By Marion O'Callaghan
T&T's Newsday | Monday, October 14 2013
What could be more simple a subject for a Trini film documentary than the statue Catholics call La Divina Pastora (The Divine Shepherdess) and Hindus call Siparia Mae (Siparia Mother)? There is the presence of Catholicism and of Hinduism as objects of devotion, in the same statue.
There is the illusive dream of a real Ganges meeting the real Nile of Rudder’s calypso. So it must have seemed to the two university students: a photographer and one of the M Phils in film.
We cannot be certain of how the statue arrived in Siparia. It is already an object of devotion for Amerindians of both Trinidad and Venezuela, and Siparia, a relatively important pilgrimage site in the early nineteenth century.
La Divina Pastora belongs to a number of miraculous statues, visions and miracles in Latin American of the time, the best known being Guadalupe in Mexico and the Crucifix in Ecuador.
These all include some feature that is clearly Amerindian: the peasant cloak at Guadalupe, the black Jesus on the cross, in Siparia a black Madonna.
It must be underlined however, that there is a tradition of black holy statues in medieval Spain and in medieval central France.
That statues in Catholic churches and shrines in Trinidad, with the exception of St Martin de Porres, are white, is explained by the fact that they often represent vision and/or piety of a later age and that they are mass produced in Paris by what has been called St Sulpician art.
The Latin American statues also mark the dislocation of internal colonisation and the integration of Amerindians into the commercial economy of the country, largely through religious fairs.
By the last half of the nineteenth century, the Amerindian population in Trinidad had declined and a Venezuelan vision and statue has emerged. La Divina Pastora becomes the place of pilgrimage of a Catholic population of former slaves, freed men and of a new population: Hindus.
The End of the World
It is the nineteenth century. It is a century of full-blown colonialism, of the emancipation of slaves, the colonisation of India and colonial wars in Africa. Racism is hammered into a biological theory which permeates from religion to popular culture to linguistic categories.
The end of the world was believed to be near. The coming of the Christ was held to depend on the acceptance of Christianity by all people.
As in many periods of religious hysteria there is sometimes the suspicion of the work of Satan where there is refusal to believe or to be baptised. This was one of the reasons for anti-Jewish pogroms in parts of Europe.
It has also been used against African religions. Was this at work with the Kali myth?
The Kali Myth
The name of the documentary: The Madonna Murti, was at best misleading.
It artificially links two traditions: the Madonna of European feudal courtly love, and the Hindu Murti by which the spirits of deities are within their representations. More worrying is the assumption that in Siparia Mae, Hindus at Siparia worship Kali.
This is presented as a fact by both commentaries in the October 6th Catholic News.
There is no evidence whatsoever that Hindus worship Kali in Siparia Mae. The written demands presented at the statue are presented only to Mother. Mother is a term of respect often given to Hindu female deities. Kali is the goddess of both destruction and of protection.
The same qualities are there in Durga, a deity being worshipped at this time in pujas around the country. Why, then, is there no outcry or fear of Durga? There is no concept like the Catholic belief of Mother of God and therefore Mother of the Universe as pertains to deities in Hinduism.
There is absolutely no evidence of satanic worship at Siparia Mae nor of the calling down of evil on enemies of Shiva.
The offering of body parts mentioned in one article is extremely rare in India. Kali worship did include animal sacrifice – usually a fowl – in the past.
This would be very rare today. Rather, fruit, flowers, coconuts are the usual offering, as indeed they are in India.
That some Hindus share with some Catholics the belief that this is some form of “evil” worship is not strange. Siparia Mae escapes the Hindu Trini orthodoxy established largely by the Maha Sabha but shared by say, Raviji.
This is a conservative strand of North of India Brahmanic Hinduism. Within this Siparia Mae is likely to be seen as a deota or lesser deity that is not linked to the major Hindu deities.
Or perhaps some Hindus now share the Trini dislike and suspicion of Black religious representations. This has a long history here and is illustrated by action in 1970. It is there I would start research.