Removal of stone idols a ‘sin’
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Durban - Hindu leaders have described as “sacrilegious” and “a sin against God” the removal of 79 stone idols of saints who were venerated for having devoted their lives to Lord Shiva.
In February, for the first time in South Africa, the idols (murthis) of the 63 Nyanmar saints and 16 other saints were installed in a temple, the Siva Manram, in Havenside, Chatsworth, following a period of sanctification and consecration rites overseen by spiritual leaders from India and locally.
The Nayanmars - a group of 63 male and female saints who lived in South India between the 6th and 8th century - became the vehicle of popular devotion through their songs, stories, poems and miraculous deeds.
On Saturday, hammers and chisels were used to remove the 79 idols following disagreement between two factions vying for control of the temple, which eventually saw the dispute going to court.
The president and spiritual head of the temple, Archie Hirasen, also known as Somasundram Adigal, applied to the Durban High Court to intervene after Elvis Padayachee, a former president who is now chairman of the temple’s interim committee, and a large group of devotees objected to the temple being “captured”, and a religious programme that had been established over 50 years coming under threat of being discarded in favour of new practices.
The removal of the idols has left many Hindus in shock and disbelief as it is a rare occurrence that installed images of religious figures are forcibly removed from a temple following a dispute.
Ram Maharaj, president of the South African Hindu Dharma Sabha, said: “This is a sad day for Hinduism. The idols are the whole essence of a temple and their removal is tantamount to destroying a temple.
“The idols are living expressions of God and it is a sin against God to remove them because man cannot settle his petty differences amicably.”
George Maduray, president of the World Saiva Council (SA Branch), said he had unsuccessfully tried to mediate in the feud between the two parties. The sacrilegious removal makes a mockery of religion.”
Sidney Govindsamy, secretary of the Devasthanam Foundation of South Africa, which is the umbrella body of South Indian Temples in South Africa, said “the process of idol worship commences with the infusion of Divinity into the stone sculptures”.
Padayachee said the problems at the temple began when Hirasen brought in Thiagarajan Govender, a Saivite scholar from Shallcross and his group, to take over the religious direction of the temple.
“Traditionally, the temple has not allowed fruit, coconut and milk to be offered to the deities, in keeping with the tenets of its founding father, Saiva Pulavar KC Gounder. Govender and his followers broke all established practices and foisted their own beliefs upon the congregation.
“When we objected to the coup, we were locked out and could not offer prayers at the temple.”
In an effort to break the stalemate after the matter was taken to court, an agreement was reached that Hirasen and Govender would vacate the temple.
Govender said he was forced to remove the idols because the temple’s interim committee had prevented him and his group from performing the abhishegam (ritual bathing) of the idols.