Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Doon Pandit, the miracle worker of Las Lomas


POPULAR HEALER: A photo of distinguished pundit Doon Pandit.

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THE birth of three villages in Las Lomas was the result, according to the historians, of the "evacuation of the French planters" and occupation later by East Indian immigrants when their indentureship ended.

The villagesóLas Lomas No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3ólie on the outskirts of St Helena, Centeno, Piarco and Chin Chin villages.

Those who laboured to build the communities were former employees of the Woodford Lodge and other surrounding sugar estates.

At the end of indentureship, the immigrants found the lands in the area to be hilly or swampy, but suitable for the cultivation of rice.

When rice cultivation became uneconomical, they turned to small-scale farming and livestock rearing, helping fill the nation's food basket.

The population of the villages during the early 20th century was small. The muddy roads were almost impassable.

Mungroo Singh, 81, recalled the days when "bush on the road was so high that we could hardly see the sun". He said most of the houses then were built with grass and mud and covered with the dried leaves of the carat palm tree.

Today, the main roads leading into the village are well paved and Las Lomas has become a prime residential area with lots of room for farming and industrial expansion.

Singh's grandparents, Lutchmie and Bhagwandeen, came from India on the last ship that brought Indian indentured immigrants to Trinidad, he told the Express. They first settled on an estate in Sangre Grande and later moved to Las Lomas.

The Ojah-Maharaj family, who owns most of the lands in that area, commanded great respect and influence among villagers.

From that family came a distinguished pundit named Doon Pandit, who helped to make Hinduism a dynamic religion relevant to the needs of the society.

Doon Pandit was a catalyst who sought to unify the society. He became famous after purportedly healing Josephine Shaw of a chronic disease.

Josephine was the wife of a former colonial governor, and it is believed that his healing hands brought glory to the village, and led to him being made a Member of the British Empire (MBE) in June 1949.

After receiving the prestigious award, Doon Pundit never lost sight of his role as a servant of the people. A colourful personality, and one who always initiated ideas, he was the first to establish a temple at Chacachacare to provide spiritual help to the lepers there.

His life mirrored that of the protagonist in Sir Vidya Naipaul's iconic novel Mystic Masseur.

Singh said, "Doon Pandit made us proud in Las Lomas No. 1. He was a kind and gentle person who had the ability to heal people suffering with any ailment."

Singh said Pandit had erected a two-storey building and a temple at Las Lomas and "every day hundreds of people from all over Trinidad used to come to the village for spiritual or medical help".

As his popularity as a healer grew, he moved to Temple Street, Arima, where he continued his healing mission, built a mosque and opened his arms to the wider community.

His work made him one of the most popular social workers in East Trinidad. He died in 1958 at age 58 from an attack of asthma, and was buried in a tomb at Las Lomas Cemetery, where earlier he had donated lands for a public cemetery.

Leela Maharaj lives opposite the temple built by Doon at Las Lomas No. 1.

She remembered Doon for his kindness to animals. "He never ate his food until some of it was fed to the cows," she said.

Las Lomas has had its fair share of visits by government officials. The Shiva Jyoti Temple in the village was opened by former governor Sir Bede Clifford.

Religion plays a major part in the lives of villagers. There are several temples, a Roman Catholic and Presbyterian church and several mosques.

Although agriculture is the mainstay of the villagers, several companies have also started small businesses in Las Lomas No. 1, slowly but surely moving the community from rural to modern in the coming years.