T&T’s largest religious denomination after Catholicism, Hinduism was brought to Trinidad in the nineteenth century by indentured Indian workers, whose wide-ranging geographical and social origins reflected the huge differences in religious practice and status in India. As they settled into their new life in the Caribbean, Indo-Trinidadians created a hybrid Hinduism that’s unique to the island. One of the main differences to India is the lack of a caste system in T&T. The strong friendships forged during the passage over – which gave rise to the term jihaji bhai (“ship brother”) – transcended differences in social status, and many new-found friends chose to settle together and work the same plantations. Slowly, the caste system was eroded; only the priestly Brahmin caste, whose pundits officiate at religious rites, has survived in Trinidad.
Rituals have also been modified. Prayers for blessing – pujas – are lengthy processes in India, each with a specific meaning and directed towards a particular deity, but in Trinidad, several pujas are often combined, with multiple deities involved. At sacred places such as Waterloo, you’ll often see the scattered remains of articles required for pujas – incense, flowers, pictures (murtis) of the deity to be honoured, while the smell of the oils, herbs, spices and ghee offered to the gods hang heavy in the air; bamboo poles topped with a jhandi (prayer flag) in the colours of the relevant deity are also essential to pujas, and you’ll see clusters of them at puja sites island-wide as well as fluttering in the gardens of Hindu households.
Though you’d hardly believe it judging by the proliferation of grandiose mosques, Islam actually has a much smaller worship base, with just six percent of the population practising Muslims. For the most part, Islamic religious practice has changed little since arriving in T&T, save for the festival of Hosay, which has grown from a rather sombre ceremony to a Carnival-esque affair, much to the distress of the devout.