Guru Dhanasargaren Govender became the resident guru at the Umbilo Shree Ambalaavanar Alayam (third temple) in 2007. When we visited, he welcomed us to his temple, deserted on a weekday afternoon. Inside, a quiet stillness mingled with the sweet smell of holy ash. “You know, I had a Chinese person who came here and he said to me ‘can I pray my way’ and I said, ‘not a problem, you’re most welcome’. And he laughed and he prayed, and he prayed just how we pray.” He said:
Sometimes people of different faiths come here and my idea is not to try to convert them. Whether they believe in Christ or the prophet Mohamed or the ancestors, I try to make their faith stronger. I have helped Christians and Moslems, black, white and Indian. This is a place of worship and you can come here and still pray to Christ, I believe in that, you can stand here and still pray to the prophet Buddha. There is only one god for all races. Even though there are different practices, all lead to the same place. When you walk in the temple, everyone is equal. There is no difference between male or female, black or white, or anything else.
He continued, saying:
I have traveled around the world and experienced the different faiths. I went to the Holy Land. The journey there was miserable. They wanted to know why an Indian was going to Israel. They thought I was a terrorist. Once I was inside it was fine, the people were very friendly to me. I was never stopped or questioned by anyone. I did the whole of Israel, went to all the important things – where Christ actually fed the bread, where he was crucified, where he fell, where he was put in the tomb – and I went there with an open mind. That was a unique thing. But you know, the experience made me a better a person.”