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.
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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