for ISKCON News on July 1, 2010
Sri Sri Nitai Gaura-Hari Mandir
7971 Capricorn Avenue, Ext 9, Lenasia
+27 11 854-1975 / 7969
Sri Sri Nitai Gaura-Hari, Govardhana Sila
The temple employs a revolving presidency system in which three devotees—Chaitanya Dasa, Namacharya Dasa, and Paramananda Dasa—act as managers.
Two storey-house transformed into a temple.
Lenasia, a Johannesburg suburb. During the apartheid era of racial segregation, Indian people lived in Lenasia, and there is still a large Indian community there.
Number of residents:
8. Most of the residents are priests.
Number of guests:
150 to 300 people attend the weekly Sunday programs, while between 1,000 and 3,000 attend on festival days.
Best time of year to visit:
In December for the Johannesburg Ratha Yatra, in April for the Durban Ratha Yatra, or during any major festival.
With Durban’s Temple of Understanding drawing attention for many years as the biggest ISKCON temple in South Africa, Johannesburg has historically been
somewhat neglected and has followed a difficult path of development.
Sri Sri Nitai-Gaura Hari, the presiding Deities of Johannesburg’s current temple, were originally installed on ISKCON’s farm in Cato Ridge near Durban in 1978, but were moved just six years later to a small holding in Honeydew, just outside of Johannesburg.
Rather than being developed as a rural community, however, the location was mainly used throughout the rest of the 1980s as a base for devotees raising funds to build Durban’s Temple of Understanding.
Meanwhile, resident devotees weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms by their neighbours. South Africa was at the height of apartheid, and the local white Afrikaner people didn’t like ISKCON’s mixing of races and tried several times to close down the temple.
Finally, in 1992, the devotees and Deities moved again, this time to a six-storey building in Hillbrow, in Johannesburg’s inner city. The cosmopolitan surroundings were very conducive to outreach, and the center thrived, with well-attended programs and successful book distribution. But in 1994, after South Africa’s first democratic elections, the country’s political climate once again affected ISKCON’s efforts, as an influx of foreign nationals from across Africa rendered the area a dangerous slum almost overnight.
It was 1997 when the devotees moved once again to the safe haven of Lenasia, a Johannesbug suburb with a large Indian community. After a year in a temporary location while they transformed a house they had purchased into a temple, they finally moved for the last time.
But their problems weren’t over yet. As a growing trend in ISKCON saw devotees move out of temples all over the world, ISKCON Johannesburg found itself with only a handful of residents.
Then the solution came: develop the congregation. Nanda Kumara Dasa, chairman of ISKCON’s administrative board for the province of Gauteng, introduced Namahattas, a kind of structured group that holds spiritual meetings once a month. Today, thirty such groups are operating in Gauteng—of which Johannesburg is the capital—and drawing the general public as well as initiated devotees and congregational members. And the project is growing.
“ISKCON South Africa’s National Council has divided Gauteng into nine different zones, and we currently have Namahattas in all of them,” says Nanda Kumara Dasa. “The plan is that once a particular zone reaches ten Namahattas, we will rent or purchase a property to act as a small center for that zone. This will serve as a base for outreach as well as for devotee education for the many new people coming to Krishna consciousness.”
Devotees are already preparing seminars on philosophy, Vaishnava etiquette and relationships, and practical skills such as performing arati ceremonies, which will be offered at each center.
“We feel that these local centers will give the devotees a strong sense of identity and focus,” says Nanda Kumara. “They will also make it easier for our congregation to participate and attend programs more frequently, since heavy traffic makes it difficult for devotees to visit our main center in Lenasia.”
Several local centers have already been launched: Mahaprabhu Dasa, a devotee who has lived all his life in Soweto, the biggest African township in South Africa, has turned his house there into a temple. He and two other devotees organize their own annual Ratha Yatra festival in the township, and conduct a Food for Life program for local schools.
Another center has been established in Pretoria, the second largest city in Gauteng, while a third is located in the inner city of Johannesburg itself. Raising a solid monthly income through book distribution and Back to Godhead magazine subscriptions, devotees also support the temple by selling full prasadam meals from stalls in local shopping malls. “It’s a nice way of interacting with the community,” says Nanda Kumara. “And it’s a big attraction—they love prasadam.”
The main temple in Lenasia, meanwhile, is home to the Bhaktivedanta College of Education and Training, which conducts Bhakti-sastri classes on Srila Prabhupada’s books at different venues daily.
It also boasts some very active youth groups, headed by The Krishna-Balarama Youth Group, whose members meet weekly and organize their own annual Ratha Yatra and kirtan retreat.
But of course, it is Their Lordships Sri Sri Nitai Gaura-Hari that remain the top reason to visit ISKCON Lenasia—the oldest Deities in South Africa, they are the beloved of devotees all over the country.
In the future, devotees plan to erect a custom-built temple in Johannesburg, which could surpass Durban’s Temple of Understanding as South Africa’s flagship ISKCON temple. A monumental project, it will be constructed in several phases: The first will be the temple itself; the second, a guesthouse and restaurant,
Food For Life Kitchen, and housing for the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust and the Bhaktivedanta College of Education and Training. The third will be a conference hall for weddings and functions, while the fourth will be a high-tech museum on the teachings of Bhagavad-gita, intended as an outreach tool and main draw for visitors.
“But for now,” Nanda Kumar concludes, “Our focus is on developing the Namahatta programs and building a strong congregation that can spiritually inspire each other and support ISKCON Johannesburg’s future dreams.”