THE MAKING OF A SOCIAL REFORMER : GANDHI IN SOUTH
Traditional Temples, Religious and Cultural Practices
Hindus: Traditional Temples, Religious And Cultural Practices
The decentralized nature of the Hindu faith allowed for much diversity in religious worship and practice. Devotional beliefs, attitudes, and practices diverged widely even though Hindus generally accepted the fundamental unity of their faith. There were village deities and shrines. Puja (worship) was at the heart of Hinduism, and the rituals associated with it included mantra, music, singing, conch-blowing, incense-burning, displaying of lamps, receiving darshana (blessing), performing arathi (waving of the lamps), circumambulating, the taking of panchamrita (liquid confection), and prasada (food representing the material symbol of the deity’s power and grace).1
Early Hindu immigrants working in the agricultural sector used such resources as were available to continue their religious practices. They were thrown together with other migrants who belonged to different castes, languages, and ancestral regions, and adapted to this new condition as best they could. Hindus built shrines in their homes where they lit a lamp daily. Outdoor shrines were popular as they provided communal forms of ritualized religious worship.2 In time they built simple temples. Those who completed their indentures moved to other places, and became part of communities already established and participated in existing forms of religious worship. A priest was a necessary part of religious worship. In the Hindu tradition, even a person who was not of Brahmin birth could claim sufficient knowledge in spiritual matters and religious practices to become one; and if one was not available, the community requested the authorities to allow a priest to be brought from India.3
This chapter focuses on early temples, festivals, and organizations among Hindu immigrants who made up 80 per cent of the Indian population. They represented expressions of the Hindu faith in its many forms. Reformist Hindus sought to introduce what they considered to be pristine Vedic values, and in the process they did not always agree with Gandhi’s broadly ecumenical approach to matters of faith.
Hindu temples reflected a desire among adherents to create a spiritual and religious iconolatry with which the migrants were familiar. They needed temples adorned with deities to participate in visuality and ritualism.4 As Meer says, a Hindu temple “is not so much a place of congregation as it is a symbol of Divine veneration” in which mantra (verbal) and the yantra (visual) are integral parts.5 It was intended to evoke religious ecstasy through, for example, the depiction of Shiva, the cosmic dancer who produced the vibrations of life through a small damaru (drum) in one of his hands.
The early temples were built over a thirty-five-year period from about 1875 to 1910. There was no discouragement either from the imperial and colonial authorities or employers. Indeed, there was active encouragement from some employers who made donations in the form of land or money, and allowed time off for religious observances. The earliest temples were wood-and-iron structures around which individual and communal rituals took place which sometimes involved blood sacrifices. Such practices were frowned upon by the Arya Samaj, founded in 1875 by Swami Dayanand in India, whose aim was to reform Hinduism on Vedic principles.6 One of the Samaj’s proponents was Professor Bhai Permanand, who, upon his arrival in Natal in 1905, sought to cleanse Hinduism of practices he considered excrescent. He encouraged the establishment of the Hindu Young Men’s Associations to promote a more reflective kind of Hinduism. The Hindu Thirukootam Association in Ladysmith, for example, wanted to hold meetings twice a week to do “preaching.”7 Bhai Permanand was followed by Swami Shankeranand who continued with the mission of revitalizing Vedic-based Hinduism. The swami endeavored to end the participation of Hindus in Mohurram and tried to institutionalize among indentured Indians the celebration of Diwali, the Festival of Lights, observed annually by all Hindus. He sought to enlist the help of the Protector of Indian Immigrants in October 1910, “You will help them [indentured Hindus] immensely if you stop the Pagoda day holiday and will substitute the same with one on Diwali.”8 More will be said about Swami Shankeranand later in the chapter.
Such reform Hindu activities were viewed with suspicion by at least one colonial official. The official saw erroneously a conspiracy at work among reform Hindus who, in his opinion, merely sought to promote the expansion of colonial-born Hindu traders at the expense of the established Muslim traders. The group likely sought to promote Hindu traders if this meant that they would also help to spread reform Hinduism.9
In spite of the efforts by the reformist Hindus, popular forms of ritual worship continued to flourish within the temples. One such case is the Kavady festival. The roots of this festival go far back to ancient India. In Natal, it was celebrated twice during January and February and again during April and May. The Mariamman Temple in Isipingo Rail near Durban was built in 1870 as a private shrine of Kandasamy Moodley, who purchased five acres of land from a sugar estate owner. He brought a murthi (iconic representation of deity) from India to place in the temple shrine. This temple has been a popular site for the Kavady festival, which honors Muruga, also known as Subrahmanya, the son of Shiva. This is a thirteen-day festival, the first twelve of which are reserved for cleansing and purification, and the last for carrying Muruga’s murthi on kavady (decorated bamboo frames) for installation in the temple. The decorated bamboo frames represent the penitential burden that the devotee is prepared to carry. The annual Kavady festival was to reaffirm faith in Muruga, and to remind devotees of the need for penitence to remain in his good favor.10 Hinduism in Natal lists at least 12 temples in Natal that observe Kavady today.11
Individuals associated with the construction of temples had knowledge of the main elements of the Hindu temple, and indeed may have had access to the manuals on temples known as Mansara or Shilpa Shastra. All of the builders came from among the migrants themselves. Such temples served the needs of the poorer class of Hindus. Traditional Hindu Temples lists six of the more prominent builders who built several temples.12 There are, of course, a few more that have been identified. Except for one, all were born in India and therefore had sound knowledge of the temple structure. There was some mixing of the two main styles (North and South Indian), and the local conditions required some adaptations and variations. A temple was sited generally where space was available. Preference was given, however, to sites with a western slope allowing for an eastern approach, or with a river nearby since water was important in the Hindu system of belief. Such aspects enhanced the significance of the temple. In terms of siting temples on land that was sacred, Natal was a new home and did not have the religious history of the ancestral villages of India. But occasionally that kind of significance accompanied the selection of a site. For example, the Mariamman Temple site was reportedly inhabited by nag (the cobra) closely associated with Shiva.13 This temple is built on three acres of land with many trees easily affording the kind of open space around which communal activities could take place. The Mount Edgecombe Mariamman temple is said to have been built over an existing anthill.14 Natal was blessed with terrains that had lush vegetation and trees, and the temple builders were mindful of their beauty and of their religious significance in Hinduism. Peepul and banyan trees were added later to the complex because they have special meaning in Hinduism.
Many of the original wood-and-iron structures were torn down, and replaced by stone buildings. The opportunity to rebuild or upgrade was used by the builders to add iconic visuality as an added dimension to the temple. The incredible variety of local beliefs and practices in Hinduism was given free expression in the visual form of the deities, vahanas (vehicles), astral signs, alters, antechambers, and the anterala that sheltered the main deity below. Hindus in South Africa recreated forms of worship they had left behind in India. Regional variations extant in India are reflected in South Africa’s traditional temples as well. So, Bhojpuri-speaking Indians from the Ganges valley named their temples after Vishnu, incarnate of Rama and Krishna; in South India, Vishnu is referred to as Narayan, Perumal, or Emperumal. Shiva is worshiped as Nataraja by South Indians, whose consort is variously known as Parvati, Uma, Durga, and Kali.
The traditional temples have certain common features. The deity and sculptures represent divine manifestation. The rounded domes (sikhara) are North Indian in style and carry Islamic influence; the conical or pointed or rectangular domes are South Indian. The cella or mandapa is where the main sanctuary is located, and the dome is immediately above the sanctuary. A veranda allows devotees to walk around the shrine. Peepul, banyan, and palm trees grow in the compound. The kodi maram is a flag pole on a pedestal representing a sacrificial altar. Each deity has a vahana (vehicle). Nandi the bull is for Shiva; the peacock is for Subrahmanya, or Muruga; the rat stands for Ganesha; the tiger is for Parvati; the lion is for Draupadi; the lotus is for Saraswathi; and garuda is for Vishnu. Astrological markers decorate the structure. Navagraha (the planets) are represented by black stones. Surya (the sun), Chandra (moon), Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn are represented. Rahu is the ascending mode, and Ketu is descending mode of the dragon’s tail.
Visual imagery, then, is significant for Hindus. Darshana, that is visually feasting one’s eyes, is an important part of their religious worship. Deities had to be prominently visible even as Hindus went about their daily business. Hence temples needed to be centrally located and have bright colors and elaborate designs. The deities with their respective birds and animals and forms of human beings mingling with gods provided the worshipers with a cosmic representation that was familiar and reassuring. Hindus also felt the need to actively participate in religious rituals. The traditional temple operated on a ritual-based popular, rather than philosophical, level. In colonial Natal, the traditional temples were open to all Hindus.15
Kumar in his Hindus in South Africa points to eight major Hindu festivals in South Africa, namely, Thai Pongal, Thai Pusam (Kavady), Maha Sivaratri, Ramnavami, Krishna Jayanti (Krisnajanmastami), Diwali (Dipavali), Parattasi, and Karttikaidipam. Sixty-seven festivals were observed annually among the Tamil and Telugu speakers alone. Less well known festivals like Holi, Balev or Rakshabandan were also celebrated. Ramnavami and Krishnasthmi (or Krishna Jayanti) observed the births of Rama and Krishna. Hindus read about them in the two great Hindu scriptures, the Ramayana and the Bhagavad Gita. Such readings were accompanied by fasting, prayers, and meditation. Hindus drew from the vast range of kirtans or bhajans (hymns) to sing the glories of Ishvara (God). The proceedings usually ended with the taking of prasada.
Diwali was a widely celebrated festival. It was followed a day or two later by the North Indian Hindu New Year. South Indians observed the Tamil New Year in April each year. Those Hindus who had businesses were encouraged to close their shops, if not for the whole day then at least for part of the day. Among the Gujaratis, the Hindu New Year began with the exchange of good wishes, and sometimes with gifts as well. In Durban, one of the merchants usually offered his business premise or his home which was nearby as a place of meeting. On one occasion, the Depot Road temple and the Thakurdwara School combined to mark Diwali. The “Indra Sabha Natak” put on a play. On another occasion, the Surat Hindu Association (SHA) combined with the Kathiwad Arya Mandal (KAM) for Diwali celebrations.16
As more Hindu organizations came into place, such celebrations became bigger and better organized. This was the case with Diwali and New Year celebrations, especially in Durban and Johannesburg. But even Hindus in Stellenbosch, small as their numbers must have been, marked the occasion. Indeed, they reached out to their Muslim neighbors to celebrate Diwali. Communities banded together or, as in the case of greater Durban, the celebrations were observed independently by various bodies. C. P. Lucheram was an influential member of the United Hindu Association in Cape Town. In 1913, Johannesburg’s Hindus used the Diwali celebrations to reach out to all, Whites and Muslims, to appeal for support of the satyagraha campaign.17
Indian Opinion often reported on religious functions. Katha (religious discourse) or homa (fire sacrifice) held at the Verulam Gopalal Mandir was accompanied by religious lectures delivered by Ambaram Maharaj or Shivcharan Maharaj. Community leaders like Babu Talwantsingh, among others, were in attendance. If donations were received for one project or another, the names of donors and the amount they gave were reported.18 The extent to which religious observances were followed in individual Hindu homes will never be known. But they were no doubt substantial. Many had access to the Panchang (Panchangum in Tamil), a manual based on the lunar calendar to guide Hindus in their daily lives about the innumerable events with religious significance from birth to death.
The place of religious worship among the Hindus was significant. One such place was the Shri Thakurdwara Temple, better known as Depot Road Temple. It was opened to public worship in September 1901 with a great deal of fanfare. A huge marquee was erected to accommodate devotees. The temple was modeled on the one in Varnasi, and took six months to build at a cost of £1069. All of the money came from donors. There was a wide verandah, inner court, and sanctuary with a white dome over it. The side of the dome facing Depot Road had bas-relief representations of Bansi Dhar (another name for Krishna) and of Prahlad and Arjuna who feature prominently in the Hindu epics. Outside of the temple, a sign in English read, “None but the Hindus shall be allowed to enter the temple.” The most important part of the ceremony was the dedication of the temple to the various deities that were to be housed in its inner sanctums. Priests chanted Vedic mantras as they carried the deities: Ganesha, the elephant-headed remover of obstacles, Lakshmi-Narayan, representing both Vishnu, the ninth incarnation of God, and his consort Lakshmi; and finally Hanuman, the monkey god whose devotion to Rama is described in the Ramayana. The reporter did not give any attendance figure, but noted its colorfulness, “To right and left from every point of vantage, and right across the flats in the direction of the railway, a kaleidoscope wave of colour was afforded by the ever-shifting crowd of Indians, attired in their brightest costumes. Red, white and gold were the favourite hues, although here and there, presenting a strangely occidental appearance, might be seen worshippers, clad in European style.”19
The Depot Road Temple in Durban was a popular center of activities. Hindus gathered there also to celebrate Ramnavami, the birth of Lord Rama, an event that usually took place in March each year. It was marked by discourses on its significance, singing of kirtans, and the performance of pujas by hundreds of devotees who attended it.20
Krisnajanmastami or Krishna Jayanti marked the birth of Krishna, and was celebrated in August. The 1904 celebrations attracted as many as 1500 devotees that included “Culcuttias, Madrassis, and Gujaratis,” according to Indian Opinion. Devotees continued to arrive at the Depot Road temple from the early morning hours to perform pujas and to participate in organized activities that continued through the evening and into the night. Ravishanker Bhatt donated books on religion, including an English translation of the Bhagavad Gita. The temple activities were financed by donations and plate collections. Suchit Maharaj’s annual report happily disclosed that the cost of temple land had been fully paid up, and that a board of trustees was going to take over its management. The monthly income and expenditure for August 1904 was £175 and £203 respectively, with over £76 outstanding. Secretary Bhagwatideen helped with temple work in his spare time.21
On occasions, the Depot Road Temple was used for other community events. Such was the case when the Hindi Dilprasang Natak Company performed there.22 Sanathan Dharma Sabha meetings sometimes took place in the Depot Road Temple. Major religious and/or social events drew hundreds of people to the temple. There was a crowd of 2000 when Swami Shankeranand spoke in November 1908.23 A decision was made to run English classes through the traditional patshala (vernacular school). A piece of land next to the temple was acquired for this purpose, and a call went out for donations.24 At this school, known as the Thakurdwara, plays were performed by the Indra Sabha Natak during Diwali celebrations. The temple’s pujari, Bhatt Keshavram Ghela, informed the public about prayers at noon, and bhajans at night to mark the birth of Lord Rama.25
Balev or Rakshabandan, a North Indian festival that reaffirms the bond between a brother and his sister, was observed in August 1910, and sixty to seventy were present. On this occasion, the guest was Swami Shankeranand.26
During the festival known as Chaitra Purnima, there was a rath (chariot) procession on Saturday evening at the Umgeni Road Temple. The procession of 3000 to 4000 people went through downtown Durban and ended up at the temple at 10:30 p.m. The next day (Sunday), the rath returned to the temple after puja at the Umgeni River. On this day all 8000 present were fed. The procession went from the temple to central Durban along Cathedral Road, and West, Queen, Grey, and Albert Streets before returning to the temple.27 Other temples that featured prominently in the observance of Hindu festivals were the Lakshmi-Narayan Temple, and Verulam Gopalal Mandir. The Verulam temple was opened by Gandhi in May 1913, when he was given a golden key and a copy of the Bhagavad Gita.28
There were various organizations that promoted Hindu beliefs and practices. Sanatan Dharma Sabhas placed emphasis on traditions and rituals; the Ved Dharma Sabhas were reform-oriented and drew their inspiration from Hinduism’s philosophical orientation. They became very active in the first decade of the twentieth century, and some tensions would develop between these movements. Our sources yielded little information on popular Hindu traditions among the indentured Indians working on plantations and farms.
The sabhas were established in Natal, Transvaal, and the Cape. The activities of the sabhas in Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Verulam, Stanger, Tongaat (f. October 1906), Estcourt, Ladysmith, Johannesburg, Kimberley, Port Elizabeth and other places were reported regularly in Indian Opinion. African Chronicle reported on the activities of Hindu Young Men’s Association (HYMA) in Pietrmaritzburg and the Hindu Young Men’s Society (HYMS) in Durban. The Ladysmith body, established in May 1908, was called Sanathan Dhurm Soodhur Sabha. This sabha and other similar bodies aimed to cleanse Hinduism of beliefs and practices more in line with its lofty Vedic ideals. If the various sabhas were not organizationally linked, they seemed at least to be informally connected through common membership.
In Durban, the sabha’s meetings took place in the Depot Road Temple or at the public library in Grey Street. Times for meetings were announced, and changes in venue were reported. Its generally well-attended gatherings began with readings from the Bhagavad Gita, and were followed by presentations on selected topics by members or invited guests. Topics listed in Indian Opinion from July 1904 to July 1906 included: sixteen Samskara (sacrament), Satsang (Hymns), the Ramayan, India’s Lofty Path, Manushya Kartvya (Human Duty), Paropakar (Helping Others), Arya Kartvya (Noble Duty), Satya Yuga (Age of Truth), Peace, Swadeshabimaan (National Pride or Patriotism), and Brahmacharya (Celibacy). The Tongaat body, known as the Hindu Dharma Sabha, organized a talk on karma, the Hindu belief system of action and reaction. Satyendrakumar Bannerjee spoke on swadeshi (patriotic self-reliance or promoting indigenous values), education, and unity at the Pietermaritzburg sabha. At a Stanger sabha meeting, Purshottam Desai spoke on swadeshi.29
In Durban, the weekly meetings were held at 138 Queen Street or at 171 Grey Street. Ambaram Mangalji Thaker, better known as Ambaram Maharaj, was the president. He had a flair for writing poetry and won a poetry competition organized by Indian Opinion.30 Ambaram Maharaj’s name appeared frequently in connection with Hindu religious activities. He sang kirtans that he himself had composed, and gave discourses on the Hindu religion. The sabha usually read from the Bhagavad Gita. It consulted with Gandhi about establishing a dharmasala (caravansary) for Hindus.31 It sometimes invited G. Williams and H. J. S. Bell of the Theosophical Society to speak on Theosophy.32
The sabhas usually took a leading role when the annual Hindu festivals were celebrated. The Ladysmith sabha, for example, celebrated Krishna Jayanti at its temple in 1907, when about 500 Hindus were present. In Benoni, the sabha there also celebrated Krishna’s birthday. At this gathering, Gandhi, Polak, MacIntyre, and Pandit Ram Sundar were present. There was music with the use of such instruments as the harmonium, sitar, sarangi, and tabla, followed by Vedic puja rituals. The climax was reached forty-five minutes before midnight when Krishna was born. The gathering also sang Vande Materam. On such occasions, it was not unusual for financial contributions by caste-based bodies. For example, among the donors were darjees and khatris in Johannesburg.33
Often, the sabhas combined their religious function with that of providing educational facilities, especially after the Natal government restricted state education for Indian children under fourteen. In Tongaat, the leading official of the sabha was P.B. Desai, who arranged to build a temple, a hall, and a school on land donated by one of their numbers, Narayan Sami.34 At another of its meeting, the Tongaat sabha gave vartan (recognition for good behavior?) to 150, and 16 Calcutta brahmans took upvatti (initiation).35 It was not unusual for such gatherings to call for donations on special projects. Often, officials from one sabha asked for help from another Hindu body, as was the case with Tongaat’s R. M. Sodha, who sought financial assistance from HYMA in Pietermaritzburg for building a temple and school. The Tongaat sabha had success in its drive to build a school and library. In 1908, it handed out certificates to honor students. In addition, it raised the issue of building a crematorium for the local Hindu community.36
The Durban sabha challenged young individuals to become involved in fundraising for a balmandir (nursery school). The Arya Mandal Yuvak raised chapti (instant) funds over two weekends. The students collected almost £7, and 200 pounds of dal and four pounds of rice over four months.37 The Pietermaritzburg sabha followed this example by collecting over £31 to run a school in Hindi and English with the help of chapti funds. Port Elizabeth’s sabha announced prizes for students who had learned religious songs. The New Guelderland sabha established a school. In Stanger, the sabha ran classes in Tamil and English with two teachers. Thirty-five 35 pupils, and ten adult indentured Indians attended classes after work. The sabha asked for donations to bring out two matriculated teachers from India.38 Taken together, the sabhas did remarkably well in promoting religious, cultural, and educational needs of the community.39
The Hind Sudhar Sabha (HSS), founded in 1905 after Professor Permanand’s visit, celebrated its first anniversary in September 1906.40 Somebody wrote to the Natal Mercury to say that HYMA and Hind Sudhar Sabha should unite, and perhaps they did.41 In any event, HSS cosponsored in July 1909 with NIC, NIPU, Anjuman Islam, Catholic Young Men’s Society, and Shri Vishnu Temple at Umgeni a petition to the imperial government against the indentured system, trade and franchise restrictions, segregated schools, and municipal vagrancy laws.42 At its annual meeting on June 5, 1910 in Durban, a special guest handed out awards to pupils in the school run by the sabha. About 300 guests heard the children take part in the prayers and sing songs.43
Hindu Young Men’s Association (HYMA) was founded in 1905 in Pietermaritzburg. Hindu Young Men’s Society (HYMS) with similar aims was to be found in Durban with several branches. HYMA’s leadership was made up entirely of Tamil-speaking Hindus. In 1907 V.R.R. Moodaly was the president.44 Its third annual meeting in Pietermaritzburg attracted 400 to 500 members, thanks to the presence of their guest speaker, Swami Shankeranand.45 The association also organized a meeting of Indian Women’s Association in Pietermaritzburg.46 While the organization promoted Hinduism among its members through lectures or religious festivals, it was primarily concerned with promoting Tamil. When founding member and past president Moodaly returned from a tour of India that included a visit to Madras, he addressed the association about the value of promoting Tamil and of educating girls. He had sent his own daughter for education to India. Moodaly was inspired by his visit to the Swami Vivekananda Hindu Balika Patsala Chulai.47 Durban Indian Women’s Association president Mrs. K. R. Nayanah spoke in English on unity, while Mrs. V. R. R. Moodaly spoke in Tamil on the same subject. This tandem performance was repeated a week later when Mrs. Nayanah talked about peace in English while Mrs. Moodaly translated it into Tamil.48 HYMA’s Tamil school, opened in 1905, had 125 pupils three years later. It also opened a school in South Coast Junction toward the end of 1910.49
HYMA was not opposed to taking a stand on political issues. For example, it supported a petition in 1910 for advancing the trading rights of colonial-born Indians, and it played a role in the creation of the Natal-born Indian Trade Protection committee. HYMA passed resolutions against age limits in Higher Grade Indian Schools. It also started a tradition of public lectures in the city at the corner of Church and Alexander Streets in Pietermaritzburg on Sunday afternoons. Some of the speakers were P.V. Naicker, N. Pather, and K. Chettiyar.50
In addition to these two major bodies, were Durban-based Umgeni Hindu Progressive Society, Malvern Hindu Sabha, Sanatan Brahman Sabha, and Bhavik Vishnuites. Others in Natal were the Trikootam Association in Ladysmith and the Gnanvardak Sabha in Stanger. The United Hindu Association was based in Cape Town, while the Hindu Dharma Society was located in East London.
The United Hindu Association conceived its role broadly. It represented Hindu interests in activities that were not religious. Thus, for example, it joined the British India League, the Islamic Society, and the Habibia Muslim Society to welcome the first Governor General to South Africa. When its president, C. P. Lucheram, moved to Johannesburg, he created a body with a similar name.51 Many priests from all over Natal came to attend a meeting of the Sanathan Brahman Sabha in October 1910. They passed resolutions to abolish the £3 tax for women, and to repeal the 1907 law that was at the center of the satyagraha campaign in the Transvaal.52 Not much is known about a third group, namely the Bhavik Vishnuites. Ambaram Maharaj sang kirtans at its gathering in October 1910.53
There were many sectional bodies that served regional and/or religious interests, such as the Aryan Literary Association in Pietermaritzburg and the Gujarati Indian Association in Kimberley. The first sought to promote moral, intellectual, and social education, although it is not clear whether “Aryan” referred to membership or literary pieces;54 the second represented the political interests of those in Kimberley, Hindus and Muslims who were Gujarati-speakers.55 A Gujarati Hindu Society was founded in Johannesburg on October 6, 1906, to organize celebrations around Hindu festivals and added to its goals the unity between Hindus and Muslims. Other bodies called for mother-tongue instruction in Gujarati. Shri Hindi Jigyasa Sabha which had branches Mayville and Sydenham, sought to promote Hindi as a language, the Devanagri script, and love for the motherland.56
The Kathiawad Arya Sabha (KAM) and Surat Hindu Association (SHA) were founded in 1907 and reflected the regional interests of Gujarati-speaking Hindus. They had much in common as both pursued cultural and educational goals, but chose to have two sectional organizations. Committee meetings usually were held at the home of the president as was the case with KAM’s Damjee Karsandas.
KAM ran vernacular classes about which details are not available. It met on occasions to hear M. M. Diwan who spoke about modern ways in India, or Virjee Damodar who spoke on “dharma” (devotion and duty), and Ambaram Maharaj who spoke about satyagraha and sang a song. The meeting ended with prayers, singing of Vande Materam, and paan-sopari (refreshments). KAM supported Gandhi’s satyagraha campaign in 1910 by hosting many meetings to honor those who had been jailed and/or deported.57
Odhav Kanjee in Durban invited Hindus from Surat on August 1, 1907, to form an association. They met at the Victoria Theater. One of those who supported the idea was Jinabhai Desai who said, “Every kom [cultural community] establishes mandals (clubs or associations) to promote its welfare, and they carry out their work well. That is what we must also do.” Office bearers were elected, a membership fee established, and soon the organization they created, namely SHA, was searching for a building that they could use for their meetings as well as to run vernacular classes and hold cultural events. At its meeting on December 1, 1910, the SHA announced the purchase of a building from Sir B.W. Greenacre for £1125. A deposit of £100 was paid. It publicized a dharmasala fund of £175, of which £50 had already been collected. The SHA’s building in Victoria Street had four separate rooms reserved for the temporary use of people going to or returning from India. In April 1911, sixty-two people used the facility. At the same time, it reported a debt of £200. Occasionally, the SHA hosted persons like Vasant Gosai Desai, who had just returned from India and talked about Paropakar (helping others). The SHA also showed support for the satyagraha campaign.58
The religious leaders or members associated with temple committees often did not shy away from taking a stand on political issues. Babu Talwantsingh told those gathered in the Verulam Gopalal Temple not to re-indenture. The United Patidar Association was a body that served the interests of the patidar caste. But it did not shrink from playing a political role. So it honored leading satyagrahis like V. A. Chettiar and Sorabjee.59
Nyati or caste thinking was very prevalent in this period. Observe, for example, the caste categories used in April 1910 by the Durban Samshaan Committee of its 59 cremations: 1 koli, 4 dhobis, 3 darjees, 2 mochis, 15 sonis, 2 anavils, 3 kunbis, 1 mooltani, 13 culcuttias, 1 soothar, 1 ganchi, 1 kayasth, 8 madrassis, 2 vanias, 2 vanands.60 Donors who gave to the satyagraha campaign identified themselves by caste and took delight in the honor it brought to the group. Thus a man wrote to say how proud he was that matya kunbis were showing an interest in the political struggle; others took pride in the donations made by lewa kunbis and vashnaiva kunbis. Similarly there are references to dhobis, darjees, mochis, kolis, and hajams.61
There are frequent references to caste activities in Indian Opinion. The Natal Anavil Sabha was founded in 1906.62 An organization called the Vannik Kstriya Association in Pietermaritzburg declared its intention to build a temple and to help the poor.63 In Vrededorp, Johannesburg, fifty-seven members of the Anavil Samaj met on July 14, 1910, to promote nyati goals. Membership fees were established, and at a later meeting, the group formed itself into a Transvaal-wide body.64 Patidars in South Africa followed with keen interest a meeting of patidars in Surat where they sponsored a boarding house. Some thirty people gathered at Ramjee Patel’s home to honor achievements by fellow nyati members.65 The Natal Luwana Nitidharshak Sabha, based in Durban, was connected to similar organizations in Delagoa Bay and India. It may have had a branch in Pietermaritzburg. Its main function was to promote the interests of the luwanas, but it did contribute financially to the satygraha fund. The organization delegated Dharmsi Tulsidas Jodiawala to a luwana conference in Mumbai to participate in discussions about nyati promoting education, helping the poor, and curtailing needless expenses for social functions. They also supported a cow protection program and gave money during times of famine.66 The darjees in Johannesburg were told that a dharmasala had been built for nyati members who wished to go on Unaimata pilgrimage close to Navsari in India.67 The Anavil Mandal in Johannesburg collected money, among other things, for the purpose of maintaining a boarding house in Surat.68
Hindus generally cremated their dead, and so their endeavors to build crematoriums must be seen as part of their religious faith. Udayshanker, in “Conversation between Two Friends”, a twenty-one-part novel reproduced in Indian Opinion in 1911, made pointed references to the lack of cremation facilities except in the major centers. On this issue, Hindus without distinctions of caste, language, or region worked together. They created Hindu samshaan (crematorium) fund committees and approached city and colonial authorities for permission to build crematoriums on public land. The committees organized collection drives to gather funds from Hindu members of the community. Once the facility was built, appeals for funds were made for its upkeep and maintenance. In Durban, a caretaker was needed to prevent vandals from desecrating the facility.
The Indian Opinion reported on such endeavors in Durban, Verulam, Tongaat, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, East London, and even in Delagoa Bay. The Durban Hindu Fund regularly published an account. In April 1910, it reported a balance of just over £5 deposited with the National Bank and the cremations of sixty-three persons, thirty-eight male adults, twenty-three female adults, and two children. The Durban Samshaan Fund appealed for funds for special needs, such as laying pipes for its water requirement, and for a library which was started by Ambaram Maharaj. M. M. Diwan was in charge of the fund for many years, and when he went to India for a visit at the end of 1912, J. B. Mehta took over.69 In Johannesburg, Hindus met on August 25, 1910, and decided to submit a request to the colonial secretary for a plot of land next to a cemetery in use to build a crematorium with the help of Gandhi’s services if he was available. Two years later, the city allocated a piece of land so long as the facility was shared by non-Hindus.70
Swami Shankeranand and Gandhi
Swami Shankeranand was important in many of these developments. He followed in the footsteps of Professor Permanand who was associated with the Dayanand Anglo-Vedic (DAV) College in India and who had visited South Africa earlier. Professor Permanand promoted the ideas of Arya Samaj and the Dayanand Society in his appearances all over South Africa from August 1905 to March 1906. In 1914 his book entitled Tarikh-in-Hind was banned by the government of India as he argued in it that the 1857 Revolt was justified. He was prosecuted in 1915 under the Defence of India Act, even though the evidence against him was slender, and transported to a penal colony for life.71
A fund was established in March 1908 to bring Swami Shankeranand to South Africa by Lala Mokhamchand and others like Heera, Parshotam Gopal, and Vallabh Laljee. By June 1908, over £50 was collected.72 Swami Shankeranand was born in Jullundar, Punjab in 1868. He was the son of Pundit Tulsidas Shastri who was a professor at the Oriental College in Lahore. The swami was educated at a mission school, and the DAV College. He was married for a short time before becoming a celibate. His guru was Swami Atmanandji of New Delhi. In 1891, Shankeranand founded the Society of Celibates, preached against child marriages in 1894, founded the SAS High School, and in 1896 became a sanyasi (renunciate). Shankeranand spoke Hindi, Urdu, Persian, Gujarati, Sanskrit, and understood Bengali, Marathi, and English.
Shankeranand insisted that he was not formally a member of the Arya Samaj. Though he differed in various ways from Professor Permanand, he stressed the Vedic base of Hinduism. He was very popular among South African Hindus. In the three months after his arrival, he was invited to many places to present discourses on Hinduism and to perform religious ceremonies. He spent a night at Phoenix in October 1908 and was also honored at a reception in Congress Hall, Durban. Among the 1000 guests present were some Theosophists like Williams and Bell. Shankeranand was garlanded by Williams and by Lala Mohkhamchand who was the chief organizer. R.R. Moodley was the chairman of the Reception Committee. Tamil girls recited a hymn. Shankeranand read from the Koran and stressed that Christians, Hindus, and Muslims were equal. At a Sanathan Dharma Sabha meeting on October 18, 1908, Shankeranand gave a commentary on Chapter 18 of the Bhagavad Gita. In Overport at which a crowd of 500, including some Muslims, were present, he spoke on “Man’s Duty.” At another meeting in the Congress Hall organized by the Durban Theosophical Society, he spoke on the “Practical Religious Life.” Later he spoke at the same venue on the “Hindu Conception of Morality.”
Shankeranand addressed 2000 worshipers at the Depot Road Temple. When HYMA celebrated its third anniversary in Congress Hall in 1908, the swami gave a sermon to six hundred persons. Yagna (sacrifice) was performed, and speeches were made in Tamil. The swami urged women to train young minds by opening schools and libraries and by providing children with physical education. He advised Hindus to lead sober lives, which among other things, meant abstaining from alcohol. The swami was particularly worried about Hindus who were turning to Christianity. Focus on self-improvement, he charged them, and there would be no need to convert to another religion. This theme would be repeatedly stressed in many of his addresses during his stay in South Africa.73
Swami Shankeranand continued his travels in Natal to talk about religion. At many of the places he visited he combined discourses on religion with the performances of yagna. At the Verulam temple at which 2000 people were present, Shankeranand spoke about dharma (devotion and duty). Hindus should not reject other religions but should steadfastly observe their own. If Whites scorned Indians, it was because Indians had failed to follow the true path of their own faiths. He visited again the Phoenix Settlement. On January 3, 1909, the swami spoke to over 1200 Hindus at Umgeni temple where he reminded them to honor God, perform yagna, honor their parents, give to charity, and respect all living creatures.74
In Durban, he was a guest of Hillary White where he spoke on atma (soul); at the Congress Hall he lectured on dharma, and he was present at an Indian Chamber of Commerce meeting also attended by Gandhi. He performed a vasant panchmi puja associated with the first day of Spring, and pointed out that ignorance, pride, and selfishness were the main cause of grief. When he returned to Verulam he said that suffering was the fruit of karma. Hindus should engage in sadhna (worship). Chant the Gayatri mantra, do agnihotra (fire sacrifice), and listen to the recitation of the shastras (scriptures). Later in the month, Shankeranand spoke to about thirty people at a HYMA meeting in Pietermaritzburg. His busy schedule in 1909 continued: February 26 at Babu Ganpatti Singh’s home, February 27 at the Vishnu Mandir, February 28 at another Hindu temple, March 5 at the Natal Creamery Hall, and March 6 at the Krishna temple. On March 10 he was at Howick Falls where he talked about Ved dharma at the farm of Thakor Dasarath Singh; two days later, he was at Dr. Marsh’s house where he spoke on moksha (spiritual liberation); and on March 14, he did havan-kriya (sacrificial ritual) at the home of Narsibhai in New Scotland and talked about para (knowledge of the earth) and apara (knowledge of Brahman).
In April, Shankeranand was called upon to mediate in the quarrel within HYMA. As a result, seven HYMA members who had been expelled were taken back after offering an apology. The swami appealed for unity among Hindus and Muslims in Pietermaritzburg. We do not know the circumstances of the appeal, but a unity pact was signed by Muslim traders Amod Bhayat and M.J. Mahomed, and ex-indentured Hindu landowner C. Nulliah. Shankeranand was also present in Pietermaritzburg on Emperor’s Day to express loyalty to the monarch on behalf of Vedic religion followers at the Ved Dharma Sabha Hall in Church Street. He spoke about the benefits of British rule to India, especially under Queen Victoria. At Washbank he helped to establish a Ved Dharma Sabha. At Ramsevek Singh’s place he performed havan-kriya.75 In Tongaat, the swami spoke at P. B. Desai’s place on nitya karma (daily living). Ambaram Maharaj spoke on swadharma (own faith or duty). The next meeting took place at A. A. Gandhi’s place in Tongaat, followed by one at the Ved Dharma Sabha building.76
The swami also took up the cause of the education of Indian children, especially the indentured, since he believed that they were not getting any. He appeared before a commission in 1909 to speak on education. He testified that only five per cent of the Indian children were getting formal education and was scathing about the “racial prejudice” inherent in Indian children being cut off at age fourteen from educational benefits. He championed the cause of indentured Indians whose children should receive “free and compulsory” education from the state. This was not the responsibility of employers, who forced the children to work instead of sending them to school. He pleaded similarly for the children of free Indian parents. Rich merchants could pay for their education, he felt. Shankeranand was strongly opposed to missionary schools because they insisted on Bible studies and were opposed if not hostile to Hinduism. Primary education should be offered in the vernacular with English being introduced from standard four. 77
In the beginning there were no signs of disagreement between Gandhi and Shankeranand but this changed within a year of the swami’s arrival. Why did the two disagree? Gandhi’s broad interpretation of Hinduism irked the swami. It was not so much that he disagreed with Gandhi’s call for unity between Hindus and Muslims, but diverged with Gandhi’s interpretation of Hinduism. Swami Shankeranand was ambivalent toward the Muslims. He was behind the creation of the Indian Farmers’ Association in 1909 which encouraged Hindu farmers to boycott the Grey Street Mosque Indian market because he felt it was monopolized by Muslim traders. As Goolam Vahed points out, the swami certainly had leadership ambitions and hoped to use economic rivalries among Hindus and Muslims to realize them.78 He wrote a letter to Gandhi in 1909 pointing out the fundamental difference between Hinduism and Islam.
Gandhi responded in 1910 by saying that swami’s “sarcastic remarks about Islam” were against “the spirit of Hinduism,” and labeled his behavior “expedient and immoral.” Gandhi said, “If it is necessary to keep so much distance between the Hindus and Mussalmans, then, Hindustan deserves to remain slave.” Gandhi had faith in Hinduism’s broadly inclusive spirit. He reiterated this during the Diwali festival by challenging Hindus to reach out to non-Hindus as a sign of the respect they had for the religious beliefs and customs of others. He said, “We are of course a single nation of brothers as among ourselves. We should regain that consciousness …. This will betoken our fraternal relations and prove that we have become one nation.”79
At a KAM meeting at which Gandhi was present, Swami Shankeranand called for unity and equality.80 In Pietermaritzburg, the swami was on hand to perform a religious ceremony for the newly opened Natal Indian Traders.81 At another KAM meeting, Swami Shankeranand was in the chair to honor passive resisters who spoke of their experiences. He was, however, critical about some aspect of the passive resistance campaign. The mandal mildly rebuked him in a letter to the Natal Mercury, “We are sorry that Swamiji made such comments and offered advice to the people concerning the laws. But we do not think it likely that a satyagrahi will abandon what he considers to be the truth or give up his pledge because of such criticism.”82
Whatever else may have transpired between them, it seems that the swami’s position had hardened by the time he left South Africa in 1910. He seemed to have fallen out of favor with the local authorities. In a move probably intended to embarrass the swami, the police approached him in June 1910 for payment of the poll tax. He was summoned to appear in the Durban magistrate’s court when he failed to pay. Swami Shankeranand explained that it was against his principle to do so “unless and until I was taken under arrest” for committing “some heinous crime.” It was “the greatest injustice” to ask him to pay the tax when he had no profession. Besides, he was in Natal only temporarily. Better sense prevailed at the colonial secretary’s office which agreed with the swami.83
Swami Shankerand left South Africa and returned in 1912. By this time, the breach with Gandhi was complete. He considered Gandhi more of a “Tolstoyan” rather than “an absolute Hindu,” and did not believe that he was really working in the interests of poor Hindus.84 In May 1912, the swami was invited as a guest of the South African Hindu Conference. The aim of the organizers was to promote dialogue among the various Hindu groups and foster unity. But the affair produced much bickering and division. The swami took public issue with Gandhi’s approach to Hinduism. As a result, the Tamil Benefit Society passed a vote of no confidence in the swami, while Kimberley Hindus regretted his attack on Gandhi.85 When the swami came again in May 1913 with the purpose of promoting Hinduism, Gandhi wrote to Bhawani Dayal, “If the Swami is invited to the Hindu Conference or if it seeks his support in any way, no sensible Hindu can participate in it.”86
If some Hindus still continued to place their trust in the swami, they may well have disagreed with Gandhi’s untraditional approach to Hinduism. Udayshanker in “Conversation between Two Friends,” the twenty-two-part novel reproduced in Indian Opinion in 1911, complained that Gandhi had not done as much as he could to promote Hinduism in the traditional sense. His religious pluralism did not go down well for some, although it made it possible for Gandhi to rise about rival claims between Hindu groups and between Hindus and Muslims. In this, he was inspired by the Jain belief that all visions of truth were necessarily fragmentary. It served him well as a reformer who tried to place his own stamp. As Margaret Chatterjee points out, Gandhi sought to secure “practical exigencies of living together peacefully.” She continues, “His own experience of living in a multi-religious society ... provides a constant reminder that the discussion of religious truth is not a mere theoretical matter but has a direct bearing on how men behave towards each other, bearing with each other’s credal and ‘observational’ differences, and that the whole question is in fact intimately related to whether men of different persuasions can live together in harmony or not.”87 It is in South Africa that he began these experimentations even if it meant displeasing some of his constituents.