The news came as a boon. The tallest and most impressive Hindu temple, Maheshwarnath, of Triolet has been brought under the aegis of the National Heritage Trust Fund (NHTF) since 2016.
The Act set up in 2003 will safeguard, manage and promote it as a national heritage for the present and future generations worldwide. It will educate and sensitize the public on cultural values and instill a sense of belonging and civic pride with respect to national heritage. The board of the NHTF has found this monument as an object and site of cultural significance where ownership remains vested in the owner. Any alterations made must be through notice given in writing.
The earliest temples at Gokoola and elsewhere have been rebuilt because the materials they were made of could not last forever. Maheshwarnath is intact for it has a legendary figure behind it, Sanjibonlal Ramsoondur, better known as Pandit Sajeewon. He is also known as Triolet ke Baba or the saint of Triolet.
He hailed from Orissa and came to Mauritius by the ship “Mozambique” on 4 April 1866 from Calcutta as a commercial traveller. His certificate bears number 4996. After some time, he indentured himself to a planter in the south for a few years. He found that Hindus were in dearth of priests. As a learned Brahmin, he started practising as priest in Vacoas and its vicinity. He stayed with the Padaruth Ojha family. He soon became well off and even went to work in the vicinity by horse cart.
It was then that he came in contact with notary Baissac in Port Louis. The Grand Morcellement of the 1880s was on. Baissac advised him to buy land. Pandit Sajeewon was a perspicacious person. While all others were buying land to grow crops, he started selling it in lots. He bought and sold hundreds of arpents, nearly half of Triolet. A tremendous fortune thus came his way. At that rate, he found that he could buy half of Mauritius.
At that point, he asked himself about the purpose of having so much money. He knew the plight of Hindus in the country where their religion and culture were looked down upon. He resolved to give dignity to his faith and decided to spend all his money on Lord Shiva when he had in mind to build Maheshwarnath Temple. It had to be as high as the chimney of Triolet Sugar Factory that he had destroyed by accident. At the same time, he wanted it to be as impressive as the Christian churches being built around. It has to be remembered that he was using his money only, seeking no external help.
Work started on the chosen site beside the storeyed house he had bought from Langlois in 1888. His head mason was Goinsamy Mestry. The temple was to be built on the ruins of a sugar factory like the Church of La Salette a few kilometers away. Stones were available on the spot where the mills were found. Lime came from the kilns of Trou aux Biches nearby and sand from the seaside. Work was going on well. When the walls were standing and the scaffolding ready to move upwards, the violent cyclone of 1892 hit and all was destroyed. Pandit Sajeewon, a man of fortitude, was not disheartened and started all over again. He himself lent his hand. By 1895, the majestic Maheshwarnath Temple was ready for inauguration. It was, and is, a unique Hindu monument outside India. He converted the sugar godown into another temple and added a few others. Pandit Chatturvedi Toolsee was the officiating priest for the occasion.
The temple had its own baithka and an orphanage. Pandit Sajeewon set up an association comprising some thirty important Hindu personalities representing all nine districts to run the temple. He donated 10.13 arpents of land for its upkeep. The official pilgrimage to Grand Bassin in 1898 started from here. The English governor issued a pass each year on the name of Pandit Sajeewon allowing indentured workers on sugar estates to leave work during four days, proceed to the lake and participate in the Maha Shivaratri festival. The practice continued till indenture was over by 1910.
Pandit Sajeewon died on 25 February 1907, at the age of 67. And it was Maha Shivaratri. He is the only one known to have dedicated all his fortune in the service of Lord Shiva. He was highly respected in the whole country and in all quarters for his generosity, love of culture and religion. It was high time the temple was given its due, and now it is done.
* Published in print edition on 29 April 2016