Catholics and Hindus share church in Trinidad and Tobago on Good Friday

Picture credit: Dr Kumar Mahabir

By Yajush Gupta

An interesting phenomenon of religious intersection occurring only in Trinidad & Tobago.

On Good Friday, Roman Catholics share their church with thousands of Hindus who pay homage to the dark-skinned wooden statue of the Virgin Mary, who Hindus worship as Mother Kali.

  • Trinidad is the largest island in the nation of Trinidad and Tobago, off Venezuela’s coast in the southern Caribbean.
  • According to the 2011 population census report, Roman Catholics constitute the largest religious group (22%) in the multi-ethnic society. Hindus constitute the second largest (18%) in a population of 1.3 million persons.
  • On last Good Friday, hundreds headed to Siparia for the Feast of Soparee Mai, an annual Good Friday celebration involving both Roman Catholics and Hindus.

Anthropologist Dr Kumar Mahabir recently presented a research paper on this phenomenon that has been taking place every Good Friday for over 140 years in the Roman Catholic church in Siparia in South Trinidad. Mahabir’s paper was entitled “Virgin Mary as Mother Kali: The Intersections between the Hindu Mother Kali and the Black Madonnas in Catholic Churches in Trinidad and Beyond”.

The paper was presented at an international conference themed “Turning Tides: Caribbean Intersections in the Americas and Beyond.” The conference was held on February 18 to 20 at The University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine. It was organised by The UWI and Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, USA.

Dr Mahabir notes in an article that appeared in a news paper at in Trinidad and Tobago: “For the past decade, there has been the appearance of a poojari of the Kali-Mai Hindu sect in the church grounds. He collects donations from worshippers for the intent purpose of doing ceremonial worship for the protection of his village from sickness and natural disasters.”

He adds: “The figure of this poojari (Hindu priest), dark-skinned and dressed in white, jharying (stroking) with knife and neem branch those who seek his blessings, substantiates the conception that Hindus perceive this Divine Shepherdess to be Mother Kali.”

Report prepared by Yajush Gupta. Twitter :@yajush_gupta