The Shree Gopal Hindu Temple in Verulam North of Durban is a landmark in history that dates back to the days of Indian indentured labourers. It stands as mark in history that shows the determination and courage of the oppressed indentured labourers who were staunch in culture and religion. Although they were in a foreign land, they were determined to maintain their culture which to date is thriving. Wherever they lived or gathered, they set up shrines where they worshipped.
The Shree Gopal Hindu Temple was built in 1888 by the indentured labourers who worked at the Mount Edgecombe Sugar Estate. Initially the Indian labourers gathered at the banks of the uMdloti River to observe and partake in religious practices. They used structures that were comprised of reeds and mud to pray. They used to meet at the banks every Sunday and eventually formed a community of their own with a common goal of praying together to keep their religion alive. They sang, prayed and recited holy hymns.
However, when heavy rains flooded the banks and washed away their prayer goods and shrines, they were forced to cross the river to a piece of land which eventually became their temple site. The saviour was an indentured labourer named Babu Talwant Singh who was discharged after 5 years of slavery. He became a wealthy businessman and purchased land in Temple Valley of which he donated seven acres for the establishment of a temple. The temple was made of wood and iron and in 1893 a Gujarat builder from India was brought to build shrines on the temple site. The first two deities of the Hindu religion to be placed at the temple site was Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva, the creators of the world and humankind.
In 1896, the Shree Gopal Hindu Temple was registered and Babu Talwant Singh was among the first trustees of the committee. In 1908, a temple hall was added to the temple and by 1913 the temple was completed. The building of the temple occurred around the same time Gandhi was in Durban. The committee was delighted to have Mahatma Gandhi grace them with his presence and officially open the hall on May 1913. The temple was regularly upgraded and renovated. The temple hall was used as a school to educate the disadvantaged children of the local community which was now a double storey building. The school, named the Shree Gopal School was later renamed to Talwant Singh School. The Shree Gopal Temple is one of the many temples in the history of Durban that serves to remind us of the courage and will power of the indentured labourers to maintain and uphold their culture and religion.
Written by: Yoveshine Pillay
Reference: The Post Newspaper, 16 November 2010, page 15