The Regulation of Religion and the Making of Hinduism in Colonial Trinidad

By Alexander Rocklin | Go to book overview

3 Regulating Religion

We are bound not to interfere with the religion of the Indian
immigrants introduced here by the Government. This forms part of our
contract with them. In examining the question of the Coolie Hosein,
therefore, it is our duty carefully to ascertain where the purely
religious rite ends, and where the abuses begin … It is utterly absurd
to pretend that the monster processions which on a given day, inundate
our principal towns with fanatical drunken coolies, can form any
necessary part of their religious ceremonies.

—“The Coolie Hosein,” Port of Spain Gazette, March 1, 1884

On the afternoon of October 30, 1884, the Trinidadian police, well armed and supported by the marines, blocked the main roads leading into San Fernando from nearby sugar estates. They did so in order to prevent Indian indentured laborers celebrating Hosay from marching along public roads and entering the city. At two checkpoints, confrontations between laborers and police took place, government officials read out the Riot Act, declaring the groups to be unlawfully assembled, and the police fired shots into the crowds. It is estimated that twenty-two people were killed and over one hundred wounded. The clashes saw the heaviest death toll of any civil unrest in Trinidad’s history.1

Hosay, the remembrance of Muharram, takes place during the first ten days of the month of Muharram, the first month of the Muslim lunar calendar, and comes to a head on the tenth day, Ashura. Muharram commemorates the martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Husayn and his followers on the field of battle in Karbala (in modern-day Iraq) in 680 C.E. In Shi‘i discourse, Husayn is an Imam and a powerful intercessor who can cleanse the sins of the faithful on Judgment Day. In Trinidad, as in India, Hosay participants carried in procession elaborately decorated representations of the tombs of Husayn and Hasan (his brother), called tadjahs (or tazias in elite Urdu), which were made of wood, cardboard, tinsel, and colored paper and were filled with consecrated earth representing the bodies of the martyrs. These are buried in a ritually designated

-73-

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The Regulation of Religion and the Making of Hinduism in Colonial Trinidad
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Crossing the Dark Water 19
  • Part I - Religion 35
  • 2 - Converting Religion 37
  • 3 - Regulating Religion 73
  • 4 - Outlawing Religion 110
  • Part II - Hinduism 149
  • 5 - Standardizing Sanatana Dharma 151
  • 6 - Making World Religions 192
  • Postscript 231
  • Notes 239
  • Bibliography 271
  • Index 291
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