Articles - Umbilo Shree Ambalavaanar Alayam Temple

Umbilo Shree Ambalavaanar Alayam
Umbilo Shree Draupaddiammen Alayam
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Records indicate that the Alayam was established in 1875 and was the first public Hindu Temple on the African continent. However an article in the Natal Mercury by Myrtle Slabbert: "Must the Hindu Temple go at last" , dated 24 June 1956 states that. The History of this temple is fascinating. It originated as far back as 1869 when two youths , who had come from India, dived into the Umbilo River and brought up a rusty spear. Having no knowledge of Zulu weapons , they linked it to Vel a  Hindu religious symbol depicting Shree Shiva Subramaniar. The community saw this as an omen and a resident, Mr Shunmugam Singaravallo Pather erected the first temple at this spot on the south bank of the Umbilo River at Rossburgh naming it the Shree Subramaniar Alayam. This was the beginning of the Alayam's illustrious history.

The history of the Alayam is likened to the ebb and flow of the Umbilo River. It has survived the floods of 1903 , 1905 and 1910 , its expropriation by the South African Railways in the 1940s and the erection of this magnificent temple at its present site in Cato Manor which was completed in 1947.

Over the years there was some contestation with regard to ownership and management of the Alayam at various stages of its growth. The unfortunate consequences of this is that no conclusive evidence or record of its history is available to the public. There is definitely a treasure-trove of information about Umbilo Temple in private hands. Our research has given us snippets of information from various sources.

 Umbilo Shree Ambalaavanar Alayam : Back to the future

Umbilo Shree Abalaavanar Alayam in Cato Manor has its roots in Rossburgh on the south bank of the Umbilo River during the period of 1869 to 1875. Three distinct phases of its growth can be recorded. For ease of  , this reference shall be recorded as Umbilo 1 , Umbilo 2 , Umbilo 3.

Umbilo 1

In about 1869 two hindu youths , while swimming in the Umbilo River in Rossburgh , brought up a rusty spear which resembled the "Vel" of Shree Shiva Subramaniar. This was seen as a divine omen and a resident, Mr Shunmugam Singaravloo Pather erected the first community temple at that spot. The original temple was built of reeds , straw and daub. Gradually more structures were added and the temple was handed over to the community by Mr and Mrs SS Pather. This was the first Hindu temple and attracted thousands of devotees to its main festivals. The temple and the surrounding areas were completely destroyed by floods in 1903.

Umbilo 2

Not deterred by the floods of 1903 , Mr SS Pather , together with the community embarked on building a new on adjoining land a little further away on the banks of the Umbilo River. Mr SS Pather hired the services of Mr Kistappa Reddy , who by now had settled in Cato Manor , to build a larger and more substantive temple. Mr Kistappa Reddy had already demonstrated his building skills when he had constructed the Ganesha Temple in Mount Edgecombe in 1899.

This new and impressive temple, called the Umbilo Shree Ambalaavanar Alayam was completed in about 1905 and continued to attract thousands of devotees.

The regular flooding of the Umbilo River was a constant threat to the temple and residents. As fate would we have it , the temple building were severely damaged by the floods of 1910. The marshy and unstable soil cause the structures to slowly subside. The community put up a temporary structure and continued to worship at the temple. By 1940 only a small parts of the building remained above ground. It is recorded that the Umgeni Road Hindu Temple and the Clairwood Shiva Subrahmanya temple branched off later from this early congregation.

In the 1930s the Railways and Harbours Administration began extending its workshops and marshalling yards and found it necessary to expropriate the temple and surrounding land. This was effected on 15 May 1936 .Although it ceased to belong to the Pathers and the community , the temple still attracted devotees in their droves up till the time the of the development of the freeway in 1965. This Alayam gained world attention during the demolition process when various divine interventions halted further destruction of the temple buildings (toppling over of the tractor ; burns to an electrical contractor). In dismay , the final remaining buildings were buried under the freeway. In the interim the statues , doors , shutters and other original moveable furniture as recovered and later transferred to a new temple built in Cato Manor.

Though located in Cato Manor , the name Umbilo Shree Ambalaavanar was retained. 

Umbilo 3

The expropriation of land in the Rossburgh area took its toll on the Indian settlements and forced all of them to relocate to Cato Manor and other parts of Durban. By August 1955 the expropriated temples (Umbilo 2) was finally demolished and the remaining parts of the building were buried with ash and sand.

Umbilo Shree Ambalavanaar Alayam "refused to die" and the temple was re-established in 1944 at its present location in Cato Manor on land donated by Moonsamy Perumal Appovo (ex principal of Riverview School) in memory of his late parents Mr and Mrs Mauritiius Moonsamy Y Govender. Our current link with the original donors are the donor trustees Kooban Appavoo and Gurunathan Kogilan (GK) Pather.

Construction of this temple at 890 Vusi Zimela Road (Bellair Road) started in 1944 with the Pather family donation a portion received from the expropriation, together with donation and subscriptions from its devotees. An amount of some 40 000 is recorded. The Alayam was designed by one of the sons of Kistappa Reddy. Two master sculptors, Marimuthu and Panjanathan were brought from Chennai to complete the temple. The domes and edges of the roof slab are adorned with numerous sculptured and colorful idols of Gods , deities , temple guardians and members of the Pather family. A life size Nandi faces the temple entrance. The Alayam was declared a National Monument in February 1980

The Umbilo Shree Ambalaavanar Alayam comprises three temples : the main temple is dedicated to the principle deity Lord Shiva (Nadaraja) , the Shree Draupadi Alayam dedicated to the Goddess of Fire and the Puthu Amman temple dedicated to Goddess Marieammen.

The history of Umbilo Shree Ambalaavanar Alayam tells the challenges of the Indian community of Rossburgh and Cato Manor. The Alayam has survived numerous floods , the expropriation by the South African Railways , the ravages of the Group Areas Act and other minor obstacles. The USAA will not go away , but will continue to serve the many generations to follow

(Contributions by Nasan Pather (Brisbane , Australia)


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