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Author: Sethupathi Alagiah

My Struggles in Attaining the Light

My Struggles in Attaining the Light



Sethupathi Alagiah-Malaysia

To relate how and why I became a Baha’i, I have to go back to the days when I was just a little boy, aged 12. I come from a family of very strict Hindu tradition.  My father, Mr. Alagiah Murugan was very much involved with the Hindu Sangam, an association that propagated Hinduism in Seremban. So was my mother Mrs. Selvajothy. As such, we were very well known in the circle of friends in the Hindu temples and Tamil schools in Negeri Sembilan.

With this background, attending Thevaram Classes (HIndu religious classes) and going to the temples  every Friday became part of my life. The Thevaram Classes I attended every Saturday were held at the Swami Vivekananda Hall. There we were taught from Hindu scriptures like the Bhagavad Gita, Practical Vedanta, Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga. That was the basis of my religious life at that time.

When I attained the age of 17, my elder brother the late Mr. Sabapathy, who had already accepted the Bahai Faith, used to take  my younger brother Ratnam (the late Dr. Ratnam Alagiah) and me to the Bahá’í Center in Rahang, where we attended children’s classes. Admittedly, I was too old for children classes. I thought this was going to be another Sunday classes like those of the Christians.  But it did not take long for me to see that things were a bit different. There were children from the Chinese, Indian, Orissa and Asli background studying, singing and learning. However, I never got interested in what was being taught and so decided to drop out. At that time, I had considered myself as a devout Hindu.

But things started to take a new turn when I joined the Air Force and was posted to an Air Force Base at Kepala Batas, Alor Setar in 1974. In 1976 a new working colleague by the name of Mr. Mohan met me and said that he knew my brother Mr. Sabapathy. Immediately it struck me that to have known Sabapathy this Mohan must certainly be a Bahá’í.

He invited me to then house of one Mr. V.S Maniam, who was a Tamil school teacher, who is now settled in Seremban. There I attended some deepening classes and firesides. This time I got quite interested in the Faith. Yet the information and knowledge that was parted to me was still quite shallow. Mr. V.S Maniam gave me some Bahá’í books to read, along with some prayer books. I continued to attend the firesides and I started to learn more on the Faith. It was during these firesides that I started getting more interested in the Faith, because we were seriously discussing about Hinduism, a subject that was close to my heart.  I thought I was deeply knowledgeable on Hinduism. As the discussions with the Baha’is continued, I slowly started realize that all along my knowledge on Hinduism had been superficial. The Baha’is were able to explain with clarity of thought and concise details on the subject of the return of Lord Krishna during Kali Yuga. I found the Baha’is explaining the thread that connected all the religions through progressive revelation. I had an inner urge to go back to my Hindu scriptures once again to see if there were any reference books on the subject of Progressive Revelations as this highly useful and most important subject was never taught to us at the temples or in the Thevaram classes. I then approached my Hindu friends, and my parents, and yet I never got a straight answer from them. I was totally disturbed and very confused.

If the concept of progressive revelation was true, then I thought to myself I could always start with any religion, and need not be with Hinduism. Then I started investigating from the Christian Bible on the subject of the Return of Christ. For this, I met some of my very good Christian friends and asked them on this subject.  I found that they believed in the return of Christ, but the kind of understanding that they had on the return of Christ and their perception of the Bible somehow did not make any sense to me.

By this time, I was given some Baha’i books which had Christian subjects such Abdul Baha’s “Some Answered Questions,” William Sears’s “Wine of Astonishment,” and “The Heart of the Gospel” by George Townshend. Their simple, clear and irrefutable explanations enabled me to gain a very clear understanding of what was stated in the Bible.   Here were people who were Baha’is by religion and they had a full understanding of the Bible. I was equally upset since my good Christian friends could not explain the Bible the way the Baha’is did especially on the subject of the return of Christ.

I wanted to give another try. This time I went further into investigating the Buddhist Faith, just to see if there was anything mentioned on the return of Buddha as claimed by the Baha’is. While searching for explanations in the Buddhist scriptures I came across the book “Buddha Matrya:  Amitabha Has Appeared” by Jamshed Fozdar, a great Baha’i  scholar. I started to read the book without any prejudice, and to my satisfaction the subject matter was clearly explained.

It was during this time when I was still in the Air Force Base in Alor Setar that my boss Major Aziz Iskindar, a pilot and a Muslim asked me what my religion was. I told him that I was not so sure because I had come to know this new religion called the Bahá’í Faith. And to my surprise he told me that he knew about the Bahá’í Faith when he was doing his Flight Instructor’s Course in India. It was at this point of time that we were confronting the communists insurgents in Gubir in Kedah. I was the Radioman that evening in the Base, communicating with him while manning the radio when one of the Nuri helicopters was shot down by the communists, and that all on board had perished.  Major Aziz Iskindar asked me if I knew who the pilot was. I told him it was Captain Choo Yoke Boon. Before he left the radio room, he softly, but with choking words told me “You know … Captain Choo Yoke Boon is a Baha’i and a very good friend of mine.  He is a very good pilot at Gunship, Search and Rescue operations. I know the kind of services he did when he was in the Air Force Base in Kuching, Sarawak. His death is a personal loss to me and an irreparable loss to the Air Force.” Here was a Muslim person praising highly of a Baha’i who had died for the nation.  I had never met Captain Choo Yoke Boon. But my heart felt very heavy for Choo Yoke Boon and his family. That night I was restless and could not sleep. I was tossing on the bed. I felt I had been wasting too much time investigating too much into the Baha’i Faith through other religions. I was fully determined and eager to know more about the Bahá’í Faith.

All these happened when I was accompanying Mr. Mohan on his Vespa Scooter for teaching trips to Jabi Estate, located some distance from Alor Setar town. There I came to know an elderly Indian woman in that estate, and understood that her entire family members were Bahá’ís. Her name was Mrs. Doraisamy. It was in her house that we used to meet for firesides and deepening classes. At one of these firesides Mrs. Doraisamy asked me a very interesting question.  “Why have you not accepted Bahaullah”? Not knowing what to say, I asked her what made her to accept the Bahá’í Faith. And she told me a story that shook me to the core of my heart. She said, “Many years ago I used to be a Hindu Shaman (Shawoman) in this Jabi Estate Temple. I used to get into trance and people used to flock to me as they considered me a kind of Faith Healer.  The estate Hindus would come and get their blessings from me. It was on one of these sessions when I was in a state of trance that the spirit within me had said that it will not come here anymore, as someone far greater and called “The King of the World” will take its place. When the trance was over, the devotees told me what the spirit had spoken through me. From that night onward I had lost all my powers.”  MRs. Doraisamy said after a few months she had dreams of Abdul Baha, and the Bab’s Shrine. A few weeks later some Bahá’ís had gone to her house and told her about the Bahá’í Faith, and showed her the photographs of the Master and the Shrine of the Bab.  She further said “I saw these pictures and photos in my dream not long ago, and as I was seeing them, tears gushed out from my eyes and I felt a certain inner joy, happiness and peace within my innermost self. My heart felt very relieved”. All her family members accepted the Faith immediately. She continued, “I studied and listened to the teachings of Bahaullah and Abdul Baha and I felt so happy. I am happier now after accepting the Baha’i Faith.”

When she told me this story with tearful eyes, I was overcome with an unknowable fear.  This story related by Mrs. Doraisamy started a new enthusiasm within me to learn more of the Faith.

I came back to my home town Seremban, and got some books that explained about the revelation of Baha’u’llah, and read them with utter sincerity and devotion. My investigation did not take very long this time. Like magic all my doubts were cleared, and I saw myself unable to run away from the Light.  By this time, I had also met and discussed with Dr. Munje a Baha’i and an expert on Hinduism from India, my brother Dr. Sabapathy and his wife, Mr. Kuppusamy of Sarawak, Mr. Lim Beng Wat, Mr. Doraisamy, Mr. Nagarajah, Mr. Maniam and so many others who all had been feeding me with knowledge on the Faith. Yet there was something I wanted to do. I went to the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple in Seremban to make peace with my Lord. I performed a Pooja through a priest. I begged my Lord to show me once and for all  if at all the Baha’i Faith was true. I had another round of sleeplessness for another week.

Then a thought came that I should go back to Jabi Estate to meet Mrs. Doraisamy. I went back to Jabi Estate and met Mrs. Doraisamy. She asked if I was ready to accept the Baha’i Faith. I just said YES. With tears welling in her eyes, she gave me a hug. It was not the books I read, nor the explanations I received that changed my heart. It was this simple and pure-hearted Mrs. Doraisamy who finally changed my heart.  Here was a very simple estate worker who was guided all the way. And here was I, so called educated person, who wanted concrete proofs to fall right on to my plate. From the moment I accepted the Faith my whole life had changed. My struggles ended. I attained the Light. Looking back, I find that I should not have taken this long to investigate the Faith, as the signs were clear all along, except that I was blind. I consoled myself by saying “Better late than never!”

A. Sethupathi