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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.