The first flame of the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society was lit in the year 1970. It began with a vision, with perseverance, with dedication and focused determination by some pioneers of the community , namely Bhikhabhai Ukabhai Master and Dayabhai Hari.
The start of the journey began at the Ram Mandir, established at Master Mansions and was the brain child of the Shree Bhikhabhai Master. He was inspired by Swami Nischalananda of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa. Swami Nischalanandahad vision was that the children of Hindu families all over South Africa must learn about Hindu Religion and Culture. In order to promote this vision, Swamijii had organised numerous activities. It is also noted that Shree Dayabhai Hari participated actively in these activities.
Sadly, Shree Bhikhabhai Master passed away in the year 1962. However, the ever determined Shree Dayabhai Hari continued with the objective of developing the Hindu ethos amongst the community. In 1962, with the objective of promoting the Hindu Dharma, Shree Dayabhai took the opportunity to invite Swami Nisreyasananda from the Ramakrishna Math, but based in Zimbabwe, to come to Johannesburg.
Swami Nisreyasananda would stay on 7th floor Master mansions with Rajnikantbhai Master and the rest of the Master family. For 30 years, Swami Nisreyasananda was invited twice every year to South Africa.
In 1966 the Nationalist government decided to establish a township for Indians in the Transvaal. This was township was called Lenasia.
Around 1969/70 Swami Nisreyasananda suggested to Dayabhai Hari and Rajnikantbhai Master that to meet the demands of the people of the Transvaal, a separate entity could be established with its own constitution. Rajnikantbhai Master suggested the name Ramakrishna Vedanta Society.
This plan was carried out, and Dayabhai Hari encouraged Rajnikantbhai Master to take up the post of the Secretary, a post he held for 17 years. Together with Dayabhai Hari and his meticulous book-keeping skills, kept painstaking records of the finances of Ramakrishna Vedanta Society.
The apartheid government were in the meantime meeting resistance from the Indian community regarding the relocation to Lenasia and they were only too eager to book plots to Indian buyers. The plots were selling at R700 each.
Rajnikantbhai agreed with Dayabhai Hari and four plots were booked in the name of Ramakrishna Vedanta Society in Kingfisher Street, Ext 1, Lenasia. The Group Areas Board allowed only four plots for each religious organization and it is with their foresight that the maximum land was booked.
During a visit to India, Rajnikantbhai Master heard Shivram Maharaj render a katha at a particular hall
in the state of Gujarati in what can be termed – a most wonderful and spiritually enlightening way. Rajnikantbhai made tape recordings and brought them to South Africa. These tape recordings were heard by Swami Nisreyasananda who, without hesitation, suggested that Shivram Maharaj be invited to South Africa because of his religious knowledge and as kathakar in the Gujarati language. His simple style would be of great benefit to the community.
These discourses took place at the Gandhi Hall in Fox Street, Johannesburg. The community were greatly impressed and inspired by Shivram Maharaj’s Katha Programme. Thus when Shivram Maharaj launched an appeal for funds to build a Hall and Mandir in Lenasia, the community obliged most graciously.
Among the first pioneer donors who enthusiastically gave donations to the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society were late Vasantjee Nagar, the late Jinabhai Parekh, Kikabhai Bawa, Parshotambhai Bijla, the late Bhulabhai Diar, Bhulabhai Chhita, the Bodalia Family, the late Bhanabhai of Malice Spice Works. In the memory of late Bhikhabhai Master, Bhikhabhai’s three sons (Rajnikantbhai, Arvindbhai and Harshadbhai has also contributed) .
A concerted effort was made by Rajnikant Master, Thakorbhai Daya, and Maganbhai Morar to fill the coffers and subsequently the 4 plots booked were purchased. Adjacent to these four plots were two other plots, owned by a Muslim family and by a Gujarati Hindu family. These additional two plots were also purchased but in the name of a Religious and Cultural Institute.
Hence, it must be noted that the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society complex stands on six plots.
Rajnikantbhai Master approached Sompura Temple Architect in India, who had graciously sent architectural drawings, drawn according to scriptural requirements. The architect designed the Garbha Grah (where the Shree Lakshmi Narayan murtis are placed), the Mandir hall and the entrance area. Subsequently, a local architect, the late Vander Merwe from Pretoria was assigned to sketch a new temple plan based on Sompura Temple design.
THE STORY ABOUT THE CARVINGS THAT LINE THE WALL OF THE MANDIR.
A German gentleman, Mr Hoj Melville used to come regularly to attend Swami Nisreyananda’s discourses at Ram Mandir, Master Mansions. One day Hoj Melville saw some wooden carvings of Indian deities in a carpet shop in Johannesburg. These were probably taken (or stolen) from ancient Indian temples. Hoj Melville bought these wooden carvings and showed them to Rajnikantbhai Master. Navnitbhai Solanki took special interest and generously contributed finance for purchasing the wooden carvings.
They decided to approach Mr Theo Wald in Johannesburg, who had a business of making rubber moulds and using them, to make decorative ornaments. Mr Wald made rubber moulds from the wooden deities. It was Mr Hoj Melville’s enthusiasm that persuaded Rajnikantbhai Master and Dayabhai Hari to let Mr Melville make lots of plaster cast copies of the wooden carvings and decorate the frame area of the Garbha Grah and also one line around the inside of the Mandir hall. Mr Hoj Melville experimented with special cement mixture and iron rods to make the plaster casts strong. Jyoshnaben Rajnikantbhai Master assisted Mr Melville and the plaster casts were made onsite as well as in the yard of Arvindbhai and Diwaliben Master’s house in Turtledove Avenue, Lenasia Ext 1. It took many months and very hard work to make all the plaster casts. The plaster casts were sprayed with colour that would resemble the original. A suitable glue was used to stick the plaster casts inside of the Shree Lakshmi Narayan Mandir. Originally the plaster casts were stuck on the outside as well, all around the temple walls but became unstuck in rainy weather and all fell off.
A Bhumi Pujan (Khaatmurat) was performed in 1970/71. Swami Nisreyasanandaji placed copper yantras under the foundations of Shree Lakshmi Narayana Mandir and the Ramakrishna Hall. Shivram Maharaj who performed the Murthi Sthapana (consecration ceremony) suggested that the Mandir should be dedicated to Shree Lakshmi Narayana which was unanamously accepted. The murtis of Lakshmi Mata and Lors Narayan were made in Jaipur and housed temporarily and with great honour in Arvindbhai Master’s house in Turtledove Lane, Ext 1 Lenasia.
Shree LakshmiNarayana Temple was officially opened on the 25thDecember 1972 by Swami Venkatesanandji.
The first chairman of the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society was Jinabhai Parekh, followed by Bhulabhai Diar, Rajnikantbhai Master, Chhibubhai Naran, Rajubhai Kala and the present chairman, Anilbhai Vallabh.
Adapted by information supplied by Harshadbhai Master.
*Pictures in next tab “Historical Picture Archive”.