Hindu Temples


In 1860, indentured labourers from India were introduced to the British colony of Natal to work in the sugar cane industry. They were followed by waves of immigrants from the subcontinent, eventually forming the largest Indian community outside of India. Today Durban is heir to a rich legacy of Indian culture, including more than 40 Hindu temples.


Hinduism was born thousands of years ago along the banks of India’s Indus River. Also known as ‘the eternal religion’, it comprises a blend of various intellectual and philosophical perspectives, rather than a common set of rigid beliefs. It is the world’s third largest religion and also the oldest living religion.

The theology consists largely of interwoven layers of ideas originating from the indigenous Dravidians and subsequent Aryan invaders who came from over the Himalayas. This dual cultural origin has resulted in two distinct styles of Hindu temples, both of which are represented in this brochure. Within these two styles, a large degree of variation is evident.

Due to the wide variety of Hindu traditions, tolerance towards different systems of belief and practice are notable features of Hinduism, a fact which is reflected in the diversity of temple designs.

Hindu Temples in Durban

The North Indian Style

THE NORTH INDIAN STYLE was influenced by the Buddhist need to walk around the circumference of the temple in ritual meditation, and always includes a central tower and some form of encircling ambulatory or walkway. Both North and South Indian styles are represented in this brochure.

Details of a North Indian temple

(This example is the Shree Gopalal Temple in Verulam)

  1. Ambulatory – walkway which encircles the temple
  2. Cella – sanctum for deity
  3. Kalasa – finial or uppermost point

The South Indian Style

THE SOUTH INDIAN STYLE includes a horizontal layout, loosely representing the Ganges floodplain, with an elevated square shrine (or cella) symbolising the Himalayas, where the deity is housed in a cave.

Details of a South Indian temple

(This example is the Emperumal Temple in Canelands)

  1. Prayer flags – to announce devotion
  2. Kodi pole – external altar and flagpole, symbolising the three natural elements
  3. Consort – for the main deity after whom the temple is named.
  4. Veranda – covered entrance
  5. Mandapa – enclosed hall for visitors
  6. Antarala – antechamber
  7. Cella – sanctum for deity
  8. Kalasa – finial or uppermost point

Symbols in Hinduism

Although there is one Absolute God in Hinduism, the theology has evolved a hierarchy of consorts and vehicles through which the supreme being communicates. These deities are in turn accompanied by a variety of symbols.

Every element of a Hindu temple is symbolic. Fire is the carrier of all sacrifices. The bell represents divine awakening. The conch shell, creation. The beads, a spiritual journey. The nail shoes, penitence.

The lion symbolizes power, the bull, strength and tenderness, and so on.

A Shiva temple is denoted by Nandi, the bull on whose back Shiva rides, while the presence of the eagle-like Garuda denotes a Vishnu Temple. As well as Shiva and Vishnu temples, there are many other kinds of Hindu temples, each corresponding to a particular deity.

The Sculptures

The sculptures on these sites are made from a steel-and-wire armature with a cement-rich finish. While strict rules are traditionally applied in their construction, these rules have become more loosely interpreted over time, as can be seen in the different interpretations of the eagle-like Garuda in the Second River and Tinley Manor temple sites. The relationship between the architecture and the sculptures also varies. The Cato Manor Hindu Temple, for example, perfectly integrates the sculptures into the plasterwork, while in Tinley Manor Temple the deities are like toys sitting on shelf.

Peace and Respect

All are welcome in Hindu temples, but please dress modestly and remove your shoes before entering. Certain areas, such as the cella, are out-of-bounds for non-believers, and other areas are the exclusive domain of priests or temple staff. Tread with care, and ask if you’re unsure.

FIND OUT MORE Traditional Hindu Temples in South Africa. Paul Mikula, Brian Kearney, Rodney Harber. Hindu Temples Publications, 1982.

Researcher: Rodney Harber

Photographer(s): Angela Buckland


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Hindu Temples
820 Bellair Rd, Berea, South Africa
Hindu Temples
Tinley Manor Rd, Durban
Hindu Temples
SVEA Hall, Umgeni Rd, Greyville, Durban, South Africa
Hindu Temples
446 Vusi Mzimela Rd, Wiggins, Durban, South Africa
Hindu Temples
12 Catherine Street, Waterways, oThongathi, South Africa
Hindu Temples
21 Nigella Rd, University, Berea, South Africa
Hindu Temples
119 Marshall Dr, Mount Edgecombe, South Africa
Hindu Temples
762 Bellair Rd, Bellair, Durban, South Africa
Hindu Temples
1 2nd Ave, Canelands, Verulam, 4344, South Africa