
Therefore, Sanatan Dharm has evolved in Fiji through practicing of ancient religion obtained through oral tradition and religious texts. The first indentured labours who came to Fiji in 1879 brought Ramayan and other religious books with them. Therefore, since the grimit era, Ramayan had been an important source of religion, social life, economy and identity for Hindus. Ramayan has continued to play a pivotal role in the daily life of our Sanatan people and in the Diaspora which sets a cooperative relationship amongst Hindus worldwide.
Other popular of texts used to promote Sanatan Dharm included ‘Ramacharitramanas’, ‘Valmiki Ramayan’, ‘Satyanarayanki Katha’, ‘Surya Purana’ and the like. These religious texts were read widely, especially by Hindu priests or pundits who promoted Sanatan Dharm here. With this humble beginning Sanatan Dharm became a way of life. With its transforming natures and its inherent values such as truth, righteousness, love, peace and non-violence, it continued to contribute to the social, economic and political needs of Hindus and Fiji at large.
Furthermore, they survived under the umbrella of Sanatan Dharm and have created a sense of community and shared whatever little they could to built schools and temples. These obviously became a strong platform for social, political and economic growth of Hindus in Fiji.
The emergence of the Sanatan Dharm and its institutions including schools in Fiji was mainly the product of individual initiatives in early 1920. Some of these great persons included Totaram Sanadhya, Pundit Vashit Muni, Pundit Ram Chandra Sharma and Pundit Murari Lal Shastri. Several writers, historians and researchers single out Pundit Sanadhya as one of the key persons in establishing the Sanatan Dharm movement in Fiji as well as giving it a fruitful direction. In fact, the setting up of this movement was a largely localized one with individuals like Sanadhya taking a leading role in keeping alive the Sanatan values. They concentrated largely on religious teachings and building a community spirit using Ramayana, Mahabharata and other pooja books as their main texts. Religious teachings and peaceful co-existence was reinforced by ceremonies such as Ram Lila and festivals like Deepawali. These events not only brought the Hindus together but also helped them collect funds for the building of Sanatan schools.
Today there are 117 primary and secondary schools, 85 Sanatan temples and thousands of Mandalis, Mahila Mandals and Youth groups in Fiji. Sanatan Fiji has 26 Branches and a numerous Ramayan mandalis that keep Sanatan Dharm flag flying at a reasonable height. While there is much to be desired, sufficient quality leadership prevails at different level of Sanatan Fiji’s hierarchy.
In the early period of the indenture era, the Sanatan Dharm local organizations founded their own self-managed schools. They had to build their own schools because the Colonial Government did not make provision for the education of their children. The Government established schools only for their own children and those of i-taukei chiefs. Many of the Sanatan Dharm schools and temples are now managed by local management committees within the confines of Sanatan religion and values. Early Sanatan leaders concentrated on religious teachings and building a community spirit around places of worship most of which were built around their homes. Sanadhya was unique among community and religious leaders of the time and placed the interest of others before him. He saw the need to educate people as well as provide for their cultural and religious learning including the desire to learn the language of the ethnic Fijians so that the indentured population could interact freely and understand the needs of the wider Fiji community. Like Sanadhya other Hindu priests concentrated on local settings under trees or in small shacks which eventually grew into fully-fledged centres or mandalis which also became the place of bhajans and kirtans accompanied by musical instruments. Ram Lila was a regular feature in most locations and this was a good way to promote Sanatan Dharm. First Hindu temples were built in 1880s and took the form of a religious sanctuary or kuti and planting around the house was also considered religious. Vashist Muni with his followers constructed a small shack that became the foundation of a primary school and college that bears his name in Navua town today. Vashist Muni founded the Bilolo Primary School in Ba and spread Sanatan religious and cultural values in1920. He also founded the school at Mangrere Tavua the following year.
The Sanatan Dharm local organizations in the period also founded other schools. Among the earlier was the Sanatan Dharm Primary School in Visama. Some of the other pioneer schools were in Vesaru, Vatulaulau, Wailailai, Korornubu, Bilolo in Ba, Kavanagasau and Yalava in Sigatoka and Koroqaqa and Nacokaika in Nausori.
Schools were also established by Sanatan local organizations in Nasinu, Lautoka, Nadi, Sabeto, Labasa and other parts of Fiji. The Tabia Sanatan Dharm School was founded in 1943. The pioneer Sanatan secondary schools that were established included Saraswati College, Vunimono High School, Shreedhar College and Sarava Sanatan High School.
In the 50 Years of Sanatan in Fiji (2208, p.iii), the current chairperson of our Board of Trustees and a long serving immediate past president of Sanatan Fiji, Pt. Dewan Chand Maharaj continues to urge all our members to unite not only for personal peace and progress but also for Sanatan Dharm and its institutions. He goes on to call upon the members to reclaim our religion and its core spiritual values and utilize them in our daily living through prayers, practice and preaching. Furthermore, he pledges the members to respect one another and our Sanatan educational and religious institutions. Taking the lesson on Hinduism from Mahatma Gandhi, Pt. Maharaj urges all the members to keep Sanatan Dharm alive now and in days ahead.