Hellishness and hope are the self-proclaimed heads-of-state in
pre-election South Africa. Whites, Coloreds, Indians and Blacks
are trying to see colorlessly for the first time. The hates and
hurts writhing so long beneath a ruthless reign of racism erupt
daily. Nerves wrench and muscles spasm as families sit together
and watch on TV another victim of the 6,000 who have died this
year in pre-election political crossfire. The king of the Zulus
declares Kwazulu/Natal a sovereign nation and some Dutch
Afrikaners refuse to surrender their white supremacist mentality
and now want their own state. President De Klerk muzzles battle
cries and holds together an eggshell peace amidst a raging
Despite all the tragic events of desperation and destruction,
equally potent forces of harmony and religious resurgence are at
work. For three days, March 4-6, spiritual energies as cool and
healing as a Himalayan spring flowed from the peak of a small
mountain jutting out of a Durban suburb. Amidst flames of ghee,
showers of flowers, Vedic chants and happy cries, 4,000 Hindu
youth of the University of Durban at Westville and members of
the surrounding Hindu community enjoyed the inauguration of a
place dedicated to shanti.
Thirteen years in construction, the elegant million-dollar
University Hindu Centre officially opened. Majestically
cantilevered out over surrounding Indian neighborhoods, with its
scalloped North Indian gopuram, soft coral hue of brick and
polished marble and glass interiors, it looked like a pink gem
cut and set by a Madurai jeweler. Sixty-three women huddled on
the back of an open flatbed truck and ceremoniously escorted a
pantheon of Deities on a five-kilometer procession around the
suburbs, then up to the hilltop for installation.
Pride bubbled throughout the buoyant three-day choreography of
consecration rites, speeches, serious socializing and
spectacular culture shows each night. Two vegetarian meals were
prepared daily and served as prashadam by volunteers during the
Unquestionably, the Centre broke molds. It's a one-of-a-kind,
all-in-one, meet-all-needs, one-stop, "unity in diversity" Hindu
service center. On the ground floor is a book and video
religious library, a boardroom and offices and a multi-use
assembly hall seating 750 that can be rented out to the public.
On the second level is a meditation hall for those who see God
as formless. On the third tier is a smaller cloister for those
who worship God with form. This room is special, really
palatial. The floor and terraced altar is beautiful,
mirror-polished rose marble. The pink walls and soft lighting
make it ethereal and bathes the soul in divine softness. A
priest is employed and a private residence is being built for
The Hindu Centre will be the headquarters and likely social
"hang-out" for members of the university's high-energy Hindu
Students Association (HSA), but equally a venue for other
groups' yoga classes, bajan groups, singing and dance classes,
seminars, youth forums, concerts, weddings, talent
shows-basically anything that meet the needs of the Hindu
community and helps promote Hinduism and harmony.
The idea for a Hindu center hatched in 1978 when students,
faculty and an umbrella organization, the Hindu Maha Sabha, felt
remiss in not having a place of worship and religious study for
Hindu students as the Moslems had so caringly done in building a
beautiful small mosque on campus. But then, no one wanted to
give-"Nice idea, you do it. Good luck!" The excuses were
pathetic but telling and went a bit like this: "The students
don't really need it; they can worship at home;" "The Rand is so
weak now, I can't afford it. It's not really a good time to
build a temple." The saddest excuse went like this: "Let's just
give up Hinduism. We can't get priests, or anything, from India
because she is boycotting us. Our kids aren't interested in
rituals and the Christians have such nice, modern facilities and
youth programs." Lamentations like that pricked the conscience
of more and more who saw the critical need of not one but
hundreds of centers to build up a backsliding Hinduism.
Then "Let's get some life back into our religion" show of
spiritual force and fibre kicked in from a core, creative band
of HSA members. First, diligently educating themselves in Hindu
philosophy, they engineered countless programs to awaken a Hindu
pride based on knowledge, not solely faith. "We worked our
tails off for years-fund-raising, putting on ump-teen cultural
shows, sales, and going door-to-door," confessed a ex-member.
Though the HSA students were from the beginning at the heart of
the Centre's vision and manifestation, there were many others.
During the 3-day event each party graciously bent over backwards
to defer the credit to another. But a pair of beloved wealthy
Durban businessmen who broke through the chronic drought of
funds with two large gifts that "made it finally happen,"
received well-deserved adulation.
It took over ten years to sell the idea and raise the money. A
numerically smaller Muslim community raised funds for their
mosque in "just one afternoon." But then, religious rivalry is
near absent on campus. Although Ayodhya churned up some
emotions, goodwill and sincere curiosity are the norm between
students of the different faiths. Interestingly, when the
Centre idea first germinated, the university was "Indian only."
Today its about 40% Indian and 60% Black, White and Colored.
Critics of the Centre all along argued it would become a "white
elephant," but first signs indicate they are wrong. "Already
seven nights a week there are yoga classes, bhajan groups, dance
and music classes, Gita classes and Saturday and Sunday all day
South African President F.W. De Klerk, the King of Nepal,
India's Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and Prime Minister of
Mauritius Sir Anerood Jugnauth all sent salutations. The
presence of a 36-member delegation from India meant a lot to
South Africans who felt abandoned during their homeland's
boycott of South Africa. The only flaw in the event was the
absence of even one youth speaker, with so many so highly
qualified. In contrast, many Hindu organizations in the US now
insist that teens speak at events and hold seats on steering
committees so they grow up feeling integral, valued and
respected participants. But with the Hindu Center now complete,
youth are saddling up to take as many reins as they can in its
management. And like it that way.
"The urge to see the UHC in front of me was like a vow I had
taken. Now we will go on a propaganda blitz to make the
students well aware of its existence and inspire its fullest
use. The Centre promotes"Unity in Diversity." For example,
there is a meditation room for the Arya Samajists, who don't
believe in God with form and I have escorted Muslim students and
Black students through it. They were impressed and said they
would be back."
-Vinod Bhagelu, chairperson, Hindu Students Association UDW
"The spiritual vibes are tremendous. Today, everything is
rush-rush. As soon as I sit in the shrine, I feel at peace.
All our politicians talk of peace, but unless they spend five
minutes a day sitting peacefully, do they have the right to
preach peace? The Centre is a steppingstone to invoke spiritual
unity in our troubled land. Enough speeches. Let's get
physical, real, practical. I am optimistic." -Nerushka Lachman,
"The whole atmosphere was electric and elegant-the flight of
stairs to the shrine, glowing lights, murthis and a painting of
Lord Krishna lying down in a sleeping position was very peaceful
to look at. I will definitely be attending the student satsang
every Tuesday. [It is scheduled during the lunch hour.
Students skip lunch to attend, but are served prashadam at the
end.] It is a modern, beautiful facility and will be well used
by students and the Indian community." -Nita Dhanraj, 22
"I never thought it would come true. We were involved since
1986. It was a Herculean task to raise funds while being
students. But many Hindu youth are so apathetic. The temple
must now combat a negative view of our religion. It is not all
taboos as some believe. The Muslim students have a mosque and
are proud of it, so why not we too? Whenever I've felt down,
I've meditated in front of the murthis in the Centre and felt a
power emanating from them and forgot all my problems." -Shalini
Ramraj, chairperson, Reservoir Hills Hindu Youth Association
"Phew! Unbelievable! Our social future will be mixing with
those of other cultures, but Hindus, because of their ignorance
of dharma, are not so well prepared to face the challenge of
living in a multi-cultured society. The Centre must fulfill
itself as a propagation headquarters for Hinduism. It is
especially very unique in being located at a place of learning.
What better place?" -Yash Maharaj, 24
"We who have worked for the last six years having so much
difficulty finding a venue for our satsangs are now fulfilled.
A dream come true. It is unique because all schools of thought
are catered to. The library has Hindu scriptures in all the
major Indian languages. Nearly 500 students visit the temple on
a weekly basis."
-Rajan Govender, 27, member Reservoir Hills Youth Association
"I was involved with this project from the foundation laying
'till its completion. The feeling is ecstatic, one of total
satisfaction. It's like a part of me belongs to this temple.
We are presently restricted at our local hall. And there, the
elders call all the shots in the running of the temple and hall
in every aspect. There are no youth at all in the Reservoir
Hills Hindu Seva Samaj. Elders feel threatened, but we youth
need to know how our ceremonies are performed so we can teach
our children. I took a vow to get married at the Centre years
ago. My wedding is next month. I am so excited.
-Shenaaz Mahabeer, 23, HSA member