GREAT GRANDPARENTS

My great-grandfather Ellappa Gounden (Govender) arrived in Natal, South Africa, at the age of 28 on the 4th of June 1905 (114000) with my great-grandmotherKuppamal(114001) on the ship Umzinto 37.

Ellappa was born in 1877 in India; his father and my great-great-grandfather was called Veerasamy GN. Ellappa worked for the Durban Corporation and it seems that after some time, he had moved on to Mount Edgecombe to work for the Watson Sugar Estates.

It was during this time that he was discovered for his talents as a sculptor, designer and builder.

Along with Mr Waterkotri Moonsamy (known by that name because he worked at the nearby Waterson Estate) and Patchappa Govender, he built a temple over the course of two years (1913 to 1914), which stands in Tinley Manor even today.

This vibrant example of the community-built architecture dates back to 1913 and is home to more than 150 loosely interpreted and idiosyncratically rendered sculptures of deities – all produced under the leadership of Ellappa, who was the local sculptor and also helped in designing and building the temple. The entire community contributed by making bricks and mixing and casting the concrete. The sense of love and devotion embedded in the site is still evident today. The site is one of the finest examples of folk architecture in South Africa.

The idea for the temple originally came from Perumal Naicker in 1913. While the entire community cooperated, those who played a vital role in its construction were V Reddy, C Reddy, L Moonsamy, M Mundhree, G Govender, P Govender and M Govender.

Our ancestors who changed the world did so through new ideas that came to them as they acted

TINLEY MANOR SHIVA TEMPLE

Although it has been a particularly difficult task to establish exactly who was responsible for building the various temples around the country, it soon became evident that there were a number of itinerant temple builders who moved from village to village, erecting these buildings. None of them, as far as we know, had any formal training in this field, although they soon became competent and professional in their newfound calling. Each one seems to have had a approach, which is useful in the identification of the various builders. How wonderful it is then to find a temple accomplished with such little grandeur yet for a community totally by the community itself?

There is a sense of love and devotion in the temple built at Tinley Manor. The whole community was roped in to make bricks, mix cement and cast concrete and sand. Vegnal Reddy, Challappa Reddy, Lawer Moonsamy, Muruva Mundhee and Govenders Gapal, Patachappa and Moonsamy (also Banana and Poonappa), under Ellappa’s leadership, are today remembered for their stout effort in the construction. Over 150 sculptures were produced, some expertly carved in semirelie into niches of the tower while others were made on the ground and then placed wherever a little ledge or corner was found.

Darnell Shri Shiva Subrahmanya Alayam

Ramsamy Mudly, the owner of the Shiva Subrahmanya temple nearby, refused to open his temple to the public, whereafter the employees of the Huletts Sugar Mill decided to erect their own temple in 1912. The building was erected with funds deducted from each workers’ pay packet. Ellappa, having some temple-building knowledge, was responsible for the dome and sculpture.

In 1925, major alterations were carried out. A flat concrete roof and a tear behind the parapets were removed and a gabled iron roof was installed. This necessitated the removal of the parapet walls. The only remnants at the four corners that still existed in the 1970s was a front veranda; various other structures were added afterwards. The building was originally painted in restrained cream colour but were later changed to garish bright colours. The dome and plaster cornice works have been beautifully executed, although the general proportions are unfortunate. Kavady is the main festival celebrated at the temple.

*

All the weekend builders had come from India and had vague memories of what sat on their temples at home. Moreover, with what one saw in Tongaat’s toy shops, they set about constructing their own little wonderland. It was to be a Siva Temple, but with so many ledges there was plenty of room left for Vishnu, Hanuman and Garuda. – and isn’t that Mr Govender himself looking over the landscape from above? Those lovely elephants in circus finery, one head and two bodies, and the odd bulls – an exceedingly difficult junction. It says in the Silpa Sastrasthat idols should be dressed in the clothes of their region, not normally complied with by our local temple builders, but there are some western-looking gentlemen in this temple. Each idol has been lovingly painted in beautiful colours, and Siva and Parvati have been given their own little house over the entrance. Two major alterations to the building, the addition of an elegant veranda and the construction of the “Spanish screen-wall,” have detracted somewhat from the original structure.

The interior still reflects a magnificent understanding of architectural space, which the builders must have possessed. The first example is the main meeting room, which was presumably the only public space of the small community and served as a gathering space where all matters of general interest were discussed. Here, men, women and children would gather, festivals would be celebrated, and children were instructed in their mother tongue. The entrance is through a thick wall into the antaraca reserved for men and priests, while a small opening lead to the cellar containing images of Subrahmanya, Siva Shakti and the lingam.

There is a story that in 1929 there was an outbreak of malaria in Natal and the local community was severely affected. A brahman was brought from Durban to perform a special ceremony. When he saw the Subrahmanya idol inside the temple, he informed the community that it was incorrectly sculpted and thus had to be removed. It was removed at once and was ceremoniously immersed in a nearby pond. Within two months, nearly one hundred people in the vicinity who had been suffering from malaria died, causing major upheavals in the community and people started fishing for the lost statue. 

Before exiting the building, to gain some insight into the spatial concerns of these builders, it is worthwhile to study the opening sequence leading to the main cellar. A double door, set deeply into a heavily modulated external wall, divides the external from the internal space. This is a large and generous opening, well above human height, and framed by protruding plaster piers and lintels. Around the frame, three simple, triangular recesses provide a place for sacrificial flame. The next opening is considerably smaller and lower. The number of recesses increases, and the final opening is still narrower and lower, one must stoop, and even the floor rises here. Ten triangular recesses now surround the opening – what a fantastic way to make spaces ever more private and precious.

*Groutville Shiva Emperumal Temple

In complete contrast to the grandeur of the Tinley Manor temple is the private shrine of Perumal Naicker. It is situated in Groutville, a few kilometres further along the old main road to Stanger. It was put together from all the standard building elements of a North Coast-Edwardian hardware shop. Even so, it is so lovingly and elegantly conceived and exquisitely sited that it achieves the same kind of presence and image. Within the space of a few square metres, it incorporates all the main elements of a temple: the sikhara, mandapa, veranda and kodi pole, while still managing to retain a timeless simplicity.

THE GOVENDER'S

OM!  PEACE!  PEACE!  PEACE!

All this, whatsoever exists in the universe, should be covered by

the Lord.  Having renounced (the unreal), enjoy (the Real).  Do

not covet the wealth of any man

We cover all things with the Lord by perceiving the Divine Presence

everywhere.  When the consciousness is firmly fixed in God, the conception of

diversity naturally drops away; because the One Cosmic Existence shines

through all things.  As we gain the light of wisdom, we cease to cling to the

unrealities of this world and we find all our joy in the realm of Reality.

 

If one should desire to live in this world a hundred years, one

should live performing Karma (righteous deeds).  Thus thou mayest

live; there is no other way.  By doing this, Karma (the fruits of

thy actions) will not defile thee.

 If a man still clings to long life and earthly possessions, and

is therefore unable to follow the path of Self-knowledge

(Gnana-Nishta) as prescribed in the first Mantram (text), then he

may follow the path of the right action (Karma-Nishta).  Karma here

means actions performed without selfish motive, for the sake of

the Lord alone.  When a man performs actions clinging blindly to

his lower desires, then his actions bind him to the plane of

ignorance or the plane of birth and death; but when the same

actions are performed with surrender to God, they purify and

liberate him.

 After leaving their bodies, they who have killed the Self go to

the worlds of the Asuras, covered with blinding ignorance.

 

The idea of rising to bright regions as a reward for well-doers, and of

falling into realms of darkness as a punishment for evil-doers is common to

all great religions.  But Vedanta claims that this condition of heaven and

hell is only temporary; because our actions, being finite,, can produce only a

finite result.

 

What does it mean "to kill the Self?" How can the immortal Soul ever be

destroyed? It cannot be destroyed, it can only be obscured.  Those who hold

themselves under the sway of ignorance, who serve the flesh and neglect the

Atman or the real Self, is not able to perceive the effulgent and

indestructible nature of their Soul; hence they fall into the realm where the

Soul light does not shine.  Here the Upanishad shows that the only hell is the

absence of knowledge.  As long as man is overpowered by the darkness of

ignorance, he is the slave of Nature and must accept whatever comes as the

fruit of his thoughts and deeds.  When he strays into the path of unreality,

the Sages declare that he destroys himself; because he who clings to the

perishable body and regards it as his true Self must experience death many

times.

 That One, though motionless, is swifter than the mind.  The

senses can never overtake It, for It ever goes before.  Though

immovable, It travels faster than those who run.  By It , the

all-pervading air sustains all living beings.

 This verse explains the character of the Atman or Self.  A finite

an object can be taken from one place and put in another, but it can

only occupy one space at a time.  The Atman, however, is present

everywhere; hence, though one may run with the greatest swiftness

to overtake It, already It is there before him.

 Even the all-pervading air must be supported by this Self, since

It is infinite; and as nothing can live without breathing air,

all living things must draw their life from the Cosmic Self.

 It moves and It moves not.  It is far and also It is near.  It is

within and also It is without all this.

 It is near to those who have the power to understand It, for It dwells in the

heart of every one; but It seems far to those whose mind is covered by the

clouds of sensuality and self-delusion.  It is within, because It is the

innermost Soul of all creatures; and It is without as the essence of the whole

external universe, infilling it like the all-pervading ether.

 

He who sees all beings in the Self and the Self in all beings, he

never turns away from It (the Self).

 He who perceives all beings as the Self for him how can there be

delusion or grief, when he sees this oneness (everywhere)?

 

He who perceives the Self everywhere never shrinks from anything, because

through his higher consciousness he feels united with all life.  When a man

sees God in all beings and all beings in God, and also God dwelling in his own

Soul, how can he hate any living thing? Grief and delusion rest upon a belief

in diversity, which leads to competition and all forms of selfishness.  With

the realization of oneness, the sense of diversity vanishes and the cause of

misery is removed.

 

He (the Self) is all-encircling, resplendent, bodiless, spotless,

without sinews, pure, untouched by sin, all-seeing, all-knowing,

transcendent, self-existent; He has disposed of all things duly for

eternal years.

 This text defines the real nature of the Self.  When our mind is cleansed from

the dross of matter, then alone can we behold the vast, radiant, subtle,

ever-pure and spotless Self, the true basis of our existence.

 They enter into blind darkness and worship Avidya (ignorance and

delusion); they fall, as it were, into greater darkness who

worship Vidya (knowledge).

 By Vidya one end is attained; by Avidya, another.  Thus we have

heard from the wise men who taught this.

 

He who knows at the same time both Vidya and Avidya, crosses over

death by Avidya and attains immortality through Vidya.

 

Those who follow or "worship" the path of selfishness and pleasure (Avidya),

without knowing anything higher, necessarily fall into darkness; but those who

worship or cherish Vidya (knowledge) for mere intellectual pride and

satisfaction, fall into greater darkness, because the opportunity which they

misuse is greater.

 

In the subsequent verses Vidya and Avidya are used in something the same sense

as "faith" and "works" in the Christian Bible; neither alone can lead to the

ultimate goal, but when taken together they carry one to the Highest.  Work

done with unselfish motive purifies the mind and enables man to perceive his

undying nature.  From this he gains inevitably a knowledge of God, because the

Soul and God are one and inseparable; and when he knows himself to be one with

the Supreme and Indestructible Whole, he realizes his immortality.

 

They fall into blind darkness who worship the Unmanifested and

they fall into greater darkness who worship the manifested.

 

 

By the worship of the Unmanifested one end is attained; by the

worship of the manifested, another.  Thus we have heard from the

wise men who taught us this.

 

He who knows at the same time both the Unmanifested (the cause of

manifestation) and the destructible or manifested, he crosses

over death through knowledge of the destructible and attains

immortality through knowledge of the First Cause (Unmanifested).

 

This particular Upanishad deals chiefly with the Invisible Cause and the

visible manifestation, and the whole trend of its teaching is to show that

they are one and the same, one being the outcome of the other hence no perfect

knowledge is possible without simultaneous comprehension of both.  The wise

men declare that he who worships in a one-sided way, whether the visible or

the invisible, does not reach the highest goal.  Only he who has a

co-ordinated understanding of both the visible and the invisible, of matter

and spirit, of activity and that which is behind activity, conquers Nature and

thus overcomes death.  By work, by making the mind steady and by following the

prescribed rules given in the Scriptures, a man gains wisdom.  By the light of

that wisdom he is able to perceive the Invisible Cause in all visible forms.

Therefore the wise man sees Him in every manifested form. Those who have a true conception of God are never separated from Him.  They exist in Him and He

in them.

The face of Truth is hidden by a golden disk.  O Pushan

(Effulgent Being)!  Uncover (Thy face) that I, the worshipper of

Truth, may behold Thee.

 

O Pushan!  O Sun, sole traveler of the heavens, controller of

all, son of Prajapati, withdraw Thy rays and gather up Thy

burning effulgence.  Now through Thy Grace, I behold Thy blessed

and glorious form.  The Purusha (Effulgent Being) who dwells

within Thee, I am He.

 

Here the sun, who is the giver of all light, is used as the symbol of the

Infinite, giver of all wisdom.  The seeker after Truth prays to the Effulgent

One to control His dazzling rays, that his eyes, no longer blinded by them,

may behold the Truth.  Having perceived It, he proclaims: "Now I see that that

Effulgent Being and I are one and the same, and my delusion is destroyed." By

the light of Truth he is able to discriminate between the real and the unreal,

and the knowledge thus gained convinces him that he is one with the Supreme;

that there is no difference between himself and the Supreme Truth; or as

Christ said, "I and my Father are one."

 

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