Prayer should pacify Hindustan volcano

Prayer should pacify Hindustan volcano

Photo : Dr. Kumar Mahabir

On Carnival Tuesday, the volcano in Hindustan in Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) began spitting methane gas. Soon it exploded “like gunshots” with rumblings and heaps of sulphuric dirt spewing about 20 feet in the air.  About three acres of land were covered in mud.

Cowering in fear, residents of 25 houses were asked to evacuate their premises. Some houses were shaking as if there was an earthquake.

Hindus should perform a pooja [ceremonial prayer] to pacify the now active mud volcano in Hindustan. The volcano is located near Princes Town through Indian Walk, and into Hindustan Road.

The volcano in Hindustan in Devil’s Woodyard erupted violently in 1852, seven years after the first wave of Indians came to Trinidad as indentured labourers in 1845. The entire village shook and trees fell. The volcano erupted again in 1995 when sulphuric mud covered the picnic sheds.

The mud volcano in Columbia coconut estate in Fullerton in Cedros is revered annually with a pooja. It is an active volcano with constant emissions of bubbling hot water and soft clay.

In their homes during the night, villagers hear the sound of the mud bubbling in the belly of the earth. They take this to mean that it is a reminder to pray and perform pooja near the volcano.

If they do not make offerings to the volcano, villagers believe that Mother Durga will be angry with them and blow off the top of the plateau. Already the volcano has spread its mud, destroying acres of valuable agricultural land.

Though there is no immediate danger, Hindus are not taking chances. The constant swelling of the mud domes and the increasing deposits around the orifices are a source of worry. The outpourings may even submerge nearby homes, livestock and vegetation as in Piparo.

Annually, during the month of April, Hindus perform pooja to placate the spirit of the volcano from wreaking further destruction. They also express gratitude and appreciation that it has not done more destruction. They know that scientists cannot accurately predict an eruption, and that government agencies can only put plans in place for an evacuation.

The balka pooja is a grand event in Cedros, attracting scores of religious adherents and curious onlookers for decades. Pilgrims and visitors drive one mile inside Columbia coconut estate, up steep winding slopes into forested land with wild trees and shrubs. Old folks travel up the low mountain out of a sense of tradition. The journey to the hilltop is a metaphor for the ascent to spiritual enlightenment.

Hindus make an altar with the soft clay of a fresh eruption on the side of the plateau.

On the altar, they make offerings [jagaway] of flowers, fruits, leaves, grains, water, etc. to Goddess Durga. In Hindu iconography, Durga is represented sitting on a lion, suggesting that she has complete control of dangerous forces. Hindus use the clay to make miniature murtis [statues], and the sick apply it to treat skin diseases.

The spluttering and bubbling of the volcano is a curious phenomenon which, for religious adherents, has a strong mystical appeal. Hindus have made this volcano the object of veneration through fear of its inexplicable natural power. They believe that Goddess Durga resides miles underground in a chamber fed by flows of magna from deep within the earth. Durga is believed to be the Mother of the Universe. She is perceived to be the power behind the work of creation, preservation and destruction of the world.

Like native Indians in the early Americas, Indians in Trinidad revere a volcano as a sacred place. Some years ago, parents would take their children to have their first hair-cut near the mud mound. Hindus believe that a pooja performed near the dome is the most effective way to communicate with god. The volcano is believed to respond immediately to human prayer and ritual with its bubble.

Scientists have long deciphered that mud volcanoes can also be a blessing in disguise. Just as Mother Durga has friendly and fearful forms, so too mud volcanoes can be benevolent and malevolent.  Mud volcanoes can be visible signs of the presence of oil and gas reserves hidden deep beneath the earth, as well as signs of fault lines that can indicate earthquake zones.

There are about 20 mud volcanoes in Trinidad including the recent active formation in the sea at Mayaro. The most visited are the active mud volcanoes in Piparo and Devil’s Woodyard.

The volcano in Piparo is also located in South Trinidad near an exquisite Hindu temple that is also a sight to behold with its superb craftsmanship, fine details and extravagant interior. The volcano erupted in 1996 unleashing a tidal wave of mud that slowly submerged 15 houses.

THE WRITER is an anthropologist who has published 11 books.