When the Indian indentured labourers settled in Durban, they were faced with a challenge of maintaining their rich culture and tradition in a foreign land. Their first priority was in setting up an area of worship wherever they settled. The majority of the labourers were Hindus and there was always a need to set up a place of worship.
In the early days the areas of habitants for them were generally near their labour sites, for example the barracks in Mount Edgecombe, near the sugar cane plantations. In Mount Edgecombe there were a few temples that were built by these labourers that are now declared as heritage sites. The Shri Mariamman Hindu Temple and The Emperumal Temple were two of these historical temples.
Shri Mariamman Temple
According to research, the Shri Marieamman Temple was started by a female indentured Indian labourer named Velatchee, in 1890. She was an ordinary gardener at the site when one particular day she found an anthill. The anthill in Hindu culture mythology is known as a puthu. The puthu is a sacred mount of earth which is believed to be inhabited by a godly snake which is related to deities. She decorated the puthu with a sari which is an Indian drape, and thereafter community members became alerted at this discovery. They built a tin around it and began worshipping it.
Velatchee was the first female priest of the temple conducting Hindu prayer rituals. Every year the temple conducted Mariamman prayers and porridge prayers. In 1920, the owners of Natal Sugar Estates helped the community to build a wood and iron structure and a road to the temple. The nearby population of the Phoenix area was increasing and there was a sudden rise of devotees at the temple. The major highlight of the temple which has made history in Durban occurred when the Tongaat Hulett Group Estate wanted to dismantle the temple and there were numerous failed attempts, and also recorded incidents of people who got sick while attempting to destruct the temple. Eggs and milk were part of offerings daily to the snake and deities, and when a construction worker found two eggs that he broke that were empty inside, there was a change of plans. It was then beyond any capitalist control, the faith of the people and the power of their faith were immeasurable – they were finally made to keep the temple.
The Emperumal Temple
The Emperumal Temple in Mount Edgecombe was built in 1875 by the indentured labourers who used to gather at the temple site and socialise, partake in recitals from holy scriptures on Sundays. The temple was initially made up of wood and iron but by 1925, it was built using a concrete and brick structure by Kistappa, an indentured labourer who also built the nearby Ganesha Temple. The temple improvements over the years were made possible with the contributions from the community. The temple became a popular venue for activities and festivals. The temple provided for the Tamil, Telugu and Hindi communities of Durban and to date it still stands strong.
Reference: The Post Newspaper