Uttar Pradesh, India, January 1, 1901. The cries of a newborn baby boy rang out from a modest house on that winter’s day.
The baby boy, born to a humble family, will travel with his parents, Boodram and Bissoondayia Sewdass, to T&T in the Caribbean, and in time, will perform an astonishing miraculous feat.
That miracle will be to reclaim land from the sea in central Trinidad at Waterloo. A passion that will take him on a 17-year odyssey, taming the waves of the Caribbean Sea to eventually build his temple in that ocean., today known as the Temple in The Sea.
Sewdass Sadhu was able to make many trips back to India and even purchased a second-hand Bedford truck, a sign of his frugality. He then went to Unilever and began to purchase steel drums. He also gathered boulders, sand and cement.
His next move was a stroke of great imagination. It is very important to understand the topography of the land construct then. The land was a little above sea level. The sea came to the edge of the land but increased in depth further out.
He drove his truck on the sand which was revealed when the tide was out. One by one he offloaded the drums and embedded them into the sand. He placed the drums in rows of four starting at the water’s edge, filled them with boulders, then mixed the mortar and poured it over the boulders thereby binding the blocks and adding weight to the drums. Sewdass continued his task with steadfast devotion. Purchasing drums, cement and sand when he could afford to while collecting broken blocks and boulders.
One day while he was building the foundation for his causeway, the sea rose, almost covering him. His truck was permanently damaged by the rising sea waters.
Unperturbed, Sewdass continued what he has become famous for, construction of the foundation and causeway by using a bicycle and two buckets.
At the end of the causeway, he placed two drums—one on top the other—so that the drums will be higher than the sea. He did that by removing the lid at the other end of the drum, made slits around the rim and fitted it solidly over the drum already placed in the sand. Sewdass had completed the first phase of his causeway. Still using just his bicycle and two buckets, Sewdass began to collect fill and pour on top of his barrel foundation.
Once that was completed, he built yet another deck with drums using the same methods as before. It was obvious he was thinking of the possible rise in the sea levels, and so set to protect the structures he was going to build.
He then set himself the task of building the temple. The structures consisted of a mandir, a pooja area, a kitchen and an unfinished room which was intended to accommodate guests. Sewdass had built his structure five hundred feet from the shoreline out to sea. It was five feet high, ten feet wide, and five hundred feet long.
His son, Narine, said, "No one understood what he was doing. He never talked too much, but he would ride his bike, collect his material and down to the sea he would go. He continued building day after day, week after week. As I grew up I saw my father building this structure year after year. From time to time his friend Chunnelal would lend a hand."
A community member said "People used to laugh and make fun of the man when day after day he would be seen riding his bicycle for miles to the sea. Many of the villagers said he was mad, but that did not bother him."
Indra, Sewdass's daughter, said her father was a man of deep thought. "He was always thinking. It was like he was always working out something in his mind. He had his work in the sugar estate, he also grew rice, and he had that mammoth project in the sea. Although he was quite busy, he always found time to sit with us and tell us stories and he would also talk in Hindi to us. A quiet man, but a loving dedicated man. That was my father."
Appeal for a national award
Dr Suruj Rambachan, a former United National Congress minister described Sewdass as "A legend! A national hero!’"
He said by constructing a mandir five hundred feet off the shore into the sea at Waterloo Bay, central Trinidad, almost single-handedly with 'Hanumanian' effort, steadfastness and indomitable courage, even suffering colonial persecution, a poor and devout Sadhu has forever challenged and propelled the collective will and psyche of Hindu Trinidadians and indeed Hindus worldwide to infinite possibilities.
"The very name Sewdass Sadhu (1901–1970) evokes rousing feelings of unique admiration and awe and embodies the dreams and aspirations of the Hindu Samaj yet to burst forth into unified glory."
In 1995, a concrete statue of Sewdass Sadhu was erected, clad in traditional dhoti kurta and mala, with his hands clasped. The large marble stone statue is placed on the exact spot where he had built his first temple. Today he proudly stands on that spot as a symbol of conquering extreme adversity and his old adversary the British Authority.
The large marble stone on which the plaque is written, and on which the statue of Sewdass Sadhu stands, was donated by the Belgrove Group of Companies. Chief Executive Officer of The Belgrove Group of Companies, Keith Belgrove said "We at Belgrove are achievers from since 1888. We appreciate achievers like ourselves. What Sewdass Sadhu did was an incredible achievement.
"By so doing, he demonstrated a national building attribute which has now redounded to a tourism attraction for our country.
"Yes, I would say he deserves the highest National Award for his dedication and devotion to nation-building."
After many years the causeway and the temple were repaired by Randolph Rampersad with government funding.
The National Trust has listed this site as a tourism attraction and often takes visitors to this country as well as locals for sightseeing tours. Marlon Green, a senior tour guide at the National Trust said, "Whenever I take people to this site, they are amazed at how Sewdass Sadhu built this causeway and to eventually build the temple in the sea. They are truly fascinated."
Avanelle Boyce, 36, who travels the length and breadth of our country visiting the various tourism sites, wrote on her popular blog Callaloo Culture: "Of course, Sewdass Sadhu deserves our country’s highest award. I thought he had gotten it already. I met up with some tourists recently and they were excited to go and see and learn how Sewdass Sadhu built that site going back so many years. Yes! Yes! He deserves our country’s highest award."
People who know of Sewdass’s mind-boggling feat all agree that he should get our country’s highest award. This country’s number one 2D animator, Kevin Bhall, 35 produced the first animation on the Sewdass Sadhu story. It is a wonderful piece of work, well written and animated with great creativity and imagination. It was shown on TTT several times earlier this year.
He said, "Without a doubt, he deserves a national award. It should be our highest award. When you consider that he built this causeway single-handedly some 500 feet out to sea, using a bicycle and two buckets as I discovered from villagers in my research, then built several structures to accommodate visitors, and he did this over 17 years. That was truly a remarkable display of guts, determination and something else which I haven’t got an explanation for. His initiative has become one of our country’s main attraction."
Sewdass Sadhu's achievement is a reminder of the need for us to make our own contribution to nation-building that is so vital for our country today. I too, support a national award for Sewdass Sadhu's outstanding achievements and contribution to this country’s tourism sites.
Sewdass Sadhu died in 1970. He is buried on land near the sea at Waterloo. Very uncanny, he did not explain to anyone why he preferred to be buried rather than to be cremated, being a devout Hindu. He simply requested it.