Hindu Temples in Trinidad: A Cultural Geography of Religious Structures and Ethnic Identity.
This research project attempts to reveal collective Hindu experience in Trinidad by a geographical analysis of Hindu material culture as it relates to Hindu identity. A distinctive elemental form of Trinidad's cultural landscape is the Hindu temple. The temple, through its development over time and space, reveals Hindu identity from an imported, Indian labor source to a Trinidadian, Indian community living in a plural society. Hindu religious structures have evolved from traditional temple forms, like those found in India in the late nineteenth century, to a Trinidadian form which emerged shortly after World War II. Temples for each stage of the evolutionary process are found on Trinidad's landscape today, thereby reflecting transitions from Indian to Indo-Trinidadian to Trinidadian-indian identity within the Hindu population. Hindu temples in Trinidad symbolize the dialectic of human experience. They represent both abode of god and abode of man, conflict and unity, identity and identity crisis, and being Indian and being Trinidadian. Hindus in Trinidad express the dilemma of being a minority, Oriental, religious group in a dominant, Western, Christian, plural society through their most significant material culture; the temple. Temples, as landscape elements, are symbolic of Hindus' continuing discourse with their new world environment. Hindu religious structures tell the story of Hindu common experience, that is; importation into a Caribbean society and subsequent striving to maintain a special identity under conditions of culture change. Thus, temples speak to Hindus of a rich past and an emerging Hindu community different than that of their ancestors. The story told by Hindu temples is related through changes that took place in temple form, and by the nature of the temple symbol complex. This story is played out on Trinidad's landscape through temple building, whereby each building event has contributed to the symbolic manifestation of evolving Hindu identity. Temple characteristics were mapped and described, and finally analyzed, in relationship to the problem of Hindu identity and political effectiveness. Despite a wide range of sentiments, from the conservative to the modern, development and distribution of temple form and symbology on Trinidad's landscape indicates a national expression of identity change within the Hindu community.