Waterloo Sea Temple: Uncommon Attraction

Some houses of worship stand out a bit more than others in the Caribbean. The Waterloo Sea Temple is most obviously one of them.

The Waterloo Sea Temple (officially, Sewdass Sadhu Shiva Mandir Temple in the Sea) is located on the west coast of Trinidad in the village of Waterloo. The obvious “uncommon” aspect of this beautiful Hindu Temple – its location over the sea – is interesting in and of itself. It’s the backstory of how the Temple came to rest at such an unusual spot, though, that’s truly fascinating.

Temple #1’s Tragic Origins

The Waterloo Sea Temple dates back to the mid-1940s. That’s when a seriously devout and determined Indian laborer named Sewdass Sadhu built the original version on dry-land.

He had good reason to do so.

In the years following the abolition of slavery across the British West Indies, indentured laborers from India were brought to the Caribbean to work the sugar cane fields. More than 1.5 million Indian laborers migrated to Trinidad alone over the 87-year indentureship program. At that time, though, the bonded Indian workers lacked a temple. Sewdass, who ran a small grocery store in Waterloo, purchased a small tract of land from the state-owned Caroni Sugar Company. It was there that he built the original Temple.

Problem solved, right?

Err, wrong.

Shriram Rajagopalan (shri_ram_r) via flickr

Seems the folks at Caroni didn’t like having a Hindu Temple around. Upon its completion in 1952, they ordered Sewdass to destroy his life’s work. He, of course, refused. Sewdass’ act of defiance earned him a $400 fine for trespassing on government land, plus two weeks in jail. This gave the government just enough time to tear down the Temple.

Waterloo Sea Temple Rises from the Water

Sewdass’ story could’ve easily ended right there, but this was no ordinary guy. As soon as he got out of jail, he set about re-doing his life’s work in a place no one could quarrel with. In his own words:

You broke the mandir on the land. Then I will build my mandir on nobody’s land. I will build a mandir in the sea.

Armed with a bicycle, a leather bag, a couple of buckets, and the type of determination most of us could never hope to understand, he started building his second Temple, stone by stone, in the middle of the sea.

Now, just stop for a minute, take a look at the image above and think about this. There was no island there when he started! He literally built the whole foundation out of stones that he stashed in his leather bag and buckets, trekked to the sea from God-knows-where on his bike, and piled in this spot, 500 feet from the shore, until he effectively created his own island.

Oh, and he did all of this by himself!

As you might imagine, everyone thought he was crazy. In the June 1997 issue of Hinduism Today, one of the Hindu community leaders in Trinidad recalled:

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. Look what we have today, a beautiful Siva temple. Is that madness?

It took a good 17 years, but Sewdass did eventually realize his life’s dream again before passing away in 1971 at the age of 68.

The second time was also sweeter for the Temple as far as its dealings with the government were concerned. In 1994, when erosion damaged the structure, the Trinidad & Tobago government stepped in to make repairs, even going so far as to construct a bridge to make the Temple more easily accessible from the mainland.

Today, there are more than 300 mandirs spread across Trinidad & Tobago. Many, no doubt, owe a debt of gratitude to Sewdass and his most unique creation…

Last updated by Steve Bennett on .

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