The original building is the first recorded public Hindu temple to have been erected on the African continent. Built in 1875, . It was declared a National Monument under old NMC legislation on 22 February 1980. More than a Century ago, a Gangai Amman Temple was Built at the lower end of Booth Road on the banks of the Umkumbaan River, popularly known as First River. This was constructed of reeds and grass. It was washed away in the floods in 1905. The temple was relocated further along the river bank.This site was ideal, being on a major road junction and therefore, right in the heart of the Indian Community.
The Temples Origin
Temples and Religion played a significant role in the lives of all Hindus. They built a Temple wherever they Settled. When the Indenture Labourers completed their service agreement with the Sugar Estates, they had the option to either return to India on a free passage or Settle in South Africa. Many of them decided to stay. A large number of them Settled in Cato Manor and became Farmers. They grew fruit and vegetables. The Residents of Cato Manor got together and Built Schools and Temples to preserve and propagate their Language, Religion and Culture.
In the early nineteen hundreds, they built an Ammen temple at the lower end of Booth Road on the banks of the Umkumbaan River, popularly known as First River. This was constructed of reeds and grass. It was washed away in the floods in 1905. The temple was then relocated further down the river. Unfortunately this temple was also washed away in the floods of 1917. However, the devotion and determination of the Community was so strong that in 1918 a five acre piece of land was purchased to rebuild the Gangai Amman temple on higher ground. The Property was registered on 23 January 1920 in the name of the Cato Manor Hindu Temple and Benevolent Home. The word "Benevolent" referred to the Shelter that was offered to people in transit, particularly Farmers from outside of Durban, who needed a place to rest overnight. The old Gangai Amman Temple still stands as a wood and iron structure in a grove of mango and jackfruit trees at the North-East corner of the present property and is a protected site. The first Trustees were; Mr Muthusamy Govender and Mr Sunthosamuthu Moodley. The Chairman was Mr S M Moodley and the Secretary was Mr N K Reddy.
A small brick structure was Built. This is the present Sathie Temple. It originally Housed the Murthies of Muruga, Valli and Devanai. These Murthies were donated to the temple by the Subbiah Pillay family of Lark Place. This was the beginning of the Kavady Festival. This was the Chitraparavam Kavady, first held in 1931. The Kavadi procession, began from the banks of the Umbilo River.
In 1934 the construction of the main Shiva Temple – known as the Sri Muthulingam Natha. The builder was Mr S P Chetty. He was an exceptional builder. It has three Towers. Inside each of the Towers seated in the Molasthanums are Ganesha, Shiva and Muruga.. The entire project at that time cost £625. It is said that master Temple Builder Kistappa Reddy, whose own Home was close by, visited the site frequently, and offered much advice to the Builder. The Sculptures and Idols are believed to have been executed by the Sirdar Road priest, Mr Parasathi Naicker, with some assistance from Kistappa Reddy.
Regular Sunday and Monday Services were conducted. The Temple also held regular Tamil classes and ran an English school. It also had an active Women’s group.
Weddings were held at the Temple under bamboo structures that were put up for the occasion. This was replaced by a steel structure which was eventually Built up to be the beautiful Hall that now stands in its place. During the racial riots in 1949 the Temple was not affected and did not sustain any damages.
Some of the of the priests who served the Temple for many years were: Poojali Moonsamy Govender, P M Moodley, Vyapuri Iyer, V S Marie, and K V Nadar. They served the Temple with dedication on a voluntary basis. The present priest is Dr Sambasiva Thanikasala Kurukkal. He was brought to South Africa by the late Mr V M Reddy in December 1986.
IN 1958 The Community of Cato Manor was struck a heavy blow. The notorious Group Areas Act was enacted. The area of Cato Manor was demarcated for Whites. The Indian Community was forced to move out of the area. Thus the area slowly became depopulated. This displacement of peace-loving families who for decades had lived in joyous harmony with their neighbours, irrespective of race, religion and creed, suddenly found their lives torn apart. On 17 July 1958, following the suggestion by the then Chairman, Mr V S Iyer, a mass Prayer meeting involving some twenty Temples from greater Durban was held at the Cato Manor Hindu Temple "to request the guidance of the Supreme Lord in our struggle against the proclamation of the Group Areas Act". Numerous letters from the Department of Community Development requesting that the Temple property be handed over by a certain date were received. Fortunately it was through the tenacity of the then Trustees and Officials who stubbornly refused to sign away the Temple and ground that the hallowed place of worship still stands today.
In the meantime hundreds of families were forced to move out of Cato Manor. Overnight the Temple was robbed of the majority of its devoted Congregation. The Families who found it convenient to visit the Cato Manor Hindu Temple now found it difficult to regularly attend Tamil classes and Prayer meetings, especially if they did not have their own transport.
In the meantime, the dedicated officials of the Cato Manor Hindu Temple ensured that the upkeep of the Buildings and the continuation of all Religious Festivals continued. The Idols are still given their daily ritual cleansing (abishegam). The resident priest continued to recite the mantras with Religious fervour. It is indeed most encouraging that Devotees who had grown up in the Area continue to attend important Prayer Services for their own Blessing and in Memory of their Parents and Forebears for whom the Temple was an integral part of life.
This Temple has over the years withstood all the Trials and Tribulations it experienced. The notorious Group Areas Act and the depopulation of the Area did not deter the Temple from going forward. There is a group of dedicated and commited young members who are always striving to improve the status of the Temple. Because we were situated in the middle of nowhere, for many years, our Congregation dropped in numbers. We depend on the contributions that the Devotees make to the Temple. This contribution had also dropped. This did not stop us from moving ahead. Many families, over the years have made substantial donations to help the Temple Committee keep the Temple in the pristine Condition it is in presently. We want to thank all our Devotees and Donors for their support and contributions made over the many years. May our residing deity, Sri Muthuliganatha, be with them always.