Devotees held their last service before the gates were locked.

Durban - Devotees at a Chatsworth temple have been conducting their own services after allegedly being locked out of the premises for raising grievances about the affairs of their place of worship.

They claim that the temple has been “captured” by unknown forces.

About 30 devotees at the Siva Manram Temple in Havenside claim they have been unable to enter the temple since March 31, as the locks had been changed without their knowledge.

They allege that an unknown group had taken over the official prayer sessions since March 11.

However, temple president Archie Hirasen said a “dissident group” of “so-called” devotees were out to cause trouble.

Hirasen told POST the matter has been taken to the Durban High Court.

“As a long-standing leader in the Saiva community, I am greatly disappointed by the behaviour of these so-called ‘Saivite devotees’,” he said.

“The actions of the dissident group are deeply disturbing to myself, and other religious leaders in the community. 

"I believe such actions have only been successful in damaging the religion, so many of us hold close to our heart.”

Long-standing temple member Elvis Padayachee, a former president who is now the interim chairperson of the temple’s “crisis committee”, told POST that the temple has come under serious threat of losing its heritage, values and religious direction.

“We are fed up with this high-handed behaviour and lack of respect for the constitution of Siva Manram or even the South African constitution,” he said.

“Members were infuriated when they were called into the temple under the pretence that we would be discussing financial matters. 

"However, there was no financial meeting; instead, we were informed that a new group, under Guru Thiagarajan Govender, was to take over the conduct of the service from that day onwards.”

Padayachee claims that devotees were instructed not to ask questions.

Moreover, women were told not to wear white saris anymore, “and the old members were told not to sit at the front of the temple or lead any songs from the Thevaram”.

The “take-over” of the temple had angered devotees, he said.

Padayachee added the committee was formed on March 21 and that a petition was drawn up and signed by concerned members and regular long-standing worshippers calling for the president to resign or face a motion of no confidence.

“The following day the petition which aired our grievances was hand-delivered to the secretary to be handed to the president. 

"We allowed him 10 days to respond. During a meeting with the guru he denied any knowledge of a take-over,” said Padayachee.

“On March 25 the old lock keys were taken away from members who had to plead to have their service on the property. The temple doors were not opened for them. 

"Upon returning to the temple the following week, we found that the new locks were put in and members were chased away.

“Daily prayers are now being conducted by the new group who were consequently given a separate set of keys to enter the temple.”

Disgruntled members have now sought the assistance of the Devesthanam Foundation of South Africa and World Saiva Council to end the impasse.

“We hope through the mediation of the Devasthanam Foundation we will be able to return to normal service; if not, we will seek an interdict from the high court and even the Constitutional Court if necessary,” he said.

The chairperson of the Devasthanam Foundation, George Govender, said a letter was sent to Hirasen on April 5 requesting that he hand over a set of keys to the temple to Padayachee.

However, he had yet to respond, he said.

"The Foundation believes what is being done goes against the principles of Hinduism. Devotees should not be turned away from a place of worship; it is an injustice."