Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 27th 2014 Contents labourers from Claxton Bay, McBean, Freeport,
Couva, Indian Trail and other outlying com-
munities used to come on the Port-of-Spain
to San Fernando train and stop off at Couva
and spend several days to mark the major
The mandir was also used as a market
place, as flowers, puja materials and Indian
delicacies were on sale there."
Beside the mandir was a pond, recalled
Pundit Maharaj: the Poojari (spiritual leader)
Rohan Gir Gosyne insisted that all devotees
had to shower themselves in the pool before
entering the mandir, he said.
Pundit Maharaj believed scores of insignif-
icant buildings and projects were indentified
for possible declaration as National Heritage
icons in the past, with few decisions being
made since various ministerial/offical visits.
"This particular mandir needs serious
recognition as both a National Heritage Trust
site as well a tourism spot, because it reflects
(both) an integral part of our own historical
development, and our existence in the comos,"
Pundit Hardeo said.
(See pictures on Page B23)
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt April 27, 2014
In the midst of sprawling housing developments
on one side, and the bustling commercial centre of
Couva on the other, the Exchange Mandir emanates
an aura of spirituality---it s a sanctuary for peace and
order in the area. Scores of devotees who worship
at the Exchange, Couva mandir would like to see the
140-year-old structure be declared a National Heritage
Trust site and a tourism spot.
This year marks the 169th anniversary of the arrival
of East Indians from India (principally Uttar Pradesh
and Bihar) to work on sugar cane and cocoa estates.
"This Lord Shiva mandir (called in the early days
Lord Shiva Kutia or Lord Shiva Sewala) has a very che-
quered history with the arrival, growth and empow-
erment of the East Indians in T&T between the years
1845 and 1917," said Pundit Hardeo Maharaj, the mandir s
Today, after 140 years (circa), the original construction
remains intact: the tapia and dirt building reflects the
East Indian presence here because it was the cheapest
form of material for construction. It was covered with
grass and adjoining it was a marro (shed) which was
used as a discussion centre, where people would all
sit on the ground.
The site shows the
large hole in the
what sunken base-
used for prayer and
meditation. On the
altar sits the pan-
theon of Hindu
gods and goddess-
by Lord Shiva in
whose name the
mandir was built.
From the limited
available data, his-
torical evidence and word of mouth from our forefathers,
the Exchange mandir is probably the oldest such insti-
tution in T&T---a good emblem of the East Indian
presence. Ornamenting the wall is an undated pho-
tograph with four East Indian labourers dressed in the
traditional East Indian wear---dhoti and merino.
Pundit Maharaj maintains very close contact with
psychiatrist Dry Rampersad Parasram and international
journalist Jai Parasram of the famous Hindu religious
Parasram family of McBean, Couva.
"When the East Indians, some 148,000, came here,
they were brought here by the then colonial government,
to rescue agriculture, and they brought with them
their rich cultural, religious, social and philosophical
stocks which remain as part of the national culture
and heritage of the nation-state of T&T," Pundit Maharaj
The Indian labourers came here after British Par-
liament ended slavery in 1834. After the blacks were
freed, Portuguese and Chinese labourers were brought
in, but they soon left the cane fields, so the East Indians
were brought in. Today they continue to make a sub-
stantial contribution to T&T s cultural and entrepre-
"As far as my research goes, whilst the mandir was
principally designed for religious activities, it was used
as a meeting place to discuss social, economic and
political issues of the day as well. It was also used to
celebrate high point Hindu observances like Divali,
Nau Raatri, Shiva Raatri and Ram Nawni, among
others. They used to feel as if they were in Ajodhya...with
Lord Rama (the main focus of the Hindu holy book,
the Ramayana). Every time they assembled, it was a
moment of nostalgia...back home in India."
"This mandir was used as the model for the first
Divali Nagar in 1986 when all Indian diasporic items,
structures, utensils and the like were displayed," Pundit
Maharaj explained. He said:
"Up until the beginning of the 20th century, Indian
Outside view of the Exchange Mandir.
Make Exchange Mandir a National Heritage Trust site
Pundit Hardeo Maharaj speaks to
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