The Awe-Inspiring Shiva Temple of Actonville, Benoni

by | May 4, 2022 | Ekurhuleni (East Rand), Johannesburg, Museums and Buildings, Religion | 6 comments

Several months ago I spotted a post in the @WhatsOnInJoburg Instagram feed. “Africa’s tallest Shiva Shakti Statue is in Benoni”, the post read, with a photo of the biggest, boldest, most colorful Hindu deity I’ve ever seen. I made a mental note to visit the Sivan Alayam Temple, a.k.a. the Shiva Temple, as soon as possible.

I finally made it to the temple last weekend with Thorsten and our friend Gail. It was dazzling.

The Shiva-Shakti statue in Benoni
The Shiva-Shakti statue, built in 2013, at the Sivan Alayam Temple in Actonville, Benoni. The statue, or murti, is about 20 meters (65 feet) tall.

While the Sivan Alayam Temple, built by Benoni’s Tamil Indian community, has been around for decades, the Shiva-Shakti murti was built in 2013 by a team of nine Indian artisans. The murti is made of steel and is half Shiva, half Shakti, illustrating the natural balance between male and female. (Disclaimer: Hinduism is very complex and I’m probably explaining everything wrong.) Read more about the temple’s history here.

Looking up at the statue
Looking up.
Shiva-Shakti feet
Eye-level with the Shiva-Shakti feet.

Visiting the Shiva Temple

Up until we arrived at the Shiva Temple, I had imagined we would drive up, gaze at the statue, photograph it (or sketch it, in Thorsten’s case) from the outside, then get back into the car and drive home. But this visit turned out to be much more than that.

Thorsten sketch of Shiva-Shakti
Thorsten’s fantastic sketch of the temple. He has some more sketches of it on @the_thinkinghand.

There were lots of people at the temple — staff members, worshippers, and children/teachers attending the Saturday Tamil school — who eagerly welcomed us in to wander about as we pleased. We examined the murti from below and also climbed the platform (after taking our shoes off) to see the murti up close and check out the beautiful shrine behind it.

Shrine at the temple
I had so much fun taking pictures of the shrine, populated by charming deities and the pigeons who have befriended them.
Tamil deities
Deities and pigeons
I love how the pigeons make themselves at home with the deities.
Deity and pigeon
My favorite.
My other favorite.

Then came the best part: After exploring the statue and shrine, we were treated to a full tour of the temple by Guru Vijay Vishendrin, the priest of the temple. Initially Guru Vijay was busy blessing one of his congregant’s cars — a brand-new, shiny red sports car, which will certainly need the gods’ protection on the streets of Joburg — but Guru Vijay joined us as soon as he finished.

Guru Vijay in the temple
Guru Vijay in the temple.
Shiva Temple interior
A wider shot of the temple interior.

Guru Vijay was kind and welcoming, patiently explaining the name and role of every deity and answering our many questions. He also shared his own interesting story: Guru Vijay grew up in Actonville, attended Sivan Alayam as a child, and always felt called to religious service. He studied for seven years, in South Africa and later in Mauritius, and after becoming a guru he worked in several temples around Johannesburg. A few years ago he received the opportunity to come home and be the guru at his own temple.

As per usual, I was taking tons of photos while Guru Vijay talked and did not write down most of what he told us. Hence I’ve forgotten many of the details.

I think this is Lakshmi, the goddess of health, wealth, and good fortune. I love the blingy god behind her but I can’t remember his name.
Lord Shiva wearing snazzy leopard-print trousers.
Temple entrance
The temple entrance, guarded by two Ganesha and the sacred cow, Nandi.
Planet god
One of the gods of the nine planets. (I’ve forgotten which planet.) The room with the planet deities is filled with offerings of flowers and fruit and the smell of burning incense.
Prayer tree at the temple
The prayer tree outside the temple, which is actually three trees growing together: a peepal tree, a siringa tree, and a bilwa tree. Supplicants circle the tree while praying to it and wrap cotton string around the trunk as they walk. The yellow color comes from turmeric.

If you’re interested in Hinduism and Tamil culture, I highly recommend visiting Sivan Alayam. I hope to go back soon for one of their annual festivals, of which there are many.

Actonville — the township in which Indian people from Benoni were forced to live under apartheid’s Group Areas Act — is relatively easy to navigate. The temple is on Google Maps if you search for “Shiva Temple Benoni”. Note that Google Maps will guide you to the back of the temple on Mistry Street, where the statue is, but the front entrance of the temple is around the block.

Front of the temple
The front of the temple.
Shiva Temple entrance
The pretty temple gate.

Saturday seems like a good day to visit but I think Guru Vijay is there every day. When you go, be sure to wear shoes that are easy to take off and put back on.

Shiva-Shakti statue at the Shiva Temple, Benoni

Follow Sivan Alayam on Facebook.


  1. dizzylexa

    You’ve captured our visit so well, love all the photo’s and Thorsten’s drawing.

    • 2summers

      Thanks! It was such a fun day.

  2. AutumnAshbough

    Great photos–but how can you take a bad one in a temple that colorful?!

    • 2summers

      It’s definitely pretty easy to take a good photo of that statue (as long as your lens is wide enough to fit it all in).

  3. Lani

    I do love a good Hindu temple 😀 It was one of the nice things about visiting Malaysia — seeing Chinese, Hindu, and Islam places of worship in the same cities! Sounds like S. Af is the same <3

    • 2summers

      Yes, it is! Although Mauritius is even better for this. Sooooo many colorful churches/mosques/temples. Would love to go to Malaysia someday.


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