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The Caribbean pennants

Vintage India The flags at a house in Trinidad.  

“What are those flags,” I asked. “They are in houses belonging to Hindus,” my young colleague replied.

“Is there any religious or cultural significance?” “I don’t know much, sir; but usually, the Hindus here do puja to various gods and goddesses, and after the puja, they stump flags of different colours mounted on bamboo poles dedicated to them.”

“Oh! Maybe, to ward off evil spirits,” I murmured.

These were my initial queries as soon as I started travelling within Trinidad and Tobago after taking over as the High Commissioner of India. In the course of my interaction with people, including priests and academics, I understood that the triangular flags, locally called jhandi in Hindu households, have socio-religious significance. They are considered the auspicious and divine guardian of the houses. Each colour represents a god or goddess. For instance, white represents Saraswati, red Hanuman, yellow Krishna and pink Lakshmi.

Throughout the year, a household conducts pujas and stumps a jhandi. The flag, usually with a picture of the god or goddess printed or stitched, is placed in one corner of the courtyard where some households have a small family temple. Old flags are replaced by new ones, and the former floated in a river or sea.

Migration stories

The practice has moorings in migration history, going back to the arrival of Indians to this land from 1845 to 1917. The first ship, Fath Al Razack, arrived from Calcutta with 225 indentured labourers at the Gulf of Paria on May 30, 1845. Subsequently, 1,43,939 people from Bhojpuri, Awadhi and Hindi speaking regions of colonial India (present-day eastern Uttar Pradesh and western Bihar) migrated to work on the sugar plantations. Almost 85% of them were Hindus, and about 14% Muslims.

During their travel, the indentured Indians, in their jahaji bundle or carry bag, brought things close to their identity and day-to-day use. These articles included the Ramayana of Tulsidas, plants such as tulsi and cooking utensils. It’s entirely possible, therefore, that the custom of jhandi has remnants of Hindu practices in northern India in the 19th century. During the days of their struggle, the jhandi identification must have been solacing for travellers.

The jhandi ritual uses three main elements — vermillion, sandal paste and turmeric.

In today’s Trinidad and Tobago, of the 1.3 million population, 43% are of Indian descent, of which 18% are practising Hindus. Temples of different sizes exist inside private courtyards and in public places. Ritual is an integral part of many Hindu households, and it appears, in the past 175 years, the jhandi has reminded them of the essence of the Hindu way of life.

(The author is the High

Commissioner of India

in Trinidad & Tobago)

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Printable version | Oct 20, 2021 6:27:23 AM |

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