Nostalgia: Building Blairmont Temple for Phagwa – By Vidur Dindayal

Nostalgia: Building Blairmont Temple for Phagwa

By Vidur Dindayal

Visiting Blairmont temple on Sunday morning was very special for me. I was born at Blairmont Sugar Estate and lived there in my early childhood. I liked to go to the shivalas –small chapels- and put flowers in them before going into the temple itself. The picture in my mind of the temple was it was glowing white in the bright morning sunlight. It has always been my ideal temple.     

We called it ‘mathiya’ from the word ‘math’ meaning temple, like Swami Ramakrishna’s Belur Math in Kolkata.

It was newly built in the early 30s. The old one was a large shed, with zinc sheets, cow pen like, not nice. After one Phagwa, our father and the elders decided they would build a new temple, before the next Phagwa. They would collect money and ask Mr. Eccles the manager to help them with a new temple.

In those days, the Sugar Estate Manager was lord of all he surveyed. Almost everything was owned by the estate, including the houses where people lived. Any building on Estate land had to be approved by the manager. Besides, the cost of a new temple building was beyond the means of the people, and help from the manager was vital.

Dad had a plan. He drew a sketch of the proposed temple. The building would be raised off the ground on two feet high blocks. He drew this on a sheet of wrapping paper from the shop. At the right moment he planned to show the manager the drawing and ask his help with a new building.

The manager visited the temple whenever there was a special occasion. Dad would often receive him. One Sunday, the manager came to the temple. There was a special function, Ramayan reading etc. After that, the manager said few words and gave good encouragement in their religious work. There was a good set of people there, about 200 or so.

Dad had the sketch in his pocket, so he made his move. The manager was leaving and Dad joined him. Just before they reached the gate, Dad said, ‘Sir, em, we have been looking at this old shed. We want to pull this down and put up a new building here. We will pay half the cost.’ He said that about the cost because not long before the manager had helped with the cricket field pavilion. He had said then, ‘Yes, I will give you a pavilion, but God says, he will help those who help themselves. If you helped yourself, I would help you.’ In fact the manager put in more than half the cost.

The manager said, ‘I will think about it.’ At that, Dad promptly took out the plan from his pocket and showed him. The manager showed surprise and said ‘You have a good drawing here, Dindayal. Alright, what you can do….’ He stopped speaking for a moment.

People stood up all round. They didn’t know what the manager was talking to me about. They all surrounded them, now. So Eccles said, ‘ Go to Mr. Arnold, let him give you some drafting paper, and draw the picture over again and let me see it.’  So Dad got his chance there.

Arnold was Chief Engineer and Deputy Manager. Dad got the drafting paper from him and he went all out with his drawing. He kept the drawing for years. It made a good picture. He framed it and put it on the gallery wall of our house.

The plan had a tower with a spire at the back. Arnold said, ‘ This tower thing, rain would go through the sheeting. Put it at the front, separate from the main building.’ Dad drew it again. He had a postcard from Calcutta which showed a marketplace with a clock tower. He took that idea because it came from India. Instead of the clock, he put a round window with coloured glass.

In the old place the murtis -statues- were on a table. Dad planned something different. He had seen a picture of King George V, Emperor in India, presiding at the Delhi Durbar. He took that Durbar idea to design the altar for the murtis. It had a canopy, with figurines on both sides. At the background, there was a big ‘Aum’. They kept the murtis from the old temple. It wasn’t easy to buy new ones. You had to import them from India.

Eccles was shown the new design. He okayed it. He then showed it to Teacher London, the head carpenter in the Estate. Eccles said, ‘Teacher, look at this plan, work out how much materials you would need and you must start to send some materials.’ Teacher went away and started his work. The manager was now committed to helping with the new temple.

All the people were called to a big meeting. Dad told them the Manager was pleased with the plan, he would send lumber. Shortly afterwards, materials started to arrive in punts, by canal at the side of the temple. People came, unloaded the lumber and fetched it across and put it in the yard. Everybody in the estate came and gave a big hand and the work started. The Pandit was very happy. He was glad that he would be priest of a new temple.

Dad drew the plan, so when work started, he had to take charge of the building work too. The manager told him to do so. His time was now spent on lumber, structure, carpenters, how he wanted it all done, everything.

They built three shivalas, in a row outside, as you approached the entrance to the temple. Each had a raised dais, for a murti, railings around and a domelike roof. The first one was donated by the Oudit family. They owned the big shop by the school and the Head Driver’s house. They were Shivite, so the murti was of Lord Shiva.

The temple was built in time for Phagwa. It was a big celebration. On Phagwa day everybody dressed up and gathered at the mathiya. They greeted one another, putting attar –scented oil-on the back of each other’s hands. After a brief pooja, chowtal singing, and mohan bhoag – blessed food –  the phagwa party set off, each with their jhaanj -brass cymbals making music with loud hails of  ‘Holi Khele Raghubeer, Holi Khele Raghubeer ‘ in between. They stopped outside every house from the mathiya through Old Yard, to New Range and back. On their way, they shared happy phagwa greetings, were sprayed with abeer –magenta water- and served with lots to eat and drink everywhere.

Phagwa brought everybody together, like one big family. In those days people did not live so long as we do today. The old people used to always give thanks for enjoying Phagwa ‘this year ’. They would say, ‘ We don’t know whether we would live to see another Phagwa.’

9 February 2018

Download copy: Building Blairmont Temple for Phagwa.

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