The famous Lions on the balcony of the Lion House tower imperiously over the Chaguanas Main Road, symbolic guardians of the town of Chaguanas, silent witnesses to its past, present and future.

Information for Visitors

The Lion House, the ancestral home of the Capildeo family is one of the architectural wonders which contributes to the heritage of the small Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.Built between 1924 and 1926 the Lion House still stands majestically on the Main Road in Chaguanas.
It is the only building of its kind in the Western Hemisphere conceived, designed and constructed by the late Pundit Capildeo. It is the standing symbol and memorial to the indentured Indian immigrants who came to this land from 1845. It is the story of one indentured immigrant's success and bequest to our nation.
The interior of the Lion House is still being restored and therefore is not open to visitors.


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History of The Lion House



Pundit Capildeo and the Lion House

Pundit Capildeo was born in 1873 in his family village of Mahadeva Dubey in the district of Somra, county of Gorakhpur in the state of Uttar Pradesh in East Central India. The village is still there and Pundit Capildeo's family still resides there. They have been there for the past seventeen generations.
In 1894 Pundit Capildeo left his home and went to the city of Benares to study. There he was recruited by Arkatiahs to work in the cane fields of Trinidad. On the 7th August 1894 he was registered at the Sub Depot at Benares and on the 25th September 1984 he sailed on the good ship Hereford from Calcutta with 597 other indentured immigrants.
And so the foundation for the Lion House was laid.
Pundit Capildeo broke out of the bonds of indentureship and became a highly respected and successful Pundit, ministering to the Hindus of Trinidad. Over the years he also became a successful landowner, businessman and cane farmer.
In 1924 he began the construction of the Lion House which he completed in 1926 and named it ANAND BHAVAN or the 'Mansion of Bliss'. That year , for the last time he left on one of his many trips to India. He never returned having died there.
But the Lion House remains a monument to his genius.
According to Father Anthony de Verteuil in his book, 'Eight East Indian Immigrants': "Traditionally in Trinidad, The East Indian immigrants have invested their money in land or else in buildings. Capil was no exception. But the building he put up was far from the usual type and reflected his exceptionally strong Hindu ideology and unusual character. It might be an interesting exercise (in the Jamesian mode) to trace the revelation of character in the building which Capil erected, with its impregnable walls and impenetrable fa�ade on the street side, and its opening on sunshine and flowering shrubs on the private inner courtyard. The prototype or original model on which the edifice was designed, was a city dwelling in the town of Gorakhpur, in the county of the same name, from which Capil had emigrated and in which his family had lived, for so many generations. Indeed, the architectural style of the building, like his family, went back centuries. Its brutally stark pillars forming an arcade in front, plain walls and flat roof, mirror the early Gupta style of the 5th century A.D. Capil constructed this creation with his own hands. It was his very own and yet to some extent he may have envisaged it as his cultural gift to Trinidad from his ancient homeland. It was erected in front of the old shop-home which it replaced and which became a single-purpose dwelling house, so that the old was completely concealed from the street by the new. On its front at either end was a representation of a lion the (non-religious) symbol of strength found adorning many buildings in India, so that to the people of Chaguanas, the house was known as the Lion House."

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The Design of the Lion House


Family legend has it that Pundit Capildeo wanted to re-create a building of Gorakhpur in what he considered his adopted home of Chaguanas. It was a house which evolved out of his memory. When he was finished the all white building stood as if it had been plucked from Gorakhpur, India and set down on the Main Road, Chaguanas. The Pundit wanted to capture the glory of his ancestors and his position in Chaguanas society. He wanted the tallest building in the area. He went up four storeys utilising massive foundations of foot thick walls. It was a functional building. Designed to occupy the contour of the land. The first floor opened onto the pavement and the Main Road. It was to be used as a Store. The second floor was was divided into four rooms to be occupied by the family. From this floor narrow wooden steps led to the third floor which was dominated by a Puja Room and led onto the roof. From this floor an unapproachable fourth floor arose which really had no purpose. Pundit Capildeo had ample opportunity to display his artistic skills. Around all the windows and doorways he had etched in the concrete various designs and he used small circular mirrors to highlight all the openings in the building. The entire building was decorated. Even the tremendous pillars had a flower-like base. As a final touch he used decorative blocks to highlight the front of the building.

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The Matriarch of the Lion House


The Lion House has been many things to many people in its early history. It was the meeting place for many travellers from all over Trinidad who were passing through Chaguanas.
It was also an early community centre for the residents of Chaguanas and surrounding areas. It was the natural home for Hindu Pilgrims wherever they may have resided in Trinidad. At some point in their lives, they gathered for comfort under the awnings of the Lion House on the Main Road, Chaguanas. Ganja was sold at the Lion House and it was consumed there, by the public without any discomfort to anyone.
In fact, legend has it that great debates arose on the popular Hindu religious texts and genteel discussions of all manner took place between Hindus, Muslims and Christians without rancour.
Local community politics of course was the staple diet of debate. Pundit Capildeo was well known for his advice on several disputes and Panchayats held. Above all, the Lion House stood as the citadel and heart of Hinduism and Hindu Trinidad.
In the late forties Soogee Capildeo, the widow of Pundit Capildeo and now matriarch of the clan, moved out of the Lion House, first to an Estate in Petit Valley and then to Luis Street, Woodbrook, so that her children and grandchildren could be educated in Port of Spain.
The Lion House was rented out to a family from India, the Patels', who carried on a haberdashery store under the name, 'Lion Store'. The Patels' also developed a thriving gold jewelry business complete with furnaces and machines for the melting and shaping of gold.
In the meantime, two widowed daughters of Soogee returned to live in the original wooden structure behind the Lion House whilst the Patels' resided in the Lion House itself.
Sometime after a chemist by the name of Green occupied the downstairs portion of the Lion House. By coincidence, the doors of the Lion House were painted green. Green became something of a legend in Chaguanas, dispensing medication, some of which he himself devised. His chemist's shop and storeroom were straight out of a Dickensian novel.
Until his recent departure, both from the Lion House and life, Green in the tradition of the Lion House spirit, befriended and assisted society.
The Lion House was to produce many a distinguished Trinidad citizen and continues so to do.

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V.S. Naipaul's Description of the Lion House


Outstanding in its own right, the house has become internationally famous because of its description in cynical style, by Capil's grandson Vidya Naipaul, in his book 'A House for Mr. Biswas', in which he transforms the lions into representations of the monkey-god Hanuman, Capildeo becoming 'Tulsi' and Chaguanas 'Arwacas'.
Among the tumbledown timber-and-corrugated-iron buildings in the High Street at Arwacas, Hanuman House stood like an alien white fortress, The concrete walls looked as thick as they were, and when the narrow doors of the Tulsi Store on the ground floor were closed the House became bulky, impregnable and blank. The side walls were windowless and on the upper two floors the windows were mere slits in the fa�ade. The balustrade which hedged the flat roof was crowned with a concrete statue of the benevolent monkey-god Hanuman. From the ground his whitewashed features could scarcely be distinguished and were if anything, slightly sinister, for dust had settled on projections and the effect was that of a face lit up from below�
The fa�ade that promised such an amplitude of space concealed a building which was trapezoid in plan and not deep. There were no windows and light came only from the two narrow doors at the front and the single door at the back which opened on to a covered courtyard. The walls of uneven thickness curved here and jutted there, and the shop abounded in awkward, empty, cobwebbed corners. Awkward too, were the thick ugly columns� 'This house,' Mrs. Tulsi said, 'this house - he built it with his own hands. Those walls aren't concrete, you know�It looks like concrete to everybody. But everybody is wrong. Those walls are really made of clay bricks� Clay bricks�And he made every brick himself. Right here.'
Although the literary poetic licence of Naipaul allowed him to picture the existing Lions as the monkey-god, Hanuman, he recorded as fact in the words of Mrs. Tulsi, that indeed, Pundit Capildeo had built the Lion House with his own hands and very own blocks which he had made in his backyard.
In reality the lions proudly anchor the Eastern and Western corners of the front of the Lion House facing the Main Road, Chaguanas. And on the rear wall of the building, could be a seen a huge relief of the elephant-headed god, Ganesh.

Excerpts from an interview of Simbhoonath Capildeo by Natasha Barsotti published in the Trinidad Sunday Guardian on February 22nd 1987.

THE HOUSE OF PUNDIT CAPILDEO
Chaguanas Lion House not Naipaul's Hanuman House


"Born in Mahadeva Dubey in 1876, Pundit Capildeo came to Trinidad in 1894 as an indentured labourer attached to Woodford Lodge Sugar Estate, Chaguanas.
His son, Simbhoonath, who now resides in Luis Street, Woodbrook, explained that in those days, assignations sic to the local estates were determined according to the area of India from which the indentureds were brought.
'My father was from United Provinces so he and other workers from that area were sent to Woodford Lodge. Those who came from the south of India went to Carlsen Field and Usine Ste Madeleine,' Mr. Capildeo explained.
He proudly described his father as somewhat of a jack of numerous trades, filling the roles of small shopkeeper, gardener, proprietor, farmer and religious adviser to the people of Chaguanas. He added: 'He was successful in everything he did. He went back to India several times. He built the house following the style of the buildings in the city of Gorakpur. He made his own baked clay blocks in his backyard and must have carried the design in his mind for years.
In India blocks of mud and straw were made and left out in the sun. Then they (the blocks) were placed in a vat-like enclosure and charged with a coal fire, burning day after day with smoke coming out of a galvanized pipe. If you visit the House, you can see parts of the blocks through the broken plaster�..'
Becoming a little more serious, Mr. Capildeo expressed the hope that the house, which now belongs to his ten sisters, could be preserved if only for its architecture and historical value.
'I am very proud of my father and what he did. I feel that he left a monument which I like to describe, using the words of Horace, as "more durable than brass".'
A sore point with Mr. Capildeo, however, is the erroneous link that has been established between the Lion House and Naipaul's "House of Mr. Biswas".
'The Lion House in no way at all can be the House of Mr. Biswas,' he said indicating that Naipaul had stayed in at least four other houses, apart from the Lion House, which could be the Hanuman House of Mr. Biswas.
Perhaps the only person who can solve the mystery is the author himself."

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Famous Sons of the Lion House


The Restoration of the Lion House


On the 21st June, 1963 Simbhoonath Capildeo, the eldest son of Pundit Capildeo finally abandoned the Lion House to his sisters.
Mr. Green, the Chemist, occupied the ground floor and continued his service to the surrounding community. But all around him was decay. The unoccupied floors above the drugstore were in a state of decay and about to collapse. Large areas had caved in. What the termites began the leaking roof completed. The flooring of the bedrooms and living room area disintegrated. Worse the decorated wall of the parapet on which Pundit Capildeo proudly stood in 1926 to have his picture taken began to move away from the main building and threatened to collapse on the pavement and street below. It was anchored and held by a piece of rope.
An attempt was made to stop the sieve of a roof by the erection of a crude galvanized covering. The beautiful curved wooden stairway which led from the ground floor to the first floor had disappeared. It was replaced by a hideous concrete stairway at the rear of the building. The wooden stairway has since been replaced but access to the first floor can also still be gained through the concrete monstrosity which has been left intact as a temporary fire escape.
The celebrated Puja Room was almost no more. The floor became a mossy filthy pond, the walls were decayed and covered with mildew. Miraculously the narrow steep wooden stairway to the Puja Room remained intact. But everywhere else showed signs of decay and collapse: The wooden fretwork, the windows, broken panes, broken wooden jalousies, unhinged doors. Almost all the small glass disks painstakingly installed by the Pundit had fallen off and the massive concrete walls were covered in mold and mildew.
The large wooden "Big House" at the back of the Lion House, the original home of the family was demolished and from its wreck a one bedroom cottage was built and abandoned. Infested by termites this has been torn down.
There was growing public unease about the threatening parapet. Vegetation was now growing out of it. Real threats to demolish the building as a danger to passers-by were being made.
On the 25th March 1991 Bindmatee the youngest sister of Simbhoonath who was upset and alarmed at the threat of demolition donated her interest in the Lion House to her nephew Surendranath son of Simbhoonath.
By April 1991 Surendranath Capildeo had retained the services of Colin Laird Associates, Architects, to advise on and supervise the restoration of the Lion House. Tenders for renovation were put out and eventually awarded to EWAC & Co. Ltd. With Mr. Glen Espinet in charge of restoration.
Unfortunately restoration activities ceased around 1992-3. And by the time Espinet and Laird returned to the Lion House in 1995 they found it vandalised. Work had to start all over again.
This began in 1995-6 and by 2001 the renovations were almost complete with the knowledge and advice that actual renovation will have to be carried on as long as the building stands.
The cost of the renovation had been borne to-date by Surendranath Capildeo alone. And the Lion House stands today because of the dedicated work of Architect Colin Laird and Restorer Glen Espinet.

-Surendranath Capildeo
22nd April, 2002.


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LINKS



Paschim Kaashi, The Port-of-Spain Hindu Mandir is another Trinidad landmark of which the Capildeo family were founders and are still members.

Chakra Publishing offer for sale The Lotus and The Dagger:The Capildeo Speeches 1957-1994 a book of historical, social and political importance. Featuring the speeches of Simbhoonath, Rudranath and Surendranath Capildeo and a family history, the book maps the political challenges, successes and debacles of the Capildeos and the Indian immigrants to Trinidad from the pre-independence struggle to 1994. The price of the book is TT$70, US $12, UK �8, CAN. $15, Rs. 24.


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