REMEMBERING S. SATANAM
15 October 1940 – 6 July 2005
The Universal House of Justice was saddened to learn from your email dated 6 July 2005 of the passing of a long time, devoted believer Satanam Singaravadivelu, whose life was distinguished by over forty years of service to the Faith. His contributions to the development of the Cause in many countries in Asia, including Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos and Malaysia, and his distinguished service as a member of the institutions in those areas are recalled with deep appreciation. The House of Justice extends its loving sympathy to his family and friends, and you may rest assured of its prayers in the Holy Shrines for the progress of his radiant soul throughout all the worlds of God.
– The Universal House of Justice to the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Malaysia dated 7 July 2005
This is an abridged story of Mr. Satanam Singaravadivelu, one of the greatest teachers of our time. Satanam, as he was called, comes from a family of 10 children. Satanam’s father was a field overseer with the Public Works Department in the town of Seremban in Malaysia. His mother had prayed and fasted for a good son. God, in His kind mercy, answered her prayers by granting her Satanam whom she always considered to be the best gift bestowed upon her.
During his school days, Satanam proved to be an outstanding sportsman in the Anglo Chinese School in Seremban, excelling in athletics as a middle distance runner. He and his schoolmate Sabapathy were both teammates on the school hockey and football teams. In both these teams, Satanam played as a right-back while Sabapathy played as a left back. They formed such a strong defensive pair that they were known as “The Wall” as the opposing teams could score very few goals past them. Both Satanam and Sabapathy were well remembered by the students and the staff members. Satanam was not to compromise on two matters – his education and sports and he did excel in both.
ACS Football Team. Satanam at back row extreme right and Sabapathy in the middle row, second from right.
Satanam’s family were Hindus. His mother, in particular, was devout, and Satanam from very young loved accompanying his mother for prayers in the temples. Hinduism, as practiced by his mother, was a source of love and deep bond between Satanam and his mother. In the Anglo Chinese School (ACS) in Seremban, Satanam’s consciousness was however also raised about the wonderful teachings of Christ, and his heart was often in turmoil about having to choose between Christianity and Hinduism. His innermost heart, however, made him believe that he did not have to choose one at the expense of the other.
It did not take long before Divine Intervention played its part by leading him to the Bahá’í Faith. It was his friend Mr. Balwant Singh, himself a new believer who had informed of the new religion. Satanam started to attend firesides organized by Yankee Leong, the first believer of Malaya, at the rented Bahá’í Centre located at 106 Birch Road. After attending two firesides Satanam took a liking for the tenets of the Bahá’í Faith but wanted to be very sure of his next move. It was at the third fireside that Satanam was very moved to the core of his heart when he heard Yankee Leong reading out this passage: “All the Prophets of God…..abide in the same tabernacle, soar in the same heaven, are seated upon the same throne, utter the same speech, and proclaim the same Faith.” The open-mindedness of Satanam as a believer in all the prophets must have moved him when listening to this passage.
Keen in learning as much as possible on this new Revelation Satanam immediately borrowed the book “Promise of All Ages” by George Townshend from Yankee Leong. After reading that book he came closer to the Faith and started to attend all Bahá’í functions without fail at the Bahá’í Centre at Birch Road. In one of the evenings, some Bahá’ís from Malacca town who had come down to Seremban met Satanam. In the course of the conversation, they saw that Satanam was already convinced in the teachings. They asked Satanam what else he was waiting for when the Message was already as clear as broad daylight. Satanam signed up. His acceptance of the Faith was immediately communicated to the Regional Spiritual Assembly of South East Asia, which sent a special letter dated 1 May 1960, welcoming him into the Bahá’í community.
Letter from the Regional Spiritual Assembly of South East Asia.
The content and the spirit of the letter touched Satanam’s heart so much that he kept it until his last days. Throughout his life, Satanam was always grateful to Mr. Balwant Singh for introducing him to the Faith. Balwant Singh later worked in the Straits Times press in Kuala Lumpur, and out of this gratitude, Satanam kept visiting him whenever possible. Satanam was equally grateful to Yankee Leong with whom he developed a very strong spiritual bonding. Yankee Leong took a great liking for Satanam. When Satanam and Sabapathy were attending night classes to pursue their Higher Secondary School Certificate Examination, Yankee Leong used to pray for them, and they did pass well. Some twenty-six years later, Yankee Leong was spending the evening of his life at the home of his eldest daughter Theresa Chee in the town of Ipoh. On the morning of 17 June 1986, Satanam got up with a strong inner urge to visit Yankee Leong on that day itself. Satanam arrived in Ipoh at 7:30 in the evening, when, alas! Yankee Leong had passed away only two hours earlier at 5:30 pm. Satanam was very devastated but stayed on for the funeral. That was the kind of profound mystical relationship that Satanam had developed not only with Yankee Leong but with several other believers as well.
Now back to the year 1960. Satanam had a new challenge to face. He was often absenting himself from home. News reached his mother that Satanam had converted to a new religion. She called him up and enquired about the new Faith that he was following. Satanam briefly explained to his mother on the teachings of the Faith. As Satanam came from an orthodox Ceylonese family, this new religion that Satanam was following added to the concerns of his mother. His visibly upset mother warned Satanam that should he continue to be active in this new religion, his sisters would not get married at all. Satanam’s mother urged him to promise that he would not attend Bahá’í meetings anymore. It was with a very heavy heart, and with tearful eyes that Satanam had to give in to his mother’s plea. That night sleep departed from Satanam, who was restlessly tossing on the bed, not knowing what to do next. He spent the whole night praying for divine guidance. On the following morning, he woke up early to visit Yankee Leong before proceeding to work. He met Yankee Leong and explained all that had happened. Yankee Leong listened patiently and quietly and told Satanam to obey his mother, but at the same time resort to prayers. Yankee Leong assured Satanam that Bahá’u’lláh would surely answer all sincere prayers. From that day onwards, Satanam locked himself in his room at night and prayed to God, beseeching for divine intervention to deliver him from his perplexity. The mother became aware that Satanam was saying Bahá’í prayers inside the room, but did not object. Then came the unexpected miracle. At the end of the two weeks, his mother, on her own accord summoned Satanam and, with very loving words told him to go ahead following his heart’s promptings. Satanam who could not believe that dramatic change in his mother, immediately fell at her feet with eyes welling with tears, thanked her, and ran straight to Yankee Leong and told him of all that had happened. Yankee Leong was equally moved and assured Satanam that the miraculous episode meant that God had some plans for him on this earthly life.
That was the dawn of a new day for Satanam, although he had signed up only a few days earlier. Satanam later related to his friends that the incident of his mother allowing him to follow the Faith was a very moving moment in his life, where he had witnessed the power of prayers. Deep in his heart, Satanam was more than convinced that his mother would receive the rich blessings of Bahá’u’lláh for allowing him to serve His glorious Cause. Satanam not only grew to be the one most loved by his family members but also by the Bahá’í community.
Satanam spared no time in sharing the Glad Tidings with his closest friends. Through the teaching efforts of Satanam, some 10 of his classmates at the Anglo Chinese School accepted the Faith, including A. Sabapathy. Other youths who accepted the Faith around the same time were Jack Tan, Isaac DeCruz, Pauline DeCruz, Nit Singam, K. Krishnan and Annamalai. He soon distinguished himself among his fellow Bahá’ís. With a set of 16 vibrant youths, the Seremban Bahá’í Youth Section was formed in 1960, with Satanam as Chairman. At the First Pan-Malayan Teaching Conference held in Malacca on 8 May 1960, Satanam was introduced as the “Seremban Youth Section Leader,” in the presence of Hand of the Cause of God Dr. Muhajir. That was the first time Satanam ever met any Hand of the Cause. The next time Satanam met Dr. Muhajir was at the Summer School of 1960 held in Port Dickson.
First Summer School for Satanam, 1960. Satanam is squatting on the right. Standing L-R: Board member Kishen Khemani, Dr. Muhajir, Shirin Fozdar, Eshraghian and Iran Muhajir.
The very presence and talks of Dr. Muhajir created an indelible impression in his heart. Satanam was never to miss visits by Hands of the Cause of God to Malaysia. Among the other Hands of the Cause of God that Satanam met in Malaysia were Taraz’u’llah Samandari, Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum, Enoch Olinga, Collis Featherstone, A. Q. Faizi, and Jalal Khazeh. He attained the presence of some of them on several occasions both in Malaysia and abroad.
Satanam among the Seremban youths, 1961. Seated at back row L-R: Mariappan, Annamalai, Isaac DCruz, Major Charles, (unknown) Nit Singam.
The rise of Satanam and his friends in the Faith was meteoric. In 1961, the year after accepting the Faith Satanam was elected to the Local Spiritual Assembly of Seremban.
Local Spiritual Assembly of Seremban, 1961. Seated L-R: K. Rajah, Yankee Leong, Poh Eng Siew, Lily Ng. Standing L-R: Stevan, Nit Singam, S.Satanam, Annumalai, R. Marriappan.
Satanam’s meeting with Hand of the Cause of God, Tarázulláh Samandari on 13 February 1961 at a special Get-Together that was arranged for the Malacca believers was of great significance in his Bahá’í life. Mr. Samandari was the only living Hand of the Cause of God to have attained the presence of Bahá’u’lláh. Mr. Samandari kissed both eyes of each and every believer present. Satanam recalled those kisses had brought an “unexplained feeling of spiritual ecstasy” to him. Satanam is reported to have said that his life was transformed to a large extent after meeting Mr. Samandari. Satanam was once again moved when Amatu’l-Bahá, with her own hands, served him and other believers lunch at the Sunshine Camp in Port Dickson on her first visit to Malaya in 1961. Satanam’s subsequent meetings with all the Hands of the Cause of God who had visited Malaysia during his lifetime had created a further impression upon him, that he had made it a goal in his life to lead a good Bahá’í life modeled along with the lives of the Hands of the Cause of God. And yet Satanam would be much associated with Dr. Muhajir, whom he greatly admired and respected. It was out of the boundless love he had developed for Dr. Muhajir that Satanam named one of his sons after Dr. Muhajir. Dr. Muhajir himself had a special liking for Satanam, in whom he was able to see the high potential. When Dr. Muhajir suggested the opening of the difficult East Coast of Malaya as early as 1960, Satanam immediately responded, which touched the heart of Dr. Muhajir. Heeding to the call of Dr. Muhajir, Satanam started his constant teaching trips to the most difficult east coast in 1960, which lasted until about 1966. He used to travel on a motorcycle, often with Sabapathy to the East Coast, escaping death on the rough roads on a few occasions.
On another occasion while traveling to the East Coast by car, Dr. Muhajir asked the car to be parked along the roadside and requested the believers to chant prayers. As none of the believers had brought along prayer books, he himself chanted the Tablet of Ahmad from memory. He then requested Satanam and the other Bahá’ís to memorize the Bahá’í prayers and read the writings every morn and eve. Within 4 days Satanam memorized the Tablet of Ahmad. While we are required to read the Writings each morning and evening, Satanam went one step ahead and read them at noon as well. He was already an avid reader of Bahá’í books and went for the latest arrivals in the Bahá’í bookshop.
Satanam, at back row middle, with his peers at Seremban Bahá’í Center, 1962. At extreme left is Sabapathy. Yankee Leong at the extreme left in the front row. Second from the right is R. Mariappan, and third from right is Isaac DCruz.
At the domestic front, Satanam became highly obsessed with the carrying of the message of God to almost every estate within the state of Negeri Sembilan, and himself took a lead in organizing such teaching activities. He found true joy in the blessed field. In the year 1963 alone he went teaching almost every day in a week. Satanam grew up to be a prominent field worker, covering so many rubber plantation settlements. Satanam was able to converse very well in the English, Malay and Tamil languages, and endowed with this ability, he was able to reach all ethnic groups in Malaysia. He also became a good conductor of deepening classes and a Master of Ceremony for Bahá’í marriages.
Outside the Seremban Bahá’í center, 1962. With arms folded L-R: S. Vasudevan from Malacca, Satanam and Isaac DCruz. Mariappan is at the back of Isaac.
Satanam also belonged to among the first batch of home front pioneers in Malaysia. It was on the request by Dr. Muhajir that made Satanam got a transfer to Jelebu district in Negeri Sembilan on 9 June 1961. While in Jelebu Satanam was successful in establishing a Local Spiritual Assembly in 1963. It was from Jelebu that Satanam was elected as a delegate for the first National Bahá’í Convention held in 1964 in Kuala Lumpur. In 1966 he was transferred from Jelebu to the coastal town of Port Dickson. Satanam had later undertaken several teaching trips to the eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak.
Teaching in an estate, 1962. Alan Tan at the extreme left, and Sabapathy at extreme right. Satanam is in the middle.
Gathering in honor of visit by Mr. Bijan Bayzayee, Persian pioneer to Laos as he passed through Seremban, 1963. Seated L-R- (Unknown) Poh Eng Siew, Yankee Leong, K.Rajah, lily Ng. Standing L-R: A. Sabapathy Lee Teck Seng, R. Mariappan, Bijan Bayzayee, Isaac DCruz, S. Satanam, Annamalai
The first National Bahá’í Convention in 1964 was an emotional moment for Satanam, of which he used to recall from time to time. Satanam was among several others who were moved to tears as the results of the election of the first National Spiritual Assembly were announced. He was further moved by the talks of Amatu’l-Bahá who represented the Supreme Body. Having emerged as a great field worker for the Faith in Malaysia, Satanam, barely a youth of 24 years was invited to give a talk on taking the Faith to the Indian laborers in the estates. Several of his suggestions from his talk was well noted and appreciated On a lighter note, on the second night of the Convention, Satanam and Vasudevan from Malacca sang the ‘The Ballad of Yankee’ to an old Tamil song tune, which Amatu’l-Bahá enjoyed very much. Amatu’l-Bahá enjoyed the cultural event so much that she commented in jest that she would come back to Malaysia to enjoy such presentations at future conventions.
Satanam at the back with Vasudevan to his left. Amatu’l-Bahá is seated in the center with Mrs. Shantha Sundram seated next to her. Conversing with Amatu’l-Bahá is Dr. R.J. Wolff.
Satanam was a permanent participant at all kinds of Bahá’í gatherings, be they summer schools, winter schools, national conventions, regional and national gatherings. He believed that these gatherings not only generated much spirit but also formed a basis for building Bahá’í community life.
Satanam was deeply committed to serving the aboriginal friends called the “Asli” people in the jungles of Malaysia. It was Dr. Muhajir who had made a personal request to Satanam to take the Faith to the Asli areas. In 1964, Satanam’s first Asli teaching began when he joined K. Krishnan to the Asli settlement in Fort Iskandar near Rompin town, state of Negeri Sembilan, where 5 accepted the Faith. From then onward Satanam teamed up with Vishnupatham and Isaac DCruz to take the Faith to several places such as Kuala Langat and Hulu Langat provinces in the state of Selangor, and several other villages in the state of Perak. This team made it a point to take along new-comers for Asli teaching. On many occasions, they had entered the jungles in Bidor area in the state of Perak and emerged in the town of Kuala Lipis in the state of Pahang, from where they would catch a bus to return to Seremban town. During school holidays this team was not to be seen in their homes as they were inside the jungles. Ensuring the re-election of the Assemblies was a great challenge for them. For a few years, they would enter the jungle on April 17 and return on April 25, after ensuring assemblies were re-elected. Satanam’s passion for teaching the Asli people was so strong that in 1967, the National Spiritual Assembly appointed him into what was called the Aborigine Committee, which from 1971 came to be called the National Asli Teaching Committee, with its base in Seremban.
Satanam squatting at left, with Asli believers.
Inspired by the works of the Guardian, Satanam developed a Jungle Tracking Map.
The year 1967 was another important milestone when Satanam married Miss Indra Devi, his Hindu relative. Satanam made it clear that he wanted a Bahá’í wedding, which was granted. The Local Spiritual Assembly of Port Dickson conducted this wedding on 18 August 1967 at the Seremban Bahá’í Centre. Never once did Satanam impose his Faith upon her. In December 1973, a group of believers who were attending a Spiritualization Institute at Port Dickson dropped in at Satanam’s house for an evening tea. When one of them asked Indra if she was ready to accept the Faith, she said she had long ago accepted the Faith in her heart. She then signed up the declaration card. Satanam was very happy, for he was now able to have a full Bahá’í family. He knew that with his wife accepting the Faith, his entire family would be moving with one thought and one direction. Satanam gave all the encouragement for his wife to be fully involved in the Faith. She became his strongest comfort and strength. Their home was opened to everyone. Satanam was seen as a good husband, a loving father and a fatherly figure for the Bahá’í community. This marriage produced three wonderful children – a daughter Lua Sharmini, and two sons -Selvam and Muhajir.
Satanam with his wife Indra Devi- an added strength in his Bahá’í life.
Meanwhile the National Spiritual Assembly of Malaysia expressed its gratitute to Satanam for fulfilling one of her international travel teaching goals when he attended the West Asian Youth Summer School held in Colombo, (Ceylon) Sri Lanka in August 1972. He was sent on several teaching trips by the National Spiritual Assembly of Sri Lanka, and he helped to establish three new assemblies, thereby assisting Sri Lanka in achieving part of her goals. Satanam was also invited to address the Summer School which was attended by about fifty youths. He was most delighted to see Raymond Peter and his wife Joan who have been Malaysia’s pioneers in Sri Lanka since the end of 1969 and meet their little daughter Shamina.
While in Port Dickson, Satanam helped in building that community. A strong assembly functioned during his time there. Satanam joined Rajaratnam, the first believer there and a few others and carried out aggressive teaching activities in the several surrounding rubber plantation settlements. Several people came into the Faith. Seah Boon Hee accepted the Faith at a musical Fireside held in December 1973, and on the encouragement of Satanam, he went to serve the Cause in South Thailand. On the encouragement of Satanam, Maniam went to travel teach in Andhra Pradesh, India in 1974. When manpower was needed in Port Dickson, Satanam, using his good office employed Mr. Seetharaman at the Si Rusa Inn. As Port Dickson was surrounded by many estates, he got employment for Arul Sivanathan from Kedah as a Field Conductor at the Sua Betong Estate. All these believers became a valuable asset to the Port Dickson community. Port Dickson was a good venue for holding large scale Bahá’í conferences, and Satanam became a natural choice to look into the needs of such large scale conferences. Working at the Water Supply Department, Satanam ensured a sufficient supply of water, tents for sheds and other facilities were made available. When Satanam was in Port Dickson he was active in the Area Teaching Committee. When Satanam left Port Dickson for Rantau town in 1975, the Port Dickson community was already placed on a higher pedestal.
Port Dickson community, 1974. Selvam Satanam stands at the extreme left, and Muhajir Satanam stands at the extreme right. Holding the greatest name is Maniam. To Maniam’s left is Rajaratnam, and to Rajaratnam’s left is Arul Sivanathan. Standing at the extreme left is Manimaran, with Seetharaman next to him. Standing in the middle is Boon. At the extreme right is Ringo.
At Rantau town Satanam was managing a water treatment plant in a place called Ribu. In the late 1960s, Bornoh Das from Seremban had taught the Faith in Rantau and a few accepted the Faith. Again in 1973, some thirty believers had accepted the Faith through the teaching activities of believers from Seremban town. But owing to lack of regular visits and constant consolidation, the affairs of the community had sunken to the lowest. But even while in Port Dickson Satanam had been undertaken teaching trips to Rantau. But after arriving in Rantau, Satanam started to organize his thoughts and planned out strategies to revive this community. He managed to get a list of the believers who had been dormant and started to visit each of them to inspire and invite them for deepening classes at his home. His classes on the Dawn-Breakers moved the community. The Assembly was re-elected, which saw a new dynamism with Satanam serving as Chairman. One of the key figures in Rantau was the late Mr. M. Govinderajoo, whom Satanam used to call “MGR”, an iconic name of an Indian charismatic cinema idol-turned politician. Satanam truly nurtured this community into maturity. Having come up the Faith from his youth days, Satanam knew which buttons to press. Each day he organized teaching trips in the evenings and tagged along with the youths in his car. Even while driving the car on such teaching trips, Satanam used to relate stories from the cradle of the Faith. He encouraged the youths to attend summer schools and other Bahá’í gatherings, and quietly slipped some cash into their pockets. At times Satanam got the youths to conduct survey works for his Water Supply Department, for which they were paid. The government quarters where Satanam lived had a large yard, on which he built a badminton court. He then formed a Badminton Team with the youths. This team toured all the estates and Chinese New Villages to play friendly matches. In this way, his circle of friends widened, and he was able to share Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings with the wider community. He also organized campfires in his yard. The community was soon on fire! Satanam was successful in encouraging two youths -Mageswaran and Krishnan – to pioneer to the state of Sabah in 1979. At a later time, they served on the National Spiritual Assembly of Sabah. To this day they attribute their strong foundation in the Faith to Satanam. It has to be mentioned that on the encouragement of Satanam, Govinderajoo’s son Mr. Jayaraman went to Mongolia as a pioneer in 1992.
It was in 1979, while still in Rantau, that Satanam was appointed Auxiliary Board Member. Now, this community was blessed with both elected and appointed institutions. However, in December 1980 he returned to his hometown Seremban, after being away for 18 years. But Satanam had left his permanent traces in Rantau.
With the 1970s rolling in, Satanam was contemplating achieving his one single desire that was burning within his soul for many years, and that was to pioneer in some foreign country. However, with circumstances beyond his control, he could not make the move then. But the seed was already planted. At the South East Asia Regional Conference held in December 1976 at Port Dickson, he saw an opportunity to teach in several countries. At the conference, Dr. Muhajir called upon the Malaysian Bahá’ís to step up their teaching activities in the neighboring countries. Moved by Dr. Muhajir’s call, in early 1977 Satanam took 6 months no paid leave and carried out travel teaching to Bhutan, Sikkim, Bangladesh, Tamilnadu, Sri Lanka, and Burma. As Satanam had limited time in each of these countries he focused on inspiring and encouraging the local believers to arise and serve the Cause. In Bangladesh, Satanam attended the wedding of our Malaysian pioneer Joseph Swaminathan. In Tamilnadu, he gave all the encouragement for a band of Malaysian believers who were travel teaching there.
Inspired believers in Chennai, Tamilnadu, April 1977. Seated L-R: Manisegaran, Satanam, and K. Krishnan. Standing L-R: Demudu, Simon (Chennai believer) Munusamy, Doraisamy, and Maheswaran.
Learning that long term teaching trips would bring in greater victories, he applied for optional retirement in 1986 to pioneer for good in a foreign country, but that application was rejected, and but he consoled that there had to be wisdom, known to His Creator alone.
But God had some other plans for Satanam to accomplish. In 1986 the Supreme Body issued a document entitled “The Promise of World Peace” to be delivered to those in authority and high ranking in society in all the countries of the world. It was a formidable task for the Malaysian Bahá’í community. Wheels started to turn at full speed. Satanam won much appreciation from the institutions for almost single-handedly opening the door for giving the Peace Statement to His Royal Highness the Yang di-Pertuan Besar, ruler of the state of Negeri Sembilan.
Presenting Peace Statement to His Royal Highness, Ruler of Negeri Sembilan. At the extreme left is Purushothman Nair from Malacca. Satanam is at extreme right.
At this juncture, it has to be pointed out in no uncertain terms that Satanam was well respected in the outside world too as an honest, sincere and truthful person. There was a one-time President of a religious association who was vehemently opposed to the Cause, and at every given opportunity he did not hesitate to condemn the believers. However, this same person loved Satanam very much, and visited him quite often, but never brought up the subject of the Bahá’í Faith. He also maintained a respectable distance with several of his close friends who were holding influential positions in politics. They saw Satanam as a very sincere person- and of course a follower of the Bahá’í Faith. There had been several other leaders of government departments, non-government organizations, and social organizations who all held Satanam in high esteem. He simply won their admiration for what he was.
Bahau believers with Hand of the Cause of God Mr. Collis Featherstone and his wife, January 1987. At the extreme left is G.A. Naidu.
As Auxiliary Board Member for Protection, Satanam did a marvelous job, traveling to many parts of the areas under his jurisdiction, even at short notice, and on many occasions taking public transport. From the many feedback received from friends, Satanam had used much of the magnet of his inborn love to address the issues presented to him. His one single thought and concern had always been protecting the good image of the Faith. His greatest pain was to see the image of the Faith affected. In 1988 a new and lukewarm believer who had not sufficiently grasped the tenets of the Faith committed a dishonorable act, which he later reported to the press, and identifying himself as a Bahá’í. The press reported his act and his religion as a Bahá’í. That report caused not only a shock-wave but also a dent on the image of the Faith. Reading this news sent shock-waves into the very soul of Satanam. He was so hurt, sorrowed and deeply disturbed that he not only shed tears but skipped meals. For the next few days joy, smile, and radiance left Satanam.
Satanam, third from left in middle row at a meeting of Counselors and Auxiliary Board Members, February 1991.
Second Bahá’í World Congress, New York, 1992
Satanam at right, walks up the terraces of Mount Carmel with immense reverence in January 2001, on the occasion of the Conference of Board Members that also marked the inauguration of the International Teaching Centre Building.
While Satanam was serving only too well as Board Member in Malaysia, his heart was still bent on serving in some foreign country. He once again pressed on for retirement. Satanam was born in 1940 and was scheduled for his mandatory retirement when he was 55 in 1995. Unable to hold on any further, Satanam applied for and was granted optional retirement at the Water Supply Department of the Public Works Department in early 1993 – when he was 52 turning 53- two years ahead of his mandatory retirement age. That was after having served for 34 years. Satanam jumped with joy now that he was able to move unrestrained as a wind, carrying the healing message of Bahá’u’lláh. The World Health Organization came to learn that Satanam was a Water Specialist in Malaysia and that he was able to treat water from the Linggi River, which was the biggest in the state, and one of the most polluted in the country. The World Health Organization was surprised to learn that he was able to treat water without using high levels of chlorine. Starting his job as a Junior Technical Assistant with the Public Works Department, Satanam retired as a Super-Scale Water Treatment Technician, which was a very high achievement in his career. Needless to say, Satanam discharged his duties in the spirit of “Work is Worship; Service is Prayer,” which led to being well recognized and admired by his employers, superiors, and subordinates.
Satanam, seated second from the right as he started his career as a Junior Technical Assistant. Retired as a Super-Scale Technician, a big climb and a great blessing.
Upon optional retirement in 1993, Satanam went to Cambodia for 3 years, taking up a position as United Nations Volunteer with the United Nations Development Program, in charge of the treatment of water in Sihanoukville province. He did a marvelous job there and won the admiration of all the officials. It was reported that for the first time the local population was able to enjoy access to clean drinking water, quite free from water-borne diseases. He spent the first 6 months of travel teaching in various provinces assisting in re-establishing the Faith in Cambodia. His wife joined him after 6 months when he moved to the port city of Sihanoukville. His wife too served in her own way by giving English lessons to the local people.
As Volunteer with the United Nations
Satanam picked up the local language to be effective in the teaching field. All he would say was, “Preah Mui! Sasna Mui! Mnuh Chiat Mui!” When translated into English would mean “God is One! Religion is One! Mankind is One!” With his little Khmer, he was very successful in spreading the Faith amongst the people in Cambodia. He would take along the local believers to visit nearby provinces and towns, such as Koh Kong Island and Kampot to spread the healing message of Bahá’u’lláh.
In Cambodia, Satanam was instrumental in organizing the local believers to elect their first National Spiritual Assembly in 1994. Amatu’l-Bahá was the official representative of the Supreme Body at the convention. The believers from Malaysia such as Muthusamy from Batu Pahat town, Ramayah from Kuantan town and Satanam and his wife got together and organized a lunch for Amatu’l-Bahá at the City Lotus Restaurant that was run by Raymond Peter and Joseph Swaminathan. Mrs. Satanam was invited to cook special dishes for Amatu’l-Bahá, which she enjoyed most. In Cambodia too Satanam was appointed an Auxiliary Board member for Protection.
Amatu’l-Bahá and Mrs. Violette Nakhjavani at the City Lotus Restaurant and Guest House. Standing L-R: Dr. Joe Swaminathan, Shanti Ram, Rajeswary, Mrs. Satanam, Raymond Peter, Vijayan Joseph, Kalavathy Appuraman, T-Maniam (partly hidden) and Miss Foong Lai Kwan.
Mrs. Viloette Nakhjavani, Amatu’l-Bahá, and S. Satanam in Cambodia.
One day Mr. Velautham Gopal from Malaysia and Mr. Nasser Uddin from Bangladesh who were both pioneering in Cambodia were about to set off for their goal area. Satanam told them, “First and foremost, obey the decisions of the institution on your assigned locations or provinces, and for the sake of Bahá’u’lláh please do not question. Only then will the Blessed Beauty keep you safe and watch over you.” Mr. Vela further adds that Satanam never compromised when involving the Faith. He was very strict and stern, as much as he was a loving shepherd. Mr. Vela also quotes an incident where a believer had promised Satanam to carry out an important instruction, but it turned out that the believer neglected in his duty. Satanam called him up and rebuked, “When you promise to carry out an instruction for the Faith, remember you are giving a promise to Bahá’u’lláh Himself. Have you given a thought that Bahá’u’lláh would be upset with you failing in your duties?” When Mr. Vela, his brother Mr. Velu and Velu’s wife Joyce consulted Satanam about establishing a first language school in Sihanoukville town, Satanam gave all the encouragement as he saw its beneficial importance. Satanam felt that such a school could be used to promote the Cause. Every evening, together with Satanam, they would recite special prayers for the establishment of the school. Finally, the school was established “The Violet English School.” It was picking up very well when in 2000 the school had to be sold off when the founders left for East Timor.
On their way to conduct the Sub-Unit Convention of South Region in Log Kong Island, Cambodia. L-R: Satanam, Mali, baby Violet, Joyce Cabal, Ramani Vela, Singaravel and Kry Chanteoun. The two at the back are tourists.
Satanam spent much of his time in Cambodia building up capacities of individuals and developing bonding among believers. While in Cambodia Satanam had made occasional visits to Vietnam as well to meet and inspire the friends there. In December 1995, Satanam and his wife left Cambodia for Malaysia. Mr. Joseph Swaminathan who had served with Satanam in Cambodia and continues to serve there at the time of writing this story has this to say, “Satanam’s services there were considered outshining and outstanding, yielding so many positive results which are still visible today.”
Between January 1996 and September 1996, Satanam and his wife were back in Malaysia and spent some 6 months teaching in the district of Kluang in the state of Johore. In September 1996, Satanam and his wife left for Balikpapan in Kalimantan, Indonesia on a World Bank Project, to conduct a survey on unaccounted water. That was the most difficult area to teach the Faith, and yet the Satanams took it as a challenge to spread the Faith there. In August 1998 they moved to Jakarta, for seven months on an assignment by an international water consultancy. He returned to Malaysia during the height of the Asian Financial crisis in the third quarter of 1998.
Mr. and Mrs. Satanam with believers in Kalimantan.
Back in Malaysia, Satanam’s heart was still restless. His heart was still insistent on serving abroad. In early 1999, with the assistance of the late Kannabaran in Laos, Satanam and his wife moved to Laos, with Satanam having secured a position as United Nations Volunteer with the United Nations Development Program. This position took him right to the end of 2003. Satanam was working on a National Water Supply and Environmental Health Program, collaborating with the provincial authorities. They first settled in Paksan and served there for two years before relocating to Savannakhet for the next two years. In Laos too Satanam was appointed an Auxiliary Board member during his tenure there. Laos was about the last foreign country where doors were opened for Satanam to serve the Cause.
In all these teaching trips he had created and left behind strong and indelible impacts, often receiving accolades from the receiving countries.
A radiant Satanam with friends in Laos. Mehraban Farahmand is seated third from left in the front row, and his wife Cecelia is with a baby at the back row. Standing in the center at the back row is Mrs. Satanam.
Since accepting the Faith in 1960 Satanam became a relentless worker for the Cause, seldom enjoying leisure or luxury. His thoughts, actions, and deeds were all centered around serving the Cause. He led a truly hectic life as a constant worker for the Cause.
It was on the eve of the celebrations to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Acceptance of the Faith by Yankee Leong, held in Ipoh in December 2003 that Satanam realized that his health was failing fast. With severe pain in his abdomen, he was not able to travel for the event. That was the event where the first book on the history of the Faith in West Malaysia – “Jewel Among Nations”– was set to be launched. Satanam had pushed the author very hard and given much information and encouragement to get the book published. The author insisted on Satanam’s presence. It was with great pain that Satanam was able to go for the event, but only on the second day, and happily witnessed the launching of the book. In launching the book, the author paid open tribute to Satanam, who was instrumental to a large extent in getting that book out. The day after the launching of the book, Satanam returned to Malacca, unable to stay on further. It has to be mentioned that one month before his passing, Satanam held the author in his arms and expressed his pleasure for having made him happy by recording the history of the Faith in West Malaysia.
Immediately after that anniversary celebrations in Ipoh, Satanam was admitted into a private hospital in Seremban, where a biopsy was done for diagnosis. While waiting for the results, Satanam remarked to the author and a few friends who went to visit him in the hospital that he was ready to submit to whatever was the will of God. It appeared that he guessed the illness that had come upon him. When the doctors finally broke the news that Satanam had cancer – a non-Hodgkin lymphoma, he accepted it with cool composure. He withstood the pain with sublime heroism and an unflinching strength. That was where the nobility of Satanam came to the fore. But the family members and the lovers of this lovable Satanam were not willing to accept what Satanam had accepted. Some kind of electrifying shock waves rocked the entire community in Malaysia and communities abroad when the news was relayed. They all prayed ardently for Satanam’s health to be restored. The prayers were miraculously answered. To the surprise of the medical experts, Satanam was pronounced almost cured. The believers jumped with joy on getting the glad tidings of this medical miracle. The believers who had been praying for his speedy recovery were now immersed in thanksgiving to the Lord. Satanam returned home and was spending his days in prayers, meditation, reading the writings and meeting friends.
While the community was rejoicing in the miraculous recovery of Satanam, another unexpected happened. His cancer relapsed, and this time it attacked him with greater aggression. Satanam was admitted this time into the Kuala Lumpur Government Hospital. This time around Satanam, displayed such his strong faith in God. He did not wish to see a swarm of visitors expressing sympathy for him. All he had wanted was to see the believers serving out in the teaching field, supporting the ongoing Muhajir Teaching Plan, a plan named after Hand of the Cause of God Dr. Muhajir, whom he considered very dear to his soul. Yet some visitors pushed their way through to his ward. When reported later that the Bahá’ís had found themselves busy with the ongoing Muhajir teaching plan, he expressed full happiness. To the visitors, he was mostly extolling the majesty and greatness of this Mighty Revelation. Among his last wishes was to see all the believers united. He never wanted to hear of believers quarreling over trivial issues with the filmiest of reasons. He remarked that it was the idle mind that would harbor all the devilish thoughts. He stressed that once the Bahá’ís were active in the field they would have no time for fault finding and bickering. All he had wanted to hear, while in the hospital, was stories of victories for the Faith.
While avoiding a large number of visitors, he did summon some of his close friends to visit him. On 30 June 2005, Satanam was visited by the author, along with Counselors N.C. Bhaskaran and Rasheed from India who was in the country for a Counselors’ meeting. In this meeting, Satanam spoke for nearly two hours on many miraculous events associated with his Bahá’í life, which the author recorded to memory, and some of which are presented here. Satanam was highly emotional at this meeting. At one point when he said, “The Faith is indeed so great, and Bahá’u’lláh is indeed so loving to we believers,” he broke down, and sobbed like a child. After some moments of sobbing, Satanam composed himself and apologized to the victors for crying. Satanam further said that with cancer eating into him, his life was already over, and desired to be called faster to the Invisible Realms. The two Counselors who met him for the first time were simply shaken to witness the boundless love that Satanam had developed for the Faith and the Blessed Beauty. The two Counselors, when emerging from that highly charged atmosphere, commented in moving words that the Malaysian Bahá’í community was highly privileged to have been blessed with such an immortal servant in their midst. Two days later, all members of the National Spiritual Assembly of Malaysia paid a visit upon him, a rare honor and privilege seldom accorded to any believer.
With premonition that the days were numbered, Satanam requested for voluntary discharge in order to be with his family in his last days, and prepare himself for the next journey. Back in his home in Seremban, Satanam spent his last days in deep meditation, prayers, and reading of the holy texts. Despite heavy coughing, he still went through reciting the holy verses with great difficulties.
In the last two days, Satanam prayed to pass away of a sudden heart attack, rather than pulling through the unbearable pain of cancer. Bahá’u’lláh must have heard the prayers of Satanam. On the morning of 6 July 2005, just within two days of Satanam expressing his desire to meet his Creator, his pure and radiant soul winged its flight to the Abhá Kingdom from a massive, but a painless heart attack. Upon passing his face appeared in full calmness and great radiance, clearly indicative of his happiness to have joined his Beloved. It was a tragic end to a pious life that brimmed with immense love for Bahá’u’lláh and an unaverred devotion to His Faith. The sad news was instantly relayed to the Malaysian Bahá’í community and the countries where Satanam had served. Although his passing was expected, yet the news did send a chilling effect into the hearts of all. Bahá’ís and non-Bahá’ís flocked to his house in Seremban in large numbers, creating massive traffic congestion in the neighborhood. Telephone calls and emails brought in messages of condolences from all over the world. By the following morning wreaths from many parts of the world were piled up in the living room where the immortal Satanam was laid to rest. With no more space available in the living room, newly arriving wreaths had to be heaped at the entrance, thus blocking entry to his house.
On 7 July 2005, a highly dignified funeral service was conducted, befitting this God-intoxicated servant. A very huge crowd turned up to pay the last respects to Satanam at the Bahá’í cemetery on the old road to Port Dickson town. Despite being a working day, many had taken leave to pay their last respects. Messages of condolences from the International Teaching Centre, the Continental Board of Counselors, Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Malaysia, National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Laos and Indonesia were read. Some communities where Satanam had served conveyed that they were organizing prayer sessions at the same time the burial ceremony was taking place in Malaysia. In a most moving and dignified manner, the body of the immortal Satanam was laid to rest, chilling further the hearts of the grief-stricken lovers who had gathered. Suffice to state that seldom had the Malaysian Bahá’í community witnessed a burial ceremony of such a moving nature.
A SHINING EXAMPLE IN EVERY WAY
Satanam was a man of great virtues. There are Bahá’ís who teach the Faith with words, and there are those who teach by living the life. Satanam clearly and certainly belonged to both categories. Satanam’s exemplary labours in several areas of Bahá’í service will surely and forever provide a shining example to rising generations. The very mention of the name of Satanam would invariably draw one’s thoughts to his utter humility and spotless character, coupled with his relentless services.
He was a true friend to everyone and enemy to none. Even the hardest critics in the community had only praises for the saintly life that Satanam had led. Somehow Satanam was able to win over one highly critical and extremely strong-headed believer in Malaysia. The tact and wisdom that Satanam employed to win him over and subdue him still remains a mystery to many of the old believers. It was Satanam alone who could have done it.
He was a balm to Bahá’ís in distress and took the pains of others as his own. It would be a customary habit or conventional behavior for individuals in society to assure prayers whenever someone with great difficulties approached them. When Satanam assured to pray for those in distress he was honest to his word. While praying for them, Satanam would also follow up with them to get the latest update of the situations. He would keep praying and monitoring the situation until the friends were out from the troubles.
One of his greatest strengths was his ability to move friends with positive-minded words. Friends flocked to him for advice and guidance on both Bahá’í and personal matters. And they were certain to return home with peace of mind, having almost always found the right answers. One of the reasons why Satanam was deeply admired, nay even adored, was his ability to keep confidential discussions to himself. Nothing confided in Satanam had been reported to have come to the open, not even by a slip of tongue. He was truly worthy of the trust of the believers who confided in him.
His love for children was beyond measure, and he always emphasized children’s classes. Wherever he went he carried children into his arms with his overflowing love. His own favorite song that he taught his children and other Bahá’í children was, “Will you give your life for Bahá’u’lláh.”
A true lover of humanity.
Satanam’s home was a true Bahá’í home for Bahá’ís and non-Bahá’ís alike. He welcomed everyone with a warmth that was of Satanam alone. Satanam was one of those who had taught what true hospitality was all about. Bahá’ís simply flocked to his home to partake that warmth the world sadly lacks.
Satanam had a high sense of humor, which he shared with some of his close friends. Those who moved closely with Satanam often mentioned that he chose to crack jokes at moments of great difficulties, especially when going through hard times in the jungles. That was always his way of keeping the spirit high. His reverence for the elders was simply beyond words. In the deepening classes he conducted, he not only read passages from the Writings but shared stories of sacrifices by the elders in the Faith in Malaysia. Cherishing love and unity, Satanam was a balancing factor in whichever community he resided. Whenever he wanted to counsel a believer, he quoted from the Writings, often using words as mild as milk. Never for once had he compromised his Bahá’í principles, however trying and pressing circumstances posed. He displayed firmness in the Faith even when put to violent tests. Satanam was a very strong defender of the Covenant and the Bahá’í institutions. He was basically a very shy person, but that never deterred him in transforming into a roaring lion whenever occasions warranted.
Whenever some believers were criticized, Satanam had only one statement to make, “He is also a worker for the Cause. Let us give him all the encouragement.” He saw no weakness in others; instead went for the utilization of their talents. Satanam had the gift of detecting the talents latent in individuals, and he gave all the encouragement for the believers to bring out such talents to the fullest. His advice to youths was to be shining examples in every way. He was often heard to have said that in order to be effective in the Cause, one’s personal life has to be spotless.
Satanam would always inform believers that in this beautiful Faith, every individual definitely has a voice to be heard. But he was quick to draw their attention to the right platforms for that. Rather than indulging in backbiting on any community matter, he would encourage the believers to take up their grievances to the institutions, and leave them in their hands. Satanam believed in frank consultations, for which he himself was an example. He was always frank, with a tone as mild as milk.
From the early days, Satanam had developed a sincere gesture of caring for the aged, isolated and needy believers. To cite a case, Mr. K. Rajah had served on the first Local Spiritual Assembly of Seremban in 1954 and played the role of a fatherly figure in building up this community in its early years when Yankee Leong was away outstation or overseas for serving the Cause. But in the 1980s Rajah was not well, and could not come for Bahá’í activities. Satanam made it a point to visit him often to give all the encouragement and brought him for Bahá’í functions so long as Rajah was able to move. This gesture of Satanam continued till Rajah’s passing in December 1992.
When Satanam accepted the Faith in 1960, it was Anthony Casimir Louis from Malacca who came over to Seremban almost every week to deepen the believers. Satanam and A. C. Louis became the dearest of friends. When Satanam was in Jakarta, he was informed of the failing health of Louis, and that saddened Satanam, who was waiting to return home. The day after arriving in his hometown in Seremban, the first thing Satanam did was to drive down to Malacca to visit Louis. As soon as Satanam entered the house of Louis, Satanam hugged Louis, and both cried. Louis was later to keep repeating to close friends that one of the most touching episodes in his Bahá’í life was that particular visit from Satanam. It could have been a simple gesture, but a great lesson for many. When Satanam showed love and concern for individuals, he was very sincere.
A deepening class by Anthony Louis, seated second from left, August 1961. Sabapathy at the extreme left, Yankee Leong in the middle, Satanam to his left. Nit Singam stands second from right, with Isaac DCruz at his back.
There had been moments when a few believers kept away from community activities for reasons only known to them. But Satanam had his own list of such believers who had become lukewarm and went seeking them to give them all the strength. Although keeping away from activities they did not avoid visiting Satanam’s house, which was a sanctuary for them. One Mr. Sri Krishnan of Semenyih community felt most dejected and found his life hopeless towards the end of his days. He found full solace and peace of mind in the company of Satanam. Sri Krishnan passed much of the last few months visiting Satanam almost daily until he passed away in Semenyih. These selected stories are only the tip of the iceberg, to showcase the pure, kind and radiant heart that was of the majestic personality of Satanam.
Satanam’s home – a sanctuary. L-R: Sri Krishnan, Satanam, Sabapathy visiting from Mozambique and Lee Wai Kwok.
Satanam was one of the rare believers with whom believers from all walks of life and age moved with much ease and comfort, perhaps because Satanam’s humility outsized his physical self. He was one who loathed name and fame for himself. Self-praising or expecting appreciations was never the liking of Satanam. “One has to grow in service, not in attaching to the kingdom of names,” was what he constantly gave as advice.
In 2002, Satanam brought a believer from Indonesia to Malaysia. That believer was a treasure trove of knowledgeable in the Faith that Satanam admired, spent much time discussing with him and taking down notes. One day Satanam quietly remarked to a believer that had it not been for the laws of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, he would have prostrated himself at the feet of that believer.
Satanam is the only believer in Malaysia who holds a very special and unique distinction of serving as Auxiliary Board Member in three countries. He served as Board Member in Malaysia from 1979 to 1993; in Cambodia from 1993 to 1995; in Laos from 1999 to the end of 2003. He truly added luster to this august institution by rising to the occasion. He was always fair in his judgment and placed justice above everything else. Satanam was the first representative of the Institution of Huqúqu’lláh in Malaysia.
Satanam recalls those great days.
The sole goal in Satanam’s life was to love and serve Bahá’u’lláh through untiring services, which he performed only too well. The life of Satanam exemplifies to an extraordinary degree his boundless devotion to the Cause, constancy in the teaching field, utter humility among the servants of God and always laboring for unity in the community. His passing brought a vacuum that may not be easily and adequately replaced. The works and the standard this exemplary follower of Bahá’u’lláh has achieved is imperishable in the annals of the Faith.
A Shining Example In Every Way
31 October 2018