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Richmond Hill’s revered Hindu spiritual leader dies

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Shri Prakash Gossai, a charismatic Hindu priest who led a Richmond Hill temple and was known as “the mahatma of the 21st century” by his followers, died last week of a massive heart attack. He was 56.

A native of Guyana, Gossai moved to the United States in the 1980s and founded the Bhuvaneshwar Mandir, a Hindu temple, in Brooklyn.

As his congregation outgrew the site, he built a Queens branch of the temple in 2000 in Richmond Hill, which was opened by Guyanese President Bharat Jagdeo, whom Gossai counseled as an adviser.

“He was an icon among the Guyanese community and the people around the world,” said Suresh Sugrim, a Hindu priest from New Jersey, last Thursday shortly before Gossai was cremated at St. Michael’s Cemetery in East Elmhurst. “I look at him as a great mahatma of the 21st century. He was a legendary son of Guyana.”

Guyanese ministers flew in to mourn Gossai and were among the crowd of hundreds who came to the cremation ceremony, which was so large that only a few mourners were let into the building.

The crowd outside started chanting Hindu prayers on their own.

“It’s a great, great loss for the Indo-Guyanese community,” said Alisha Persaud of Richmond Hill. “It’s like a beacon just went out. He was very much loved by everyone. He was a humble man.”

A Queens Village resident who only wanted to be identified as Sukhai said she went to college with Gossai at the University of Guyana and also attended his Richmond Hill temple.

“There is no adjective to describe him. He was a man above normal,” she said. “Anything he wanted to do, he was successful because he had the personality.”

Former Richmond Hill resident Ravina Vibart, one of Gossai’s goddaughters, who said he was supposed to preside over her wedding next week, described the priest as irreplaceable.

“He made a big impact on my life, not only because he was my priest but he was my friend,” she said. “There will never be anyone like him. There’s just like a glow about him that he used to radiate our lives.”

Vibart said Gossai “knew how to captivate youth” and used PowerPoint presentations and other technology to spread Hindu teachings.

Sabrina Singh, another goddaughter of Gossai, noted that his first name means “light” in Sanskrit.

“He was our light,” she said. “We dearly miss him and truly continue to live to his words and teachings and to continue to do what we love in our Hindu dharma (cosmic order).”

Congregation members said the temple has not determined a successor for Gossai.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.

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