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National Heritage Trust gets lobby letter as Teacher fights to save Reform Hindu mandir
Quick action by a 27-year-old lover of historical buildings saved a Hindu temple in Reform Village, constructed in the 1940s from gobar (cow dung) and other materials, from possible demolition or modification by the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha. Liam Boodoo, a Spanish teacher at Couva East Secondary and also a photographer and budding historian, made a determined bid to save what he is referring to as scarce East Indian-built heritage in T&T.
He said the Reform Village Hindu School is on the same property as the temple and the Maha Sabha, which runs the school, wanted to build an addition which would have affected the structure of the mandir. He got the intervention of the National Heritage Trust by seeking to have the building listed as a protected site. Boodoo said plans to demolish the temple or modify it have since been halted.
He said the temple was constructed by Reform Village residents in the early 1940s and designed by a craftsman from the Sidoo family of Debe, during a period of transition from indentureship to small peasant proprietorship. The land was paid for in advance for 100 years by members of the community.
Boodoo said the temple was patterned after those found in the central states of India and was plastered on the inside with gobar, and reinforced with sand and gravel from the Guaracara River and stones from the San Fernando Hill quarry. The Shiva Mandir was opened on March 2, 1946, Maha Shivratri night—an auspicious night on the Hindu calendar—Boodoo told a gathering of members of Citizens for Conservation at the Medulla Art Gallery on Fitt Street, Woodbrook, during a presentation on the temple recently.
He said he became interested in the temple last year and photographed it for a book titled The Built Heritage of T&T, produced by the National Heritage Trust. About a month ago, the temple committee, comprising residents of the village, informed him that the school’s principal said they needed more space and wanted to build an additional structure. The committee was told the temple would have to be either demolished or modified. This would have been done during the recent Easter vacation.
“Any modification to the temple will destroy the original structure,” Bodoo said. He said in an attempt to stave off the plan, he spoke to architects Geoffrey Maclean and Rudylyn Roberts, of CFC, and they suggested he do a dossier of the temple and submit it to the National Heritage Trust for listing as a protected building. “I got a reply from the National Heritage Trust last Monday and was told they contacted the relevant parties and it was agreed plans would be revised so as not to negatively impact the mandir,” he said.
“This doesn’t mean the mandir was listed as a protected building, but it is now under serious consideration.” Contacted on the issue, secretary general of the Maha Sabha Sat Maharaj told the T&T Guardian there is no problem, nor was there ever one concerning the temple. He said Hindu schools were established in temples in the 1950s because the Maha Sabha had no land. Hindu temples have always served as institutions of learning, he said.
“The children and grandchildren of people who attend the temple go to the Reform Village Hindu School,” he added. Maharaj said the existing school, which was built later, is virtually attached to the mandir and if there was any threat to the structure by putting an addition, the Maha Sabha would have put measures in place to ensure it remained standing. “We would have reinforced the foundation,” he said.
Maharaj said there are two or three almost identical temples in the country, one being in the centre of the schoolyard of the Curepe Hindu School. He said the Ministry of Education promised to relocate the Reform Village Hindu School on four acres of land close to the mandir. Boodoo, during his presentation at Medulla Art Gallery, said most buildings listed for protection in T&T tend to be those with a strong European influence because of T&T’s colonial history.
“There are other people who settled in T&T, as well,” he told the CFC members. He said there are few buildings from the East Indian heritage that remain in their original form. Roberts, addressing the gathering, said the temple was being compromised by the school and said the National Heritage Trust needs to do more to fulfil its mandate to protect T&T’s heritage.