Cave temple erected in Verulam

New Ahobilam Temple of Protection owner Vick Panday, left, with Raghav Pandit, right, in front of a murti of Srila Prabhupada. | SHELLEY KJONSTAD Independent Newspapers

New Ahobilam Temple of Protection owner Vick Panday, left, with Raghav Pandit, right, in front of a murti of Srila Prabhupada. | SHELLEY KJONSTAD Independent Newspapers

Published May 6, 2024


Durban — High on a hill in Verulam, outside Durban, a temple with architecture unlike any other has been erected in honour of the Hindu God Lord Nrsimhadeva.

Situated on the River Range Ranch in the Redcliffe area, a steep winding road takes you up to the New Ahobilam Temple of Protection which has been fashioned to look like a cave. Even though the official opening is still weeks away, word of the temple has already spread beyond the country’s borders and in the past few weeks, 18 000 people/worshippers from home and abroad have already visited.

Lord Nrsimhadeva is the fourth avatar (incarnation) of the Hindu God Vishnu and appears in a form that is part lion and part man.

The New Ahobilam Temple of Protection has been built to resemble a cave. | SHELLEY KJONSTAD Independent Newspapers

“Nrsimhadeva appeared in a cave in Ahobilam in South India so the temple should resonate with where he appeared and how he appeared,” said Vick Panday, who heads up the temple project. The property which includes the Vrindavan Eco Village is owned by the Vick and Helina Panday Family Trust.

He said rocks from India as well as many excavated from the property on which it is built were used in the shrine.

“A lot of rocks were used for this place. Some were also plastered over and dolled up. So, a lot of material was from the site itself, mesh and steel were (placed) over it, and plastered to get the effect of what it is today,” said Panday.

Vick Panday, right, who is in charge of the temple project, with temple priest Raghav Pandit, left. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad Independent Newspapers

The main attraction of the temple is the 4-ton 2.7m-high form of Lord Nrsimhadeva, with the celestial snake Ananta at its base.

Panday said it was arguably the biggest deity of Nrsimhadeva in the world and it took many engineers, precise measurements, positioning and the help of vastu expert and vedic astrologer Mahesh Bang to get it just right and ensure that the deity and the temple were at the correct angle. He said the positioning, location, elevation and the energies all played a pivotal role in such a sacred project.

The New Ahobilam Temple of Protection at River Range Ranch in Verulam. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad Independent Newspapers

“A deity goes through a major process, where life is installed in it, energies are installed in it, and becomes very energised, so that people get that mercy and benediction when they come to the temple.

“A deity cannot just get positioned anywhere. The rock has to be a live rock, highly sourced: there are a whole lot of things that go behind the scenes that no money can buy.”

Panday said the “live rock” from which the Lord Nrsimhadeva deity was carved contained all the natural elements, like diamonds, and was found in South India.

Devotees standing on the temple site before the project started. Supplied

Opposite the deity in the temple is a life-sized statue of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada, the founder of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).

Panday said the temple was inspired by his devotion to his spiritual master Srila Prabhupada.

“Everything is done just for him, his mercy. My whole life is Prabhupada, and all seven days (is) Prabhupada and everything you do is Prabhupada. Nothing, but for Prabhupada,” he said.

The layout of the temple before work began. Supplied

Initially, he and his family started the Food For Love programme in which they provided millions of meals to communities and organisations working there.

However, once people were fed, they started searching for answers about other aspects of life. That’s when they decided to build a temple.

A view from the New Ahobilam Temple of Protection at River Range Ranch in Verulam. | SHELLEY KJONSTAD Independent Newspapers

His brother Viresh, a long time bhakt (devotee) of Nrsimhadeva, went to Abiholam where he first appeared and did all the necessary prayers.

“That’s how it started, and how the deity manifested in his own formation and size to come here,” said Panday.

While the main temple is complete, construction is still continuing.

The foundation phase of the New Ahobilam Temple of Protection in Verulam. Supplied

The temple already has a deity room, a garland room, and accommodation for the presiding priest. Still to be added is a gift shop, a restaurant and a glass deck. The temple is partially off-grid; it has its own water supply and 50% of its electricity is generated through solar energy.

“The temple is for you to come and re-energise, you get realigned, and go back out to society.

Raghav Pandit, the resident temple priest (pujari) responsible for all the prayers and ceremonies, describes Lord Nrsimhadeva as “soft as a rose and hard as a thunderbolt”. He said the positive ripple effects of the deity would reverberate around the world.

Work under way at the temple site in Redcliffe, Verulam. Supplied

Pandit said he always had a fascination with the deity and after a few near-death experiences he started worshipping him “very seriously” about 30 years ago.

“When they installed the deity, it became very natural for me to become the pujari, the person who worships the deity.”

He said Lord Nrsimhadeva was known for bringing protection and good fortune to one’s community and they were convinced the positive ripple effects of his presence would be felt far and wide.

“The moment people come into the presence of the deity, besides the awe and reverence which is there, people are just kind of spontaneously moved to tears. They have very moving spiritual experiences within a short space of time.”

Panday has welcomed everyone to join in the opening festivities. The prana pratistha (consecration) and four-day official opening of the temple starts on May 22, which is the Appearance Day of Lord Nrsimhadeva, or the day he made his appearance on Earth.

Resident temple priest at the New Ahobilam Temple of Protection Raghav Pandit worshipping Lord Nrsimhadeva. | SHELLEY KJONSTAD Independent Newspapers

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