The story behind the Temple in the Sea, Trinidad

Did you ever listen to the words of the song, “The impossible dream?” Little did I know that the words I sang applied to Siewdass Sadhu, the folk hero of the fishing village where I went to primary school.Temple in the Sea, Trinidadwww.hotfoottrini.com

Never heard of him? Let me fill you in. Sadhu migrated to Trinidad from India with his parents at the turn of the 20th century. At the time, Trinidad was a British sugar colony so he and his family came to the sugarcane fields in this part of the Caribbean to work as indentured laborers.

Sadhu and his family settled in Barrancore and worked on the Waterloo Estate in Central Trinidad. After fulfilling his indentureship on the sugar estate, Siewdass returned to India many times. He visited Hindu temples there and vowed to build his own in Trinidad.

In 1947, he purchased a plot of land near Waterloo Bay from the estate owner, Caroni (1937) Limited, and built a temple on it.Villagers freely held prayers in this temple for four years. Then in 1952, Siewdass was ordered to demolish the building. He refused and was fined and jailed for trespassing on state lands. His temple was then torn apart by the colonial authorities.

You would think this would have broken his spirit. Not Siewdass Sadhu. Shortly after his release, he declared that he would build the temple in “nobody’s land,” the sea, where no one could destroy it.

Sadhu got broken bricks from the brick factory in Barrancore (now known as Brickfield) and dumped them into the ocean to create a path stretching some 500 meters from the coastline. Every day, for seventeen years, he carried buckets of cement, gravel, sand, and stones on his bicycle to build the path. Then, he filled steel oil drums with concrete and tied them with steel to make the temple’s foundation. People laughed at him and called him mad. In the end, he built a simple structure with a prayer room, kitchen, and a small room for guests.

When I visited the temple in the late 1980s and early 1990s with my classmates, this story seemed too good to be true.  At low tide, we walked the pathway of barnacle-covered boulders and tires to reach the temple. The air was thick with the smell of mangrove mud. The building appeared quite small and solitary against the wide, gray Gulf of Paria. Inside the temple was empty and abandoned. Our faces fell.

Near the temple, children dug for oysters in the sticky, gray mud, amid the hibiscus flowers, deyas, and religious murtis that washed ashore from the cremation site nearby.  Then in 1994, the government finally decided to rebuild the temple in honor of Sadhu.

Today, colorful prayer flags line the tiled pathway to the temple, flapping rhythmically in the sea breeze. All you can hear are black birds quarreling in the mangroves and the water lapping the mud flats. Boys squeal with laughter as they help their fathers prepare nets for the evening’s catch. It still smells strongly of mud. And the blue and white temple still stands, a testament to one man’s realization of the impossible dream.

Photos: © Hot Foot Trini

Have you ever been to the Temple in the Sea? Share your experiences in the comments below!

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www.hotfoottrini.com

15 thoughts on “The story behind the Temple in the Sea, Trinidad

  1. I have been there yesterday it amazing to see wat a beautiful atmosphere u are in a form to relax ur state of mind. May god bless that beautiful soul of . MR. Siewdass.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What an interesting read, I never knew that either about the song. I have not been to Trinidad but it has been on my bucket list for ages. I think I will be coming to you for tips for when I want to go 🙂 Btw that is a lot of bricks if it went to 500 meters from the coastline.

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  3. What an act of determination by Mr. Sadhu. Being an Indian, I totally know how devoted people are towards temples and Gods (Yes we have many here)! But building a temple in the sea is just too out of the way. Thanks for sharing the story. I would definitely like to visit this temple some day.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve never heard of the song but this was an interesting story. It’s amazing how devoted Sadhu was. If I ever visit Trinidad I’d like to make a stop at this temple- an Indian temple in the sea must be quite a sight.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What an interesting story! That’s terrible that the government at the time kicked him off his land originally. But quite inspiring of his determination to keep going and build it! I’d love to see more pictures!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Every day for seventeen years is some dedication! I had no idea of the existence of this or the story behind it, but it was so interesting to read about! I’ve never visited Trinidad but would really love to. I’m hoping in the next few years, as I have a friend I’d like to visit in Curacao and would make it an extended trip of the whole region. If I do I’ll be sure to visit the Temple of the Sea!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I now seriously have to question my parents, why aren’t they showing me these places when I visit. My gosh, why do I have to learn about history from strangers. Thank you so much for showing this to me, I will be sure to ask my parents next time I see them.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I have read a lot about Indians (My country) in Trinidad. Their story is interesting. I run a series called MyGration stories on my blog. I would love to travel to Trinidad and record the interviews of Indians living in Trinidad and of course, I would love to visit this temple as well.

    Like

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