HISTORY OF PRETORIA BHAJANAI MANDRAM.
The Kolapan family has a long history of involvement in religious and cultural activity. The mother of Ammakannu Kolapan popularly known as Mangaali Paathie was a very devoted lady and had a shrine for Marriamman in the old Indian location called Marabastad, Pretoria. When the area in Mooiplaats was given to the Indians under the group areas act and Laudium was given birth to in 1960, Mrs Ammakannu Kolapen had the first “temple” in Laudium situated at 293 Aquamarine street. This shrine was frequented by many devotees of different religious affiliations and the most famous visit was that of the renowned devotional singer Sri Pithukuli Murugadas .
The adults and children of the Kolapan family were actively part of the Laudium Tamil Association and took part in the fund raising initiatives, including concerts, of the association in order to build the Shivan Aalayam. The Bharathia Orchestra, was made up by many members but the majority came from the Kolapan family. The Orchestra donated their services to the Laudium Tamil Association by providing devotional music and erecting the “Manavara” for weddings at no cost to the association. This was mainly due to the efforts of Mr.Krishnasamy “Jimmy” Kolapan. Mr. Mahalingam Kolapen, elder brother of Dr. Rajgopal Kolapan, went to India to study Music and learnt to play the mridangam professionally. He married Srimathi Satyabhama Kolapen, a dance and music graduate of the renowned Kalakshetra Institution in Madras and they formed the famous Sangeetha Nataka Academy of dance and music which was responsible for many dance graduates in Gauteng. It is true to say that Srimathi Satyabhama Kolapen introduced the different forms of dance into many homes in South Africa spreading across linguistic divides.
The music ability and religious knowledge of the Kolapan family continuously grew due to their regular and continuous involvement in cultural and religious activity. Dr. Rajgopal Kolapan, after completing his medical degree in Cape Town regularly attended the Sunday morning Bhajan at the Shivan Aalayam. With the passing of time and the passing away of devotees like Mrs. Yogi Pillay of 11th Avenue Laudium, Mrs.? Chetty from Emerald Street Laudium, who were regular in the Sunday Morning Bhajan, Dr.R.Kolapan, Mr Neelan Padayachy, Vichitra Chetty, Bhavani Kolapan, Udesh Muruven, Bhuveneshvari Muruven, Manisha Dinna and Shaneil Dinna continued the Sunday morning bhajan in the Laudium Sivan Aalayam but introduced a different format to the bhajan and importantly included a discourse on religious and spiritual matters. Gradually other devotees joined “the group” and a “bhajan group” with a unique order and style of singing emerged.
The Ramakrishna centre of Laudium, headed by Professor Punkaj Joshi invited “the Bhajan Group” to participate in a Bhajan Semelin at the Seva Samaj Auditorium and insisted that the group has a name. Dr.R.Kolapan contacted Sri Nadarajan Sharma, who was the resident Priest of the Mariamman temple in Pretoria and a close friend of Dr. Kolapan , and asked him to suggest a name for the group. Sri Nadarajan Sharma called Dr. Kolapan the next day with the name: Pretoria Bhajanai Mandram which when translated means “the congregation of “sweet smelling people” from Pretoria searching for truth”. The name was immediately adored and all future activity of the group was done under the name “Pretoria Bhajanai Mandram” although the group was not officially formed.
Dr.Rajagopal Kolapan recognized the lack of spiritual education in Laudium and identified a great need to start meaningful religious education, if we were going to sustain our culture for future generations to enjoy. The group continued with its regular Sunday morning bhajan and introduced a discourse on Hinduism and the meaning of the bhajans the group sang during the Sunday morning bhajan, which totally transformed the group’s aspirations and image. The concept of discourses was introduced at every opportunity were the group sang and especially at the homes during the sixteen day bhajan after a death in a family. This effort introduced many new members to the group and the group steadily grew in numbers as well as depth of spiritual activity. The group sang at most of the temples in Gauteng and some in Mpumalanga and Kwa-Zulu Natal. The group also took part in all other religious activity of groups such as the Ramakrishna centre, Divine Life Society, the Sathya Sai organizations, The Sanathan Ved Dharma Sabha of Pretoria and Lenasia. The groupsinvolvement in chanting of the Hanuman Chalisa in Laudium, Benoni, Lenasia, and Palmridge and of note the presence of Morari Bapu at a celebration in Lenasia, popularized the efforts of the group which spread across linguistic barriers in order to promote Hindu dharma. The devotional fervour and commitment with which the group conducted themselves invited many admirers from radio and television and the groups appearances on national television and radio talk shows increased. The order of performing poojaa according to Aagamic tradition called “Shodasha Upachara”, as taught to us by Sri Nadarajan Sharma the resident priest of the Marriamman temple in Pretoria, was started and many young , devoted spiritual aspirants were attracted to the group because they know performed ritual with great inner understanding, bringing the realization that ritual is philosophy in action.
The divine plan or Leela of the lord is difficult and at most times impossible to comprehend. Pretoria Bhajanai Mandram’s popularity was increasing due to the groups uninterrupted efforts. The congregations at temple functions hosted by the group would enjoy the devotional rapture and the appropriate discourses, thoroughly. This new energy amongst devotees inspired the group to heights of devotional desire never experienced before and the idea of building a temple complex or institution catering for the greater physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual needs of a community was born.
In 1995 the “congregation” of Pretoria Bhajanai Mandram decided to formalize themselves and at a meeting held at Dr.Rajgopal Kolapan’s residence, 49 Maxwell Road Claudius, Pretoria where Swaami Brahmaananda of Malaysia was present to bless the formation of the organization, the organization was formed. The first officials of the organization was Dr.R.Kolapan(chairman -Claudius), Mr. Neelan Padayachy(Erasmia), Mr.Jayaram “Karthie” Kolapan(Laudium), Mrs. Vanie Nadar(Midrand –Johannesburg), Mrs. Premie Pillay(Midrand –Johannesburg), Mr. Surren ? Pillay(Erasmia), Mr. Rajen Chinsamy(Laudium), Mrs. Saris Pillay(Laudium), Dr. D. Archary(Laudium). The organization continued its religious activity and in 1997 was officially registered as a company not for gain and attained non-profit organization status. Subsequently received vat and income tax exemption from the South African Revenue Services and is now a Public benefit organization.
The main aims of the organization was to build an Ayyappan temple, a retirement village, youth facilities, medical facilities for the elderly and to render other community welfare and social services. An important aspiration was to learn about our religious ceremonies, tradition and other cultural practices and to teach this in a meaningful and practical manner. The members subscribed to the philosophy that they would change whatever they were previously incorrectly doing out of ignorance of what was correct and meaningful. The organization vowed to raise money for all its spiritual activities through Sattvic (spiritual and dharmic , righteous means) and began the a tradition that members would support the group morally, loyally and financially before expecting others to do so. Every member made a generous monthly contribution that afforded the organization the opportunity to purchase the property to build Shree Ayyappaa Kshetram.
Acquisition of the property and drawing of plans
In 1998 Mr.Neelan Padayachy was doing government census in the Pretoria West region and came to 354 Vlakplaats owned by Mr.Adrian van Niekerk, whose wife was terminally ill with cancer, who enquired about a potential buyer for his property measuring 6,3 hectares of farm land, which included 250m river frontage. A month before this the bhajan group visited a site in Sunderlanridge measuring 1,1 hectares and could not afford to buy this property that cost R140 000. Neelan informed the group of this land surrounded by beautiful rolling hills and one Sunday morning after Bhajan the group visited the farm and immediately felt that this was the place to build Lord Ayyappaa’s divine abode. Dr. Kolapan visited Mr. van Niekerk who enquired why a Doctor would be interested in farming. When Dr.Kolapan told him that the group wished to build a temple on this property, Mr.Van Niekerk started crying. At first Dr.Kolapan taught that Mr van Niekerk found the idea of building a temple on his property offensive. Dr.Kolapan then asked Mr. van Niekerk why he was crying to which he answered
“I had a dream that a Hindu temple was going to be built on my property”.
Mrs. Van Niekerk, who was emaciated, fragile and weak earnestly urged
Dr.Kolapan to buy the property. After this meeting Mr van Niekerk was no
longer interested in selling the property to any one else. He initially wanted
R500 000.00 for the land and with further negotiation the price was reduced to
R440 000.00 Miraculously after seeing this property that cost R440 000 the group
sentiment was that this property was affordable and attainable, in contrast to
what they thought the previous month.. At this stage Pretoria Bhajanai
Mandram only had R13 000.00 accumulated from selling a Tamil Calender in
Pretoria. Mr van Niekerk wanted R40 000.00 to show his children that we were
genuinely interested in buying the property. At a meeting held at Mr.
Therineelen (Gandhi) and Saris Pillay’s residence members were very emotional
about the inability of the group to finance the purchase of the property and
members were prepared to take out small loans on their properties to finance
the purchase . Miss Premila Moodley(Laudium) made the famous statement that
rang true for he rest of the project: “ If this property is destined for us to build
this temple then it would happen by His means” . Dr.Kolapan had a friend at the
health department draw a “plan” of a temple , an old age home and sports
facilities, utilizing the 6,3 heactares of land, before the purchase of the property
and the first person he shared this idea with was Mr. Rogen Pregalathen
Moodliyaar(Laudium) , who was a long term school and family friend ,who
pledged his full moral and financial support for the “envisaged development”.
Three great devotees who are very involved in the Mandram’s activities namely
Mr. Shaun Gungudoo (Claudius), Mr. Satchidananda (Satchoo) Mathen (Claudius) and Mr. Ranganathan Kolapen (Laudium) contributed to secure the R40 000.00. The group could not secure finances to buy the property and communicated this to Mr.Van Niekerk who was under a lot of pressure from his family to sell the property to two other buyers who offered more money for the property. But he was determent to sell it to us because of his divine dream. He sold the property to us and took a bond in his favour on the property and decided to personally grant the loan to Pretoria Bhajanai Mandram and we paid him R6000.00 a month.
The next hurdle was to get the land re-zoned for the development of a temple complex as the previous zoning was only for agricultural use. KWP Architects and Project Managers (Izaak Lots , Piet Vosloo and Alma Dubisane in Pretoria) together with PD Naidoo and associates( Demsey Naidoo, Steven Joubert, Anton Middleton and Vijay Dhana in Johannesburg) were involved in the site development plan that was submitted to the Centurion Town Council, which included a temple , devotee dwellings, 18 dwellings for the elderly, library and sports facilities. The Centurion Town council informed us that new recent regulations required an environmental impact study before they could consider the application and the estimated cost of this study was approximately R50 000. 00. This was needed by the department of Agriculture, Conservation and Environment situated in Johannesburg. Dr. Kolapan at that time was Acting Director of Health for Pretoria and attended meetings for the department in Johannesburg and on one occasion casually met a fellow Hindu colleague, Dr. X, the deputy director of health representing the West Rand Area , at a meeting .
Dr. Kolapan contacted the agricultural department and to his surprise a devotee who attends the Melrose temple regularly remembered the groups singing at the temple and Dr,Kolapan in particular . He advised Dr.Kolapan to speak to the newly appointed director of the department, whom he did not know, who was due to take up the appointment in the next two weeks. Dr Kolapan secured and appointment with the new director and went to Johannesburg to meet him. To Dr. Kolapan’s surprise the new director was the Dr. X. he met at the health department meeting. The “new director” was very sensitive and sympathetic to the financial and spiritual plight of the organization and filled in an Exemption form stating that the Environmental impact study was not necessary and this effort saved the organization R50 000.00, time and effort and after 18 long months approval to utilize the property for the building of the temple was conditionally approved by the Centurion Town Council.
Dr.Kolapan made contact with Sri Kaanipayur Namboothiripad Krishnan from Kerala, South India in November ? 1998, who hails from a family tradition of temple architects or Stapathis, and whose father was involved in the drawing of plans for the restoration of the Sabarimala temple, in Kerala after the fire in 1950. Dr. Kolapan enquired about his availability to assist with the drawing of the plans for the Ayyappan temple, to which he replied that he was very busy in Holland and Germany and could not come until the following year June. However in January 1999 Mr Krishnan contacted Dr. Kolapan and said that his trip to Holland has been cancelled and he could come to South Africa within 2 weeks. Mr. Krishnan organized his visa and paid for his ticket and was in South Africa In ? Febuary 1999 without any discussion of payment. He drew the plans for the Ayyappan Temple on the Holy Night of Maha Shivaraathri, after visiting the site and placing the temple in the correct position as per vaastu and aagama saastra (treaties on temple construction). Mr Krishnan had a meeting with KWP Architects in Pretoria and members of Pretoria Bhajanai Mandram and outlined the reasons for the specific structure of the Ayyappan temple and he received an assurance from the officials of Pretoria Bhajanai Mandram and KWP Architects that the temple would be constructed exactly as per the plans drawn by Mr Krishnan.
Dr. Kolapan became anxious about payment for Mr Krishnan’s services as the group had very limited funds for payment. Finally after completing the drawings Dr. Kolapan insisted on Mr Krishnan’s account to which he replied “ I come from a family gifted for drawing plans for the abode of the divine and we are particularly concerned about ensuring that temples are properly constructed according to our scriptural injunctions. If your group decided to pay for my air travel expenses that would be acceptable, or if they wished to give a little more for the drawing that will be also acceptable and even if they could not pay any amount that too is acceptable”. The group paid for his air ticket and gave him R10 000.00 for his services which totaled about R14 500.00. At that point in time the organization had R27 000.00.
The final drawings for Centurion Town Council was done by KWP Architects(Pretoria), P.D.Naidoo and Associates (Mr.Demsey Naidoo – Johannesburg) provided the structural engineering expertise, Paresh Chiba and associates(Erasmia-Pretoria) did the quantity surveying, and different building contractors did separate phases of the construction.