Here is a story of a rare kind of pioneer. Kannabaran, affectionately known as “Kanna” and one who laid his life in the pioneering field in Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Laos) was very much a lovable believer. He radiated so much love upon all who came across in his life. Kanna’s pioneering life, covering a span of 45 years could easily be said to be one of the most fascinating stories of our own time.  This is an attempt to provide in an abridged form, Kanna ’s days of pioneering, with selected anecdotes.

Kanna accepted the Faith in 1970 in the northern town of Butterworth in Malaysia when he was still a student at the Saint Xavier’s Institution in Penang Island. At school, Kanna was a Prefect and excelled in sports and painting.  It was through Sergeant Munusamy Nathamuni attached to the Royal Malaysian Air Force in Butterworth that Kanna was brought for firesides. In one of those firesides, Kanna accepted the Faith. In July 1971 Munusamy got a transfer to Selangor state where he retired as a Major in 1992.

Sergeant Munusamy

As soon as Kanna accepted the Faith he brought several of his friends into the Faith, and soon a very vibrant youth committee was formed in Butterworth. As soon as Kanna accepted the Faith he was on fire with the love of Bahá’u’lláh, and his rise in the Faith was simply meteoric.  Even at that tender, Kanna proved to be a spiritual giant, a towering strength and a guide to many youths in Butterworth. Not a day passed without Kanna coming to the Bahá’í for Bahá’í activities. Teaching the Faith became Kanna’s ruling passion, that he rode on a bicycle to near and far away places like Penang Island, Perai and Kepala Batas to teach the Faith, and deepen new believers. Kanna was quick to absorb an acute understanding of the Writings and grasped the urgency to teach the Faith. In Butterworth, Kanna volunteered to be a children class teacher. The Bahá’í children who saw in him a wonderful and loving teacher. Yet one more of the earliest initiatives of the youths was organizing an inter-state Bahá’í gathering in Butterworth in 1971, that attracted more than 100 Bahá’ís from the states of Penang and Kedah. That turned out to be a gathering of resounding success.  The musically inclined Kanna entertained Bahá’í youth with his favorite Hindi songs and encouraged the formation of Bahá’í Choir. He had a major role to play in this with his strumming the guitar and singing his songs among the vibrant youths of Butterworth.  One of the first things that Kanna did as soon as he accepted the Faith was to memorize the Bahá’í Holy Writings and prayers. Kanna had always used his rare photographic mind and talent of memorizing prayers and holy writings and used them during deepening and teaching sessions.

When Kanna accepted the Faith, he observed that the town of Nibong Tebal where his grandparents lived was a difficult area for the Faith to penetrate. Several earlier attempts made by the Bahá’ís of Penang island as well as those from the state of Perak located south to Nibong Tebal could not bring in the desired results. Kanna took it as his personal goal to establish the Faith there and settled as a home front pioneer in 1971, staying in his grandparent’s home. Yet he kept commuting to Butterworth town where his parents lived for   Bahá’í activities in this community. Nibong Tebal soon appeared on the landmark of Malaysian Bahá’í history. In no time  Kanna created history by focussing his entire energy in laying a strong foundation for the Faith there. Through his committed and constant teaching activities and concerted efforts, some thirty-four enquirers came for a fireside, and almost everyone accepted the Faith. Immediately a Youth Committee was formed which proved to be active under the able stewardship of Kanna. Achievement followed achievement when in Ridvan 1971 an Assembly was elected as well. This was seen as a great achievement for the Faith in Malaysia, at a time when the national institution was bracing to establish assemblies nationwide.  Soon Kanna’s active involvement in the Faith was noised throughout Nibong Tebal and this naturally came to the ears of Mr. Ramasamy, his strict grandfather, who, as a strong Hindu chased Kanna out of his house. When Kanna returned later, Ramasamy chained up Kanna.  Kanna had to explain the Faith to him, that brought about a change in the heart of his grandfather. The tension was mitigated, and restrictions relaxed. Several years later when Kanna was in the pioneering field in Laos, Ramasamy accepted the Faith, followed by Kanna’s grandmother Ellakkannu.

A real turning point in the Bahá’í life of Kanna came when he attended a Bahá’í  Summer School in Penang Island in July 1972. He brought along the new Bahá’ís of Nibong Tebal to the Summer School, and through the vibrant spiritual atmosphere at this summer school, the new believers became more confirmed in the Faith. At this summer school, Kanna was moved when he heard some inspiring pioneering stories from Counselor Firaydun Mithaq, who himself was a pioneer in Laos. The stories of sacrifice and challenges in the pioneering field affected Kanna’s soul.  At the end of the talk, Kanna approached Firaydun and offered to pioneer to Laos.   Firaydun made it clear that Kanna had to get his parental consent. That was the time when Kanna had just completed his studies. Any youth at his age would be looking out for a stable job to establish himself. But here was Kanna who placed the needs of the Faith above his own interest. Kanna was the only declared believer and eldest among the boys in his family.  Kanna knew it would be an uphill battle to convince his parents to allow him to pioneer to Laos.

The Summer School of July 1972 in Penang.

Therefore after the summer school, Kanna took Firaydun and his wife Giti to meet his parents in Butterworth town. Firaydun and Giti stayed a night at the home of Kanna’s parents in Butterworth. When Firaydun opened the subject of Kanna offering to pioneer, his parents first expressed displeasure. Kanna was the eldest among the seven siblings, and the parents expected him to lead the way for the youngsters. But with the convincing explanations given by Firaydun, they finally gave their consent, that too reluctantly. They though Kanna would be away for a few months. Kanna was jumping with joy.   Next, Kanna was the on the same train to Laos with Firaydun and  Giti. Kanna was only 19 years when he pioneered to Laos. Kanna’s ambition was to become a Police Officer, but that was irrevocably reversed with Kanna now setting out on his Creator’s Special Service.

Kanna, aged three;  his sister Nirmala aged two

Kanna knew that he had accepted a field of service that needed an immense sacrifice. As expected, unimaginable shocks awaited Kanna in the pioneering field.  When Kanna arrived in his pioneering post in Laos, he went through untold difficulties, especially in the wake of with no livelihood, employment and on top of all, lack of knowledge of the local language to communicate with them to teach the Faith. His only weapon was resorting to tapping the power of divine assistance.

One month after arriving in Laos, a teaching and reflection gathering was organized in a centrally located village in Vientiane province.  A good number of believers from five surrounding village communities were coming for that full day meeting to discuss and plan activities.  Kanna went to the venue three days in advance to make preparations.  There Kanna used a few Laotian words that he had learnt and taught a simple Baha’i song to children. He was able to win over the hearts of the children with his usual warmth of smile and radiance of heart. When the meeting was over, the children were not willing to let him leave. Kanna was moved and decided to stay on with them. But when Firaydun returned to the village and met Kanna after three days, Kanna burst into tears lamenting that those three days were the hardest days of his life.  With a dampened spirit Kanna cried, “It is hard to eat strange foods I am not used to, and it is hard to sleep as the mosquitos kept feasting on my body, and worst of all I am not able to teach the Faith as I do not know the local language.” Firaydun consoled Kanna by recalling how he himself had suffered in the initial days of pioneering and assured him of the unfailing help promised in the Writings. Yet Kanna had inner happiness that he was suffering for the love of Bahá’u’lláh. He resorted to several days of prayers, beseeching Bahá’u’lláh to give him the needed strength, energy and guidance to root himself in Laos and bury his bones with his boots on as a pioneer. Bahá’u’lláh did answer Kanna’s prayers. While adjusting to the local situation, Kanna was joined by another pioneer Mr. Faramarz, who is a brother of Firaydun. His arrival brought mutual benefits for both of them. Kanna knew English but not Persian. Faramarz knew Persian but not English. They came to an understanding. Through Faramarz, Kanna picked up the Persian language, in exchange for the English lessons that Kanna gave Faramarz. But they both did not speak the local language well. In the mornings the two went out together visiting people in the market place.   They tried conveying the Bahá’í Message to them with the few rudimentary Laotian words they had memorized. Where they found it difficult to elaborate further they would look out for Firaydun to help out.

One day Kanna and Faramarz met Mr. Maha Buasi, a learned Buddhist scholar who just escaped the guerrilla warfare in the Xing Quang province. When they introduced the Faith to Maha Buasi, he said that he had briefly heard about the Baha’i Faith through a friend, and wanted to know more.  Since Kanna and Faramarz were not well conversant in the Lao language, they invited  Maha Buasi to the house of Firaydun to get detailed information on the Faith.  After much discussions, Maha Buasi declared his belief in Baha’u’llah. Buasi immediately began teaching the Faith among the thousands of his fellow refugees.  That was the time when the small towns and villages in Laos were experiencing mass teaching and witnessing entry by troops.  The excited Maha Buasi, along with Kanna, Firaydun, Faramarz, Bijan Beyzayee, Faiz Yaganegi, Paul Antipolo from the Philippines, Len Beng Liew from Malaysia, and the local believers also busily involved in this enterprise. With the aggressive teaching activities, the number of believers in 1974 reached approximately one hundred thousand, in which victory.

Savanakhet, 1973. Kanna at the extreme left and Larry Suwandish from the USA at extreme right, with two local believers

In the initial stages Counselor Firaydun took Kanna to various parts of Laos, introducing him to the local communities and exposing to local culture.  It was not too long before Kanna had mastered the art of successful pioneering by quickly learning the local language, living economically and spending only for his basic needs.  It was not too long before this same Kanna became the favorite son of the soil and came to be loved and admired by a wide spectrum of children, youth, adults, elders as well as individuals.

Ban Nampod village, Laos in 1973. Kanna is squatting at right, with Counselor Firaydun standing next to him 

A few months after his arrival in Laos, Kanna was already at the forefront of activities when he had to return to Butterworth on a family matter. This time around, the parents pressed Kanna to stay back as they were missing him dearly. Kanna was torn between staying back and discharging his spiritual duties in Laos where he had committed and initiated several projects and activities. It was a very painful and rather stressing moment for Kanna. After days of tearful prayers, Kanna explained his burning desire to serve the Cause and returned to Laos. A close friend of Kanna requested him to consider staying on in Malaysia, and Kanna is reported to have said that pioneering was already deep in his vein and that the “fait accompli” was already carved in stone.   However, he kept communicating with his family until his last days and prayed for their well being. As and when his parents and grandparents passed away he kept flying back for their funerals.

In March 1974, barely before completion of two years in the pioneering field, Kanna was appointed Auxiliary Board Member for Protection. When friends congratulated him on this appointment he very candidly replied that it was not a life-long appointment but was only placed in a different capacity to offer a different kind of service for the Cause. He added further that the only permanent position he had taken upon himself was teaching the Faith.  By this time Kanna had won the boundless love of the youth, children and the adults. Kanna organized many classes and gatherings for several groups and villages in the country.

Kanna was able to serve effectively on national committees and travel throughout the country with better ease and comfort. As he started to move across the country Kanna started to use his God-given talents as a multi-talented and multifaceted pioneer to promote the Cause. He composed and taught Baha’i songs in the Laotian language. He was good at oil painting as well.  He developed several teaching albums, posters and other visual aids which to this day are widely used throughout Laos.

The reverence that Kanna showed for elders in the Faith was much adorable and equally admirable.  Hand of the Cause of God Dr. Muhajir started to take a great liking for Kanna from the very beginning.  In the summer of 1974, Dr. Muhajir arrived in Laos and expressed his desire to visit the believers in the refugee camp situated in the interiors of  Ban Nam-Pod in Viang-kham, some 70 kilometers away.   Faiz Yaganegi gladly offered to drive his pick-up for that rough and bumpy journey. Kanna also joined them. Dr. Muhajir sat next to Yaganegi on the front seat. Firaydun requested Kanna to get seated beside Dr. Muhajir in the front seat. But Kanna totally refused and insisted Firaydun occupying that seat, while Kanna wanted to sit on the back seat.  As Kanna and Firaydun were arguing about this, Dr. Muhajir interjected saying, “How long are you going to argue? It is almost noon. Let us go.” Finally, Firaydun was seated next to Dr. Muhajir while Kanna sat on the hard seat at the back. The back portion of the vehicle was not sheltered by roof or side panels.  By the time they arrived in Nam-Pod, Kanna was covered in a thick layer of red dust, beyond recognition. Dr. Muhajir, Firaydun and Yaganegi laughed off when all they could see was the white teeth of Kanna when he was grinning away.  Kanna had turned into a kind of “Red Indian.”  Kanna often recalled that particular trip to Nam-Pod village with Dr. Muhajir as the most memorable experience in his earthly life. It was on this same trip that Dr. Muhajir himself had fathomed the sincerity of Kanna in serving the Cause. Dr. Muhajir had always loved Kanna for his unquestioned obedience and the love he had for the Faith. Dr. Muhajir knew the talents and abilities of Kanna that he would devise several plans for Kanna, which he carried out with diligence. On some of his later visits, Dr. Muhajir had taken Kanna along with him for teaching in the interiors in Laos.

1974-Viang kham Mass Teaching area. Dr. Muhajir is in the back row. Kanna Baran is towards the right. Faiz Yaganegi in centre.  

By April 1975 when the Faith experienced an unprecedented expansion in Laos, another unexpected incident happened. The country witnessed an internal revolution that led to a sudden change of government. The new government banned all social and religious activities for the next 15 years. That affected the Baha’i activities as well.  This sudden change of fortune forced the believers and thousands of local Laotians to escape and seek shelter in the refugee camps in the neighboring country of Thailand. Several Laotians managed to migrate overseas.  With a broken heart, Kanna moved into the city of Yasothon in the northeast of Thailand. But the consolation was that Kanna was able to find some areas of activities. There Kanna’s activities involved in building Baha’i communities through deepening sessions and in teaching the Faith in the refugee camps of the Laotian people.  In Thailand too Kanna brought rich victories for the Cause. With efforts of Kanna and other believers, in one refugee camp near Uborn city, the Bahá’í refugees themselves built a temporary Baha’i Center for their activities.

Kanna at extreme right at a refugee camp in Thailand.

Kanna was once staying with a fellow believer in the Bahá’í Center in Yasothon area in Thailand.  One day they had nothing to eat for breakfast.  Kanna invited his roommate for lunch at a modest stall.  As they walked towards the stall they saw an old believer from a faraway village. After chatting with him, Kanna invited him for a lunch in a restaurant, no more in a stall. Kanna’s pocket had sufficient money for his roommate and himself for eating something light in a local stall. This limited money in Kanna’s pocket was not known to his roommate. Since an unexpected guest was taken along, Kanna decided for a decent restaurant. At the restaurant, Kanna ordered two plates of rice and curry for his roommate and the guest. Kanna refrained from eating, saying he had just developed some stomach complications, and did not feel like having any food. The roommate was not convinced. After lunch, the guest left while Kanna and his roommate returned to the Bahá’í center.  Upon reaching the Bahá’í  Centre, the suspecting roommate of Kanna exploded as to why he had skipped both breakfast and lunch. It was only then that Kanna informed his roommate he had sufficient money for only two people. Kanna then said, “At times when we have to forego some comfort,  we can always tap on our inner strength. I had just used that strength to overcome my own hunger.” That was just one of the many instances when Kanna had expended his money on others than himself.

In April 1977, Kanna came back to Malaysia to renew his international passport and visit his parents. As Kanna was seated on the plane on his return flight from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok, he was surprised to see Hand of the Cause of God Dr. Muhajir coming over to sit next to him in economy class. Dr. Muhajir was returning to Bangkok after meeting the National Assembly of Malaysia. Both Dr. Muhajir and Kanna then spoke in Persian, as Kanna was already quite fluent in Persian language thanks to Faramarz. Kanna was expecting Dr. Muhajir to fly in business class and pulled up his guts and ask him why Dr. Muhajir was flying in economy class. Dr. Muhajir explained he had to rush to Bangkok and the only seat available was in the economy class. He further said that he was not too particular of which class he flew.   In the course of the conversation, Kanna confided in Dr. Muhajir two great concerns of his parents. Kanna told him that his parents were unhappy that Kanna was not having a proper job, and that he was still unmarried.

Muhajir’s strong advice to Kanna was to put his full reliance on Bahá’u’lláh and move on in life. As for the career, Dr. Muhajir said, “Look Kanna, these are the days of service and we are entrusted by Bahá’u’lláh to lay the foundation to save the world. This opportunity will never befall upon everyone, but you have been chosen. Think about that. I am a medical doctor, but my full-time job is to serve the Faith. I suggest you consider making teaching the Faith your full-time job. Your parents may not understand your station as a pioneer, but the time will come when Bahá’u’lláh will surely open their eyes to what you are doing.” On the second concern of their parents, Dr. Muhajir continued, “As for your marriage, I have a suggestion. Now that you are in the teaching field pray hard and sincerely for Bahá’u’lláh to guide you to a bride of His choice. After that approach, any girl that you have a liking for, and Bahá’u’lláh will surely bless your affairs.” Having given that advice, Dr. Muhajir also requested Kanna to learn as many languages as possible to empower him to teach the Faith to a wider circle of people. By 1977 Kanna was already able to speak in Persian, Chinese, Laotian, Malay, English, Tamil, and Thai. In retrospect, when Seargent Munusamy was courting Theresa who was working as a clinical nurse in Dr. Sreenivasan’s Chaygin Clinic, it was Kanna who went along with Munusamy to meet the parents of Theresa to talk about marriage.  Kanna was able to speak very fluent Hokkien dialect of the Chinese language. Munusamy had expected “fireworks” but with the fluency with which Kanna spoke Hokkien, the consent was obtained within three or four visits. Inter-marriage was still a kind of taboo in those days. To this day Munusamy remembers this pivotal role of Kanna, whom he guided into the Faith.

The plane touched down in Bangkok airport and both went to a hotel for spending that night. Dr. Muhajir booked a large room and requested Kanna to stay in his room for the night. Kanna felt very honored. That night Dr. Muhajir spent long hours talking about the manifold work that has to be done for the Cause and gave some advice on how to be successful in the field. Past midnight Kanna slept off, while Dr. Muhajir started to say his prayers.  In the morning they checked out and went for a teaching Conference in Bangkok city.

Days passed and Kanna went for a teaching conference in the town of Chiengmai in the northern part of Thailand. There Kanna’s eyes fell on a beautiful Miss Chansay, a Thai Bahá’í, and his heart throbbed. Kanna’s thoughts spontaneously drifted to the advice that Dr. Muhajir gave him while on the flight from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok.  Although Kanna took an immediate liking for Chansay he wanted to be very sure of himself and his steps. He said some prayers in his heart and introduced himself. Chansay responded casually, not knowing the pulsation that was running within the soul of Kanna.  Soon they got to know each other. It did not take long before they decided to get married.

Their first meeting created a life-long bond

One day Kanna rang up his parents in Butterworth and broke the news that he had found a Thai girl for marriage. Respecting Kanna’s wishes his parents gave the consent on the phone and asked him to come down with Chansay. Kanna and Chansay came down. Kanna introduced Chansay to his family who took a great liking for Chansay. Chansay was accommodated in the house of a relative. The assembly of Butterworth and Kanna’s close friends swung into action, and a beautiful Bahá’í marriage ceremony was held in Butterworth. The family members were happy to see Chansay dressed up in Indian saree and follow some customary requirements. After a week, they flew back to Thailand to start their own family.

From Thailand With Love; marriage in Malaysia

Kanna and Chansay teamed up as one soul in different bodies to serve the Cause. They on many occasions used music to promote the Cause.

Teaching the Faith through music

This marriage produced two choicest fruits- Santi a boy and Rezwan, a girl. Kanna teamed up with Chansay and created a true Bahá’í atmosphere in their home and brought up their children the Bahá’í way. They devoted much time to instill Bahai virtues in them by telling them Bahai stories almost daily at the dinner table. They made sure his children were spiritually nurtured. They taught their children to trust in God in everything they did. Prayer was made part of their family ritual. and service to the Faith was at the center of their lives.  Every lesson or virtues their children ever learned was taught by their examples. Their home became everyone’s home, offering plenty of warm hospitality. Yet at different times, sufferings and sacrifice seemed to have been part and parcel of this family, moving from village to village, city to city and country to country, often finding it difficult to adjust to local situations and culture.

The family they built- L-R- Chansay, Rezwan, Kanna, Santi

In the 1990s another development took place. On the request of the Supreme Body, Kanna’s family relocated from Thailand into Laos and settled in Vientiane.  Kanna started to face multiple problems, chiefly financial strains. Kanna had to leave his family in Vientiane and accept some service projects in the northern mountainous jungles in Xing Qwang- for a meager income. In that prevailing circumstance, Kanna had to accept whatever was paid to him. Chansay was holding the fort with all her strength whenever her husband was away. During this period Kanna’s family contented with minimum necessities of life. Difficult as circumstances were, the couple still provided the best education for their two children.  They enrolled them in the best available foreign schools in Vientiane, which came with a heavy cost of depleting almost all the savings they had for their rainy days. This was a stressful period in Kanna’s life. Days were spent in ardent prayers, and Bahá’u’lláh the God of Infinite Mercy did not fail them.

That was the time when  Kanna slowly acquainting himself with a number of expatriates who were working with various United Nations  Department Programs in Vientiane.  These contacts led Kanna to get employed with the United Nations and undertake short and long terms UN-related project assignments, which he carried out with distinction. He was also actively involved in the International Red Cross which took him places. With such involvements, Kanna became a well-recognized Bahá’í in top government and private circles in Laos, and the Faith naturally got exposed in the higher echelons. With this stable income,  Kanna was able to send his daughter Rezwan to Brisbane university in Australia and son Santi to the Assumption university in Thailand.

When Kanna was financially on a better footing, he was not absorbed by the quicksand of materialism. He seldom bought new dresses except very few that he wore for important public functions. Whenever his friends presented him with branded and luxurious pieces of clothing, he would pass them to those needy. With the new found income, Kanna gave much for the Faith. There was a time when Kanna was treasurer of the National Spiritual Assembly, the national institution had approved several projects that needed money. But when funds were not flowing in from the community, Kanna would avail his own money lest the projects suffer halt or delay. However much Kanna had wanted to keep this gesture suppressed, it was through the glimmering light afforded us through a few of his closest friends that this gesture of Kanna came to the open.

In one of the trips to outstation Kanna, as the program coordinator invited Firaydun to join him. Kanna phoned and booked two air-conditioned rooms in a decent hotel in that town. As they were about to start their journey, four youths that had learned about their teaching trip rushed without prior notice and showed keen enthusiasm in accompanying them.  Kanna welcomed them with a warm smile. Kanna called the hotel to convert the two air-conditioned rooms into four rooms with fan cooling system. The trip was undertaken with success.  Kanna undertook footing the entire expenses for that trip. It was such generosity of Kanna that ripened into a strong virtue in him.

Although based in Laos, Kanna also traveled in other parts of Indo-China. In 2003 Kanna was one of them who organized a Cambodian Bahá’í festival at Psar Leur Bahá’í  Center in Battambang, attracting more than 1,000 children, and earning high praise from government officials, including the Director of Education Department in Battambang. At this event, the children presented stories about Abdul-Baha, recited quotations from the Bahá’í Writings, made drawings and displayed their art, performed traditional Khmer music and dance, and played games together.  This event received worldwide publicity.

Kanna at extreme right with the Assembly of Phnom Penh in 2005 – Standing in the rear (from left) Ryan Duly, Khodaded Saleh, Milan Milano.  Standing in the front (L-R ) Mala Pen, Niroshini Iqbal, Ramani Vela, Elvie Dames, Sok Nou, Yvette Keo, Kanna

One of the happiest moments for Kanna was undertaking several trips to the Holy Land. In 2009 he went for pilgrimage with Chansay. During the social evenings, Kanna and his wife were back to use their talents – entertaining with songs.

Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, 2009

Both Kanna and Chansay worked as one team in every sphere of Bahai activities.  To a large extent, the believers and the community in Laos saw them as exemplary models to lead a Bahá’í family life. Many youths went to this couple for advice and guidance. When Chansay was appointed as representative of the Board of Huququ’lláh for Laos, Kanna used to give her his fullest support. In many instances, he was with her at Huququ’lláh conferences in the South East Asian countries, to at times help out in translation works.

Deputies and Representatives of the Board of Trustees of Huqúqu’lláh at the  Ninth Huqúqu’lláh Conference for South East Asia held in Vientiane,  2014. Kanna is seated at extreme left, with Chansay standing second from left.

While serving in Laos in various capacities Kanna had visited believers and communities in countries such as Thailand, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Brazil, Switzerland, and the Holy Land. The friends in all these places still have the fondest memory of Kanna for the impactful traces of love that he had left behind. His last visit to Malaysia was in December 2014, when he visited his parents and friends.

Kanna’s 60th birthday celebrations organized by his family in Malaysia.

Kanna’s last one year was very hectic. It was overwork, exhaustion, and lack of sufficient rest that led to his heart ailments and finally knocked him down.  Kanna was a very hard-working person, working from 7 in the morning to past 10 at night- mainly for the Cause. Working a total of 15 hours per day became a rule rather than an exception. He was entrusted with so many heavy duties and responsibilities in his various capacities – as a member of the National Spiritual Assembly, promoter of public relations activities, and organizer of Bahá’í celebrations and several other Bahá’í functions. Kanna had a tight schedule visiting several communities in the provinces and villages.  Above all he was a full-time lecturer, teaching management courses at a college, apart from working as a Director at Unity School of Management and Education and conducting trainings at a number of governmental organizations in Laos and in Thailand. Kanna was an associate member of the Bahá’í International Community of the Bahá’í World Center, representing Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Indonesia to which countries he had to fly often. All these rolled onto him took a heavy toll on his health. Physically Kanna was simply worn out. Firaydun who had seen Kanna working endlessly advised him to go slower, as the Faith needed him for many more years to come.  Kanna calmly said, “I have no other choice but to work harder than before, as I cannot run from responsibilities placed on my shoulder. I cannot disappoint the trust placed in me. I have to work till my last breath.” It was physically that Kanna was worn apart, but mentally and physically this giant displayed indomitable strength.

One night Kanna felt a sharp pain in his chest and Kanna was rushed to neighboring Thailand, which had better medical doctors and modern medical facilities, where he underwent heart bypass, clearing some blocks. A few more blocks that remained could only be removed after a lapse of a year.  Kanna recovered slowly and was brought back to Laos. The one firm advice of the doctors was for Kanna to rest well. Back in Laos Kanna kept working at a slower pace, submissively obeying the dictates of ill health that was imposing upon him in greater degrees.

Most unexpectedly and quite fast, Kanna experienced severe pain in his chest for the second time. He was again rushed to Bangkok where he underwent a major heart surgery that kept him in bed for over three months.  Doctors informed the family that his heart was not functioning more than 40 percent. Kanna returned to Vientiane, and retired from work, but did never resist involving in Baha’i activities.  He spent the last two months fully immersed in the Bahá’í  Writings. The last material he read before collapsing was the letter from the Supreme Body dated 29 December 2015.

Worn out but not torn apart- music kept him going

Kanna’s last activity was attending a youth gathering in Vientiane where he participated in his usual sing-along session. He was drumming away and seen to be very happy and joyful as never before.  Upon reaching home Kanna felt extremely tired and exhausted. For the third time, Kanna was rushed to Udorn Thani hospital in Thailand. This time Kanna was also diagnosed with a lung infection and kidney failure, and the doctors could not help much. After a battle of nine months fighting for life, his radiant soul surrendered to the call of its Creator and winged its flight to the Abha Kingdom on 17 March 2016.  His body was washed at the hospital itself, shrouded in silk cloth, placed in a dignified wooden coffin, and transported back to Laos and placed in the Baha’i Center in Vientiane.  News spread across Laos and abroad instantly from the time of his passing. Friends rushed to the Bahá’í  Center in Vientiane and joined in the prayer vigil. Wreaths and messages of condolence poured in continuously from several institutions and individuals from Laos and abroad. The Malaysian National Assembly that had given birth to such an illustrious servant sent a special wreath. Following a dignified funeral service, Kanna’s earthly remains were laid to rest at the Vientiane Baha’i cemetery on the evening of the auspicious day of Naw Ruz. Thus, Kanna’s weighty, meaningful and colorful life of many achievements and successes came to an end, plunging into sorrow his family, relatives, and countless friends across the globe. Throughout his life, Kanna never missed any of the Bahá’í meetings, however unwell he was. But when he passed away the entire community of Laos felt a sudden vacuum, that to this day, remains unfilled.

Friends keeping vigil in the Bahá’í Center in Vientiane 

Kumaran, a close friend of Kanna from Butterworth attended the funeral service. Although Kumaran was himself deeply immersed in sorrow, what he could not comprehend that easily was to witness for himself the extent to which Kanna had sunk so deeply and permanently in the hearts of the masses in Laos, who were uncontrollably sobbing away.

Kanna has certainly etched for himself a special place in the history of the Faith in Laos. Kanna’s distinguished services and contribution to this glorious Cause of God in manifold spheres, amongst others, as a valiant teacher, profound deepener, excellent advisor and member of the Local Spiritual Assembly and National Spiritual Assembly, as well as member of the Auxiliary Board. His services in these areas were praiseworthily commended by the Universal House of Justice, the Board of Counsellors and believers at large at different phases of his pioneering life.

Kanna was a great pioneer in the field, and under the roof, he was a loving husband, caring father, respectful father in law and lovable grandfather.  Kanna tried to live the Bahá’í way of life to the fullest, both in his private and public life. All his life Kanna did not exhibit any sign of ego or superiority complex, loathing, prominence, and backbiting. He never harbored any ill feelings towards anyone and delighted in going out of his way to show acts of kindness to all. The Faith was everything for Kanna, who made Bahá’u’lláh the very center of his very existence. Kanna was a down to earth and smiling person, full of love, kindness, devotion, perseverance, sacrifice, and detachment. Whenever Kanna was alone he was more often than not in a meditative spirit.  His company simply enhanced one’s spirit with his warm smile, humor, guitar, and songs. The genuine love he radiated was contagious. His radiant smile and most loving nature shall ever remain a trademark of dear Kanna.

Volumes could be written about this illustrious believer whose 45 years of full dedication to the Faith shall always be a shining example for us to reflect upon and emulate. His life of sacrifice evidently shows that this star servant had loved the Faith more than his own life. Kanna certainly had a more than life-size presence in the pioneering field. Kanna’s rare virtues, exemplary deeds and unrestrained services in the field, coupled with his unshakable faith and love for Bahá’u’lláh seem to mark him out a rare kind of pioneer.

Kanna buried his bones in the pioneering field, as desired.




18 March 2016

Transmitted by email:


The Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Lao People’s Democratic Republic

Dear Bahá’í Friends,
The Universal House of Justice was sorry to learn from your email letter dated 17 March
2016 of the passing of Kannabaran Rajagopal, stalwart servant of Bahá’u’lláh. His many years of
service as a pioneer to Laos, and as a member of your Assembly as well as of the Auxiliary Board
for Protection, are recalled with warm appreciation. Rest assured of the supplications of the House
of Justice at the Sacred Threshold for the progress of his noble soul throughout the realms of God.
Prayers will also be offered that, through the sustaining grace of the All-Merciful, his family and
loved ones may find peace and tranquillity at this time of loss.

With loving Bahá’í greetings,
Department of the Secretariat



A. Manisegaran
North Carolina
30 September 2018




  1. What a moving account of his life of consecrated service! We did not meet him, however we did meet his dear wife Chansay in Vientiane last year and heard many wonderful stories about him.

    Thank you for sharing his story

  2. Uncle Kanna, through the story about you, I was once again remembering one of the best persons I have known in my life. One of those that I had always looked up to. His smiles and kindness, his humility and patience, his steadfastness, and his untiring service to the Faith are among my own inspirations. I will forever miss you Uncle Kanna. Thank you for being such a good friend, best teacher and uncle to me especially during my stay in Cambodia. Be very well up there with our dear Blessed Beauty. We are praying for you always ??

    My regret is not having to visit you while you were in Laos. I would have had the honor to share with you some of the songs which you had encouraged me to continue to share. After having spent most of my Bahai life in Iraq and Afghanistan (where there was really no believer I came across), I am now in Dubai. I am happy, attending Bahai activities which I missed for more than 10 years after becoming a Bahai in 2002.

    Please do continue to look after me from the Abha Kingdon, and pray for my soul.

    Thank you for being a part of my Bahai life Uncle. You will always be missed. I hope to get a chance to meet Auntie Chansay, Santi and Ridvan once more. Hugs and love from here to you!

    Amy Ubana

  3. An exemplary, devoted and dedicated life, a true servant of the humankind. Thank you Mani, for bringing up such noble story that carries a lot of inspirational moments.

    Narendra Pande

  4. What a strange coincidence. Exactly 15 days before his passing, I received a call from Kanna over Facebook Messenger. That was most unexpected. We spoke for close to one hour. He was candidly sharing several of his experiences in his life as a pioneer, most of which are included in this story. The essence of his parting message to me was “Have full faith in Bahá’u’lláh. Bahá’u’lláh knows everything, and He can never be wrong in whatever He has destined for us”. That was the time when I was going through some difficult moments and true enough, with the faith in Baha’ullah, the wisdom of my ordeals were revealed to me. Its again faith, faith and faith.

  5. Mani
    I was very touched by what you wrote about the sacrifice and steadfastness ofKannabaran. Although I did not really know Kannabaran in person, I was able to see what a great pioneer he was through your story. A real great pioneer and spiritual giant whose efforts and contributions will be an inspiration to all of us. Well written Manisegaran

    Yin Hong Shuen

  6. Dear Mani
    Thank you for this story that reminded me of a great soul. I had a brief encounter with Kanna in Thailand. He played host to some university friends when we were in Thailand and also helping out during teaching duties there. He was indeed a lovely and helpful person

    Tan Seng Chai

  7. Thank you for this story.
    I first met Kanna in Bangkok in 1982 on my return journey from Burma (Myanmar). He shared many of his experiences. I also met Firyadun with him. I spent a night in his house. He was then already married. He gave me a piece of cloth to give to be given to his grandpa in Nibong Tibal. I last met him in 2015 Bangkok during a Huququllah Conference. To me Kanna was a truly a valiant and dedicated soul.

    Batu Pahat

  8. Thanks Mani . Our relationship with Kanna goes back a long way ever since he pioneered to Thailand , Laos and Cambodia. He did very well and was richly rewarded for his work .
    I am too much overwhelmed now with remembering him. He was so gentle, loving and so powerful a personality. I stayed with him in Vientiane and he was such a gracious host to my wife Counselor Loh Lee Lee and me always . He was one of Lee Lee’ s most favourite friends in the field in all the 3 countries where he served the most .

    Dr. I.S. Ludher

  9. A good story.
    The late Kannabaran came into my life in the 1980’s when I met him at a Winter School held in Port Dickson, Malaysia. He had the gift of many languages. He was an inspiring person in nature. I have listened to his talks, and have chatted with him in one of the visits to Butterworth. He was a youth at all time, and remained youthful throughout.

    My prayers are for his radiant soul.

    R. Gopal
    Sungei Petani

  10. I had the privilege of meeting this great soul twice, and both were during Huququllah conferences. The first was in Indonesia and then again in Laos. From what I observed he as a lovely person, soft spoken and very courteous. He is a Linguist. I asked him how many languages he spoke and he replied he knew 15 languages and was still learning Russian as his 16th language. Curious as I was, I asked him how he could learn so many languages. He said that the first 5 languages are normally difficult but after that it would be easy to pick up any language with relative ease.
    As for his dedicated Bahai services that he has rendered,
    I am sure the Blessed Beauty has a special place for such dedicated souls.

    Kuala Lumpur

  11. It was the early 1970’s when I met Kannabaran at Dr. Sreenivasan’s Chaygin Clinic in Butterworth. That Clinic doubled up as both a Clinic when there are patients, or a Baha’i Center when the patients have left.

    A group of youths had enrolled in the Faith and Kannabran was in the forefront of youth activities. I found out that we belong to the same Alma Mata, St. Xavier’s Institution, Penang, although it was a gap of about 7 – 8 years. I was his senior. This added to our bond of friendship and I remember seeing a photo of Kannabran so elegantly placed in the School Prefect’s uniform. We recount being only two of the students who accepted the Faith from the Christian Brother’s School during those days.

    Kannabran pioneered home-front to Nibong Tebal and that became a stopping point on the way for any teaching team that passed by from Taiping, Pokok Assam and North Perak The Area Teaching Committee of Penang, Province Wellesley and North Perak was happy to learn that Kannabaran had laid a foundation in Nibong Tebal, which this Committee found so difficult to penetrate. Kannabaran was able to gather the youths and the usual programs included s slide shows at night in one of the local school halls. As Mani has stated Kanna’s teaching activities riled his grandfather with whom Kanna was staying. The situation got so tensed up that Kanna told me that his grandfather wanted to chain him (or already chained him). There was a turn of events came and I vaguely recall the grandfather recounting some incidents he encountered with the Faith. That was when opposition stopped and eventually the grandfather accepted the Faith.

    It would be another 40 over years before we met again, this time in Vientiane, Laos in November 2014 during the Regional Huququllah Conference there.

    I have always kept abreast of Kannbaran’s pioneering days of ups and downs in Laos and Thailand and it was really a re-union to meet and have dinner with him together with the friends from Singapore. The bond between us was something very special and it goes beyond just beyond friendship.
    Wong Meng Fook

  12. Dear Manisegaran
    That was a great write up on Kannabaran. I had always known him as a very humble and soft spoken believer. Although he was praised for his services, he was not hanging with his nose high in the air. The last I met him was in Bangkok at a Huququllah conference.
    It is such stories that make us reflect what we ourselves have to do for the Faith. Several of our elders like Kannabaran have truly set examples and set the way for us to tread.

    Miri, Sarawak

  13. Dear Mani
    I have just finished reading the write up on the life and Bahai service of Kana. I remember Kana vaguely, as I really did not get to know him well. From the way you described his life and his Bahai service , he must certainly be a very fantastic Bahai. He should be one person we should admire and respect.

    You have brought to life, another great Bahai pioneer through your ardent research and patience. Once a person starts reading it , he or she can’t stop till it is finished. The last part of your write up touched me to tears! Too interesting! We have truly lost a great soul. God bless him.

    Without your hard work, we would not be able to know so much about the life of Kana and also other great Bahais of whom you write in your popular blog.

    Lily Chinniah
    Kuala Lumpur

  14. I would like before all express my heartfelt thanks to my brother Manisegran and Bahai historian for this piece of write up on Kannabaran – a precious gem among the servants of the Cause of God of our time. For without this article, only a limited number of people would have had the opportunity to know this spiritual giant and veteran of the Army of Light. I had been pressing Mani to write a story on Kanna and after some persistence he has come out with such a wonderful story. I register my personal thanks to Mani for obliging.

    My association and friendship with Kanna began in 1972, a youth of 19 when I met him first in Summer School in Penang. From my first encountering with him the signs of devotion, sincerity, enthusiasm and relative maturity was visible in him. Kanna was the only one among over a hundred summer school participants who expressed the desire to pioneer in Laos where my wife Giti and I were pioneering, and asked me if he too could pioneer to Laos. His offer for pioneering in Laos came as an answer from God. My wife and I had been praying to Bahaullah to send a pioneer to Laos who needed spiritual, practical, energetic, devoted, selfless, humble and enduring qualities. Surprisingly Kanna was the perfect make, as these qualities were clearly manifested in him. I could recognize them in my one hour of conversation with him at the Summer School. From that moment on we sat together, talked, walked, ate, had fun at the Summer School. Finally Giti and I met his family and traveled together to Laos. That was the beginning of life- long friendship, working and serving the Faith together that lasted for forty six years till the last days of his remarkable earthly life when his radiant soul took its flight to the Abha Kingdom. Kanna was that radiant soul that always placed the interests of the Faith first before his own, his family and the world.

    A few hours after his passing, and during the following three days of his funeral all I could see and think and hear was the voice of Kanna and of the events of forty six years of the memory, of working together, undertaking teaching projects and consolidation trips, consulting, solving problems, empowering the youth and adults, expanding and advancing children classes, training children class teachers, youth animators and the moments of humor and fun all of which passed my bewildered mind like the flashes of light and left me bemoaned of irresistible separation that not even tears of emptiness could heal.

    Perhjaps Kanna was needed in the Abha Kingdom to serve in a different capacity. My life in Laos has been very much blended with the life of Kanna in almost all areas of service.

    I pray that I will have the chance and the honor of working with him again when I shall meet him in the Abha Kingdom.

    Firaydun Mithaq

  15. Thank you Manisegaran for the well written recollection of my dear friend Kannabaran….brings back old memories..?

    I have been a regular reader of all your stories. The touching article that you wrote on Uncle Nagaratnam- I have printed and compiled into a booklet. I am sure many readers are doing the same with some of the stories that could have touched them.

    Now that you have written on Kanna, I decided to register and give my comments. I had known the ever radiant Kanna way back in 1975 when my wife was admitted in the Bukit Mertajam Government hospital for delivery of my son Sanjeev. Kanna’s grandmother was also was admitted at the same hospital. Apart from attending to his grandmother, Kanna was very helpful to my wife during her stay there. My brother Shan was the Medical Officer in that hospital then.

    That simple and yet impressive gesture of Kanna to go out of the way to be helpful, I can never forget. Bahaullah creates some people for some purpose. Kanna was one of them.

    P.S. Vijayan
    Sungei Petani

  16. Dear Mr Amasi,
    Thank you very much for so kindly sharing the life story of our dear Kanna with me. During 1981-86 that we were living in Bangkok, we had the pleasure of working closely with Kanna especially in connection to keeping a relationship with Baha’i refugees from Laos. Here I often meet Bijan Beyzaee and together we remember incidences in Laos and Thailand. I deeply appreciate and value your efforts in collecting life histories and producing such historically important stories.

    With gratitude and best wishes,
    Iraj Ayman

  17. Dear Mani,
    A well written article of such a dedicated and vibrant soul in the service of Baha’u’llah. Thank you for the inspiring article on this valiant soul.

    Kannabaran had another destiny but it was changed by Hand of the Cause of God, Dr.Muhajir. When the request came to the NSA of Malaysia from the Universal House Justice in 1972, to send 10 youth travel teachers to Africa, Kannabaran was among the 10 in the initial list prepared by the National Assembly of Malaysia.The National Assembly cabled the Bahai World Center. In response, Dr.Muhajir cabled the National Assembly that he was arriving, and requested a meeting with the National Assembly, and conference with all the key believers, Counselor and Auxiliary Board Members. Dr.Muhajir came and together with the Counselors and National Institution reviewed the needs and challenges of Africa.Then a new list was developed.The travel teachers selected were from the NSA- 3 members; from the National Teaching Committee- 2 members; and Kamachee and Nargis Astani. And later at the Penang summer school, Kannabaran than volunteered to pioneer to Laos.

    I knew and heard of Kannabaran since he declared. I remember him from the days he joined the Faith as stories of his dedication and service reached the National Office.He was well regarded and spoken very highly by all who came into contact with him. Being in the National Co-ordianating Committee(NCC), we all appreciated his work and enthusiasm with which he served our Beloved Faith.

    Kannabaran left a legacy of dedication, commitment and service which will always be remembered. He served till his last breath and set an example for all the youths in Malaysia. The Malaysian Bahai community’s standards and dedication to service were set by some of our early believers like Yankee Leong, Leong Tat Chee and Inbum Chinniah. With these home-front examples and encouragement by the visiting Hands of the Cause like Dr.Muhajir and Collis Featherstone, youths like Kannabaran took ownership of our Faith and gave everything he had, time, commitment and dedication to serve his Lord. Oh Baha’u’llah what have you done!!!!!


  18. I met uncle Kanna in person only in early 2005 in Cambodia in his capacity of Auxiliary Board Member for Protection, though I had heard about him before that. The first thing anyone would notice was his warm and charming laughter and radiant smile. As many have rightly pointed out in their comments, uncle Kanna was indeed a man of many talents and languages.

    To us in Cambodia, he was a walking ‘Light of Guidance’ and a man of principle. He always promoted unity, peace and love amongst the friends. He encouraged them to spread happiness and get actively involved in any projects undertaken by the Spiritual Assembly. One would depend absolutely on his wise advice and guidance whether it was related to the Faith or work. He loved singing while playing his guitar. He loved to speak in the Tamil language, which was his mother tongue, with those who knew Tamil like us. He would often ask me to chant prayers in the Tamil language. Many friends in Cambodia til this day consider uncle Kanna an able and effective Auxiliary Board Members. Yet to many others, he had simply played the role of a father-like figure!. He is deeply missed, and shall remain in our hearts for the rest of our lives.

    With Love and Prayers,
    Mr. and Mrs. Vela Ramani Gopal

  19. Dear Manisegaran,
    I shared your biography of Kanna with Art Crisfield (an American who worked in Laos with USAID before 1975, and later came back to Lao with a PhD, and worked as an interpreter from the early 90s. He helps translate documents like proposals for the TLC-Brotherhood, of which I am a member. He is now a team leader in NE Laos as a volunteer. He has traveled with Kanna in Laos in about 1995. He appreciates the biography, and I found time to read some of it and it filled me with tears. Appreciate your efforts. Wish I had more time to read these great histories, but have other priorities now.

    I reproduce some words from his reply:

    I once took a long 2-day SUV trip with Kanna to Pakse, in the days before the road from Vientiane was finished. I think it was in 1995.

    He was the life of the party ! He talked so fast, I could hardly keep up with him, full of good humor, cordial and helpful with a ready smile. He was a Lao-English interpreter of amazing skill. And that is why he and I were hired to accompany a Human Resources specialist from the US in charge of a Lao Ministry of Plan training workshop. But he was so good I did not have to do very much – mostly training plans and handouts.

    He was a prince of a fellow, indeed. And what a biography !


  20. This is such a compelling story. I had the distinct privilege of being a guest of Kannabaran at his residence in Thailand. I shall have to share a story of my Travel Teaching trip and meeting Him at the Refugee Camps there.

    Joe Bushnell

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