The establishment of temples in Durban was a common occurrence since the Indian indentured labourers settled in Durban. It was with the determination to maintain and uphold their religious trends. The suburb of Chatsworth in the south of Durban houses a large population of the Indian community mainly of the Hindu caste hence there are many temples to be found at the different units in Chatsworth. The history of majority of these temples are linked to the challenges of the Indian community within a political and socio-economic context.
The Sithambaram Alayam Temple located in Bayview, Chatsworth is one such temple that was started 52 years ago. The history of the Sithambaram Alayam Temple is linked to the Shree Ambalavaner Alayam known as the Umbilo Temple. The Umbilo Temple was one of the oldest Hindu temples in Durban and was built in 1869 by the Indian indentures. In 1904, the temple was destroyed by floods but was rebuilt to serve as place of worship. However as time went by the temple was abandoned as it was to be dismantled because the land was to be reclaimed by the Durban city council to start the southern freeway when explosives were set, the temple failed to demolish but left the bulldozer driver badly hurt.
Soobramoney Thomas was a devotee of the temple at this time and he witnessed miraculous happenings at the temple including sighting a bright unexplained light inside the temple. The word was out and the Hindu community started revisiting the temple until the temple was finally demolished for the southern freeway. The discontentment of the worshippers fell on deaf ears of the South African Railways and Durban city council. The determination and their passion for their religion was their strength. Mr Soobramoney who started the Umbilo Road Temple Prayer Group set out to continue the survival of their religion and the legacy of the Umbilo Temple.
He started the Sithambaram Alayam in Bayview with the consent of the Durban city council. He wanted to erect a temple at his residence in Railview Road, Bayview for public worship. The temple was first built with wood and iron and was opposite the present site. It was moved to the Turn Stone Avenue playgrounds till the permission was granted. The temple then moved to Soobramoney property and he was the temple’s first priest. He conducted all prayer rituals for the public. The temple was renovated with a brick and tile building. The temple performed major important prayers, ceremonies, weddings and the community played a massive role by partaking in and supporting these religious occurrences. Hindu religion was still going strong despite challenges, and the need was felt to appreciate the efforts of our forefathers in safe guarding their religion as a treasure so that the rituals are passed over from generation to generation and the culture is still sustained. Shri Thomas died in 2002 and the temple is currently taken over by his son.
Reference: The Sithambaram Alayam 50th Anniversary brochure. Feb 2010, page 4.