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The Caribbean’s sea temple

“You must visit the ‘Temple in the Sea’. You may have seen bigger temples and more beautiful ones, but this is different.” It was one of the suggestions that I received at the beginning of my tenure as Indian High Commissioner in Trinidad and Tobago. The story behind the temple was too fascinating to ignore.

The single-storey structure, with a semi-oval roof on a similar base and two symbolic domes, represents the vimana style of temple architecture. Connected by a 200-metre pathway to the Gulf of Paria on the western coast of Trinidad, the temple is surrounded by water. It houses the idols of Siva, Hanuman, Durga and others, holds a Sunday service and is open to visitors of all faiths and ethnicities.

The soul of it is the story of Siewdass Sadhu, who first built it, a man of grit, commitment, devotion and dedication, the idiom of the indenture narrative in the Caribbean. He was only seven when his parents, Boodhram and Bissoondayia, brought him from Benares to Trinidad and Tobago, along with his two younger brothers. After the parents passed away, Siewdass finished the remaining indentureship on the sugar estate in Waterloo before visiting India in 1926.

In 1947, he built the temple on a swamp close to the shore owned by the sugar cane company Tate and Lyle. He built its foundation using oil drums filled with concrete and tying them all together with steel. Unfortunately, when he completed it, Tate and Lyle demanded that he demolish it. The court ordered that the temple be demolished and punished Siewdass with a fine of 100 pounds or 14 days in prison for trespassing. He went to jail. However, as soon as he came out, he decided to build the temple in the sea since the sea is “no man’s land”.

Lone pursuit

Carrying a leather bag and two buckets on either side of the handlebars of his bicycle, he transported cement and sand. He created a base using bricks and stone and used cement for the main structure. It took him about 25 years to build the temple on his own. Then, he visited India in the 1970s and took his last breath in the motherland.

The temple later got damaged due to sea erosion. In 1995, Randolph Rampersad, an engineer and third-generation Trinidadian of indenture ancestry, took the initiative to rebuild the temple. Private overseas contributions and support from the then Speaker of Parliament, Occah Seepaul, and Works and Transport Minister and Head of the Unemployment Relief Programme, Jerret Narine, made the construction possible. They completed the temple and the 200-metre pathway in just seven months at $1.5 million. They used slag, a waste product in steel production donated by the Point-Lisas Steel Plant, to construct the pathway. According to Mr. Rampersad, the temple stands on a concrete base inside the water, and in case of an unusual tide, the whole temple, along with its base, can move to prevent any damage to the upper part of the structure. The temple was consecrated on December 10, 1995. The government of Trinidad and Tobago has added it as a national treasure.

The temple has become an integral part of the Trinbagonian identity, pride and diversity cutting across ethnicity. Victor Edwards of the IERE Theatre Production Ltd. directed and staged plays on it in 2012 and 2018.

Today, in the park on the way to the pathway stands tall the statue of Siewdass Sadhu. The statue, inaugurated by the then President of Trinidad and Tobago, Noor Mohamed Hassanali, in 1995 on the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Indians, remains a testimony to the umbilical linkage between the people of Trinidad and Tobago and India.

(The writer is the Indian High

Commissioner to Trinidad & Tobago)

arun.sahu68@gmail.com

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 5:28:21 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-caribbeans-sea-temple/article33201715.ece

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