(Ajay Kamalakaran is an independent journalist and a Kalapalata Fellow for History & Heritage Writings for 2021. The column first appeared in the Scroll on October 5, 2021)
- The traditional heart of Saigon, District 1, has a popular house of worship that dates back to the time when a small and thriving Tamil community lived in the city. Standing out in a central lane near the Ben Thanh is the large and colourful 12-metre high raja gopuram of the Mariamman Temple, which was built at the end of the 19th century. At 10 in the morning, a Khmer priest starts the daily pooja to the goddess of rain, who devotees believe also cures diseases and brings prosperity. The morning pooja is regularly attended by ethnic Chinese, Khmer and Vietnamese worshippers who have a deep faith in the goddess. For the first three quarters of the 20th century, the temple was the centre of the Tamil Hindu community that lived in Saigon. Now, besides a Tamil-origin manager whose proficiency of the ancient language is limited, and a few tourists or the odd software professional, one is unlikely to spot a Tamil in the temple.