Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C

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Tamil Hindus in KawZulu-Natal (South Africa) - Alleyn Diesel, 2000
Kavadi in the South African Cult of Murukan - Dr. Sarres Padayachee

Tamil Federation
of KwaZulu Natal

Thamizh Munnetra Kazhagam of South Africa - Ordinary Tamilians doing extraordinary things for Tamil - Learning a language - any language - is easier when one is constantly exposed to the language. Because of the unique problem of Tamilians in South Africa, the importance of watching Tamil films and listening to Tamil songs are heightened.
Learning the letters, theory, grammar and sentence construction make the best sense when looked at in context. Films and music do that whilst also entertaining.

Tamil Youth Organisation,
South Africa

Tamil Federation GP
Tamil Federation - Western Cape
Tamil Youth South Africa
Laudium Tamil Association
KwaZulu-Natal condemns genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka, 20 February 2009
Pongu Thamizh in South Africa - June 2008
Maveerar Naal, 2007
Durban Tamils protest against Sri Lanka's Rights violations, June 2006
South African Tamils protest against LTTE ban by EU, May 2006

Tamil Afrika

M.K.Eelaventhan in South Africa: 'Tamil plight like era of apartheid in SA' - June 2007
People Against Sri Lankan Oppression. (PASLO) -Press Release 14 November 1998 - We were shocked, but not surprised, at the statement made by Mrs Kumaratunga in an interview on South African Television, stating that the Tamil people of Sri Lanka are not the original people of the country. It is disgusting for a head of state to make such a statement, insinuating that the people who have lived in Ceylon for thousands of years, are suddenly declared to be aliens in the land of their birth because they happen to be Tamil..."

South Africa President Mandela at UN General Assembly on 21 September 1998 and Response by Sri Lanka President Kumaratunga

Kwazulu-natal based Tamil Eelam Support Movement Demonstration - 9 March 1998

background: Tamil Eelam Support Movement Concert "God is Silent"

Constitution of the Republic of South Africa - 1996 - Founding Provisions
First Tamil TV Service Launched in South Africa, 23 July 2004 ".. Television service for South Africa's more than half a million strong Tamil community was launched..."
Ethnologue Database - South Africa
Kavadi in the South African Cult of Murukan - Dr. Sarres Padayachee
Tamil Language and Murukan Worship in South Africa

Samie Music

South African Statistics

Tamils - a Nation without a State

South Africa - தென்னாபிரிக்கா
- an estimated 250,000 Tamils live in South Africa -
about 70% in Kwazulu-Natal

Remembering Black July '83 - South Africa
South African Tamils commemorate Black July'83 - 25 July 2008

Tamil Culture and Language in South Africa

Mathavakrishnan Mudeliar (Kajan)

(formerly of South Africa, an active member of the Tamil community in Sydney. member of the Australian Tamil Federation)

Courtesy Tamil Federation of KwaZulu Natal

The indentured Indians arrived in South Africa in 1860 onwards from all parts of southern and eastern India and various factors motivated them. For most it was a case of escaping from conditions of extreme poverty and its resultant misery and disease, while others were spurred by ambition or a sense of adventure. Coming as they did from all parts of India different languages and cultures were present among the immigrants. There were a few Christians and a small number of Muslims, but the majority were Hindus belonging to different caste systems.

The indentured or immigrant Indians were followed by other groups known as passenger Indians ( as they paid their own passage ) mainly to live and conduct their commercial activities. The majority of passenger Indians were Muslims and spoke Gujerati and Urdu, while the indentured Indians spoke Tamil, Telegu and Hindi. Some of the Gujerati- speaking passenger Indians was of the Hindu faith.

The descendants of indentured workers in the sugarcane fields of Natal and of the passenger Indians are now part of South Africa's heterogeneous population. Until the beginning of the twentieth century it was still necessary, for obvious reasons, to differentiate between passenger and indentured Indians. But the remarkable progress of the community as a whole in economic and educational spheres has made this differentiation unnecessary and in 1963 the Government was able to introduce legislation that placed all Indians in South Africa on an equal footing.

The Indian immigrants brought with them to South Africa the heritage of an ancient caste system. Each caste was a distinct, exclusive social entity that bound a member from birth to death. The caste system was characterised by a strict hierarchy and contact between the different castes brought unforgivable disgrace. That those on the lower rungs of the hierarchy emigrated as indentured labourers is understandable; that any one of elevated position should choose to do so, despite this involving social contact with those of low caste, even sharing amenities, is remarkable and indicates how compelling the economic and other factors were. It also reflects a degree of adaptability, particularly when seen in the traditional Indian context.

The adaptability, the capacity to accept the realities of life, is characteristic of South African Indians. They found that the caste system did not work in south Africa and from the beginning adapted themselves to the differing circumstances. A few isolated attempts were made to institute a village caste system, but these were soon abandoned when the young people left for urban areas to seek employment and were influenced by Western cultural and economic concepts. Now-a-days the caste system is virtually non-existent with the exception of a few Hindu communities that continue to practise endogamy.

It is reasonable to assume that the Indians, because they rejected the caste system in favour of a Western way of life, would also tend to reject their faith. But this is not so. The Hindu religion has more than 75% of the Indians as adherents, while the remainder, more than 20% are of the Islamic faith and the rest Christians and other faiths, the Indian community has thus retained its essentially Oriental character in many vital respects, despite western cultural influences.

Many Indians speak English as it enables them to overcome language barriers in their business dealings with those who speak other Indian languages and with members of the other national groups. English has in fact also become the language of social communication within the Indian community and many young Indians hardly speak their mother tongue at all. English also dominates the field of education, so that were not for the efforts of certain cultural groups, the survival of the Indian languages would be jeapardised. However, the Indians in South Africa have always been able to retain vital contact with the age-old traditions and customs of their own culture.The Indians are a compassionate people and they are always ready to make financial sacrifices. This is part of their cultural and religious background. With sanguine enthusiasm and robust faith the early Indians taxed their own scanty means to promote and nurture the Tamil culture and language not only for their children but also for the generations to follow. The majority of the Indian immigrants of the nineteenth century arrived in South Africa with little else but the clothes they wore. Today, because of the economic opportunities open to them, their position is in no way comparable with that of their forebears or of their compatriots in other countries. Well -paid respectable positions have been open to all and many have their own commercial enterprises, while several have become millionaires. In addition to the continued general support given by the Indian community the Indian commercial community has been generous and donations from Indian trading enterprises assist the cultural, religious and educational progress of the community. Individual traders and commercial enterprises also make contributions towards erecting and maintaining mosques, temples and schools.

In order to propagate the language they started Tamil schools in their homes by gathering a few children together in the evening. The only reader in use in the early days was the " Aritchuvadi " which was used from the beginning to the end, and whoever completed the whole reader with success was regarded as reasonably learned in Tamil. With the establishment of various organisations in different parts of the country , Tamil schools were established on modern lines. New readers graded from 1 to 6 were imported from India.

It must be noted that nearly all the Tamils of the early period spoke only Tamil and hardly knew English. As a source of communication and t give news about the country adopted, as well as India the first Tamil newspaper - VIVEKA BANU - was introduced. The Tamils read this with avid interest. This came to an end when the principal editor went back to India. The 1930's saw the appearance of another Tamil newspaper - SENTHAMIL SELVAN - that satisfied the desire of the Tamils for news in their own language. Several other publications followed but they were short-lived for want of material support. The Tamil immigrants pursued, in a modest form, aspects, of their culture, at the same time exposing their children to them. They spoke their mother tongue within the confines of the barracks compound and outside and worshipped their chosen Deity at their simple make - shift temples. Some of the children were fortunate enough to receive the rudiments of Tamil from educated elders who may be counted among the many unsung personalities of early Tamil education. In spite of steady progress being maintained, Tamil leaders began to express concern about the future of Tamil education, because they feared that, as a strong priority was given to English education and there was motivation for it, the promotion of Tamil education would be neglected. More Tamil leaders emerged to promote Tamil culture vigorously.

To sustain interest and to keep the language alive, organisations like the Natal Tamil Vedic Society have established Eisteddfod committees which organise elocution, drama and music on a competitive basis for the pupils attending Tamil schools, especially in the small towns and suburbs.

Whilst the spoken language has suffered from environmental changes, other features of Tamil culture have remained intact up to the present day. A number of factors helped in this direction. In recent years religious organisations and cultural bodies, upon providing a well-motivated request, may receive government funding for the promotion of culture. Cultural bodies with meaningful names created for the training and promotion of music and the arts are to be found throughout South Africa where Tamils live in appreciable numbers. Special functions are organised for the presentation of modern music or Katcheri (classical music and song recitals). A number of dance schools have been opened at which training is given by tutors who made a special study of the art in India.

An important aspect of the Tamils social life in South Africa revolves around the observance of cultural traditions, which include weddings, funeral rites, amongst others the various festivals, and poojays such as the Adi and Puratassi months. Tamil weddings are well organised and conducted timeously amidst music appropriate to the occasion. At any of these weddings, one would see a colourful spectacle of South Indian women gracefully attired in saris, approved by their culture.

Hindu women in South Africa, like their counterparts in South India, represent a resilient aspect of Tamil life, as it is she who makes up the home. In every Tamil home religion is a dominant idiom as it is with the other sections of the Hindu community. A room or part of it is set aside for daily worship before a sacred lamp and she is in complete charge of it.

South Africa is presently undergoing a new order where the different races are coming in close contact with one another, learning together and working together and all this would be expected to change the lifestyle of every South African citizen. In spite of the acculturation that is taking place, important features of ethnic cultures would continue to be promoted. Indian culture in general and that of the Tamils in particular, which is of great antiquity, possesses a lasting richness in human values and the spirit - elevating features of culture brought to South Africa by the Indian immigrants continue to be pursued, promoted and nurtured.

Wherever Indians settled, their approach was one of selecting, synthesizing and harmonising with the best in all fields of thinking and endeavour. This involved the synthesizing and harmonising of old ways and new: orthodox and unorthodox; sacred and secular; religion, science and mysticism; and most importantly, the synthesizing of western, eastern and indigenous cultures and traditions. Yet in all these cross-cultural exchanges, their roots remained and weathered many storms and continue to do so.


1. Fiat Lux, Durban vol 2 1988
2.Kuppusami C,Tamil culture in South Africa.
3.Natal Tamil Vedic Society- Souvenir Brochure
4.The Department of Information, Pretoria: The Indian South African.
5.The South African Tamil Federation - 25th Anniversary Brochure

Kavadi in the South African Cult of Murukan - Dr. Sarres Padayachee (abstract of paper presented at the Third Murukan Conference, Kuala Lumpur 2-5 November 2003)

The indentured Indians who left India, the cradle of Hindu culture and mother of Hindu tradition, arrived in South Africa during the second half of the 19th Century. They brought with them a historic culture which was distinct from the dominant Western and indigenous black cultures in modes of worship and philosophy. Thus were the seeds of Hindu religio-cultural expression, which embraced a plethora of oral traditions, rituals and festivals, transplanted into a fecund African and colonial environment.

Despite their lack of literacy and schooling, the influences of Western and other cultures, the strictures and obstructions of the colonial and apartheid eras, and a profusion of socio-political and economic difficulties, these custodians of Hindu culture have retained their identity. These pioneers could not have imagined how their simple wood and iron temples would mushroom into major religious monuments symbolizing ultimate enlightenment.

Their committed perseverance gave rise to the birth of many Murugan temples which today stand as beacons of Hindu culture catering for the religious needs of the Murugan worshippers in the Kwa Zulu-Natal, Gauteng and Cape Provinces of South Africa. Amongst the many Murugan Temples in South Africa, the Sri Siva Soobramaniar Temple in Brake Village, Tongaat, and the Shree Siva Subramaniar Temple in Melrose truly enjoy the status of "pilgrim centres" where devotees assemble to pay homage to Lord Muruga.

Today, 142 years later, the unbroken continuity of the Murugan cult in South Africa has become an important component of popular Hinduism. This is evidenced when a vast assembly of Murugan worshippers from all walks of life gather to pay obeisance to Lord Muruga and fulfill their vows during the Tai Pucam, Sithiraa Paruvam and Punkuni Uttiram Kavadi festivals. The growing popularity of the Kavadi festivals also attracts observers from other ethnic milieus in a multi-cultural South Africa, including devotees from the black community. Devotees ascribe the growth of kavadi to the benefits that the kavadi bearer experiences in the form of better health, which many call a "new life", spiritual attainment and material prosperity.

This paper will investigate the Murugan cult in South Africa with special emphasis on the kavadi ritual as practiced at two historic temples viz. The Panguni Uththiram Kavady Festival as practised at the Sri Siva Soobramaniar Temple in Brake Village, Tongaat, KwaZulu-Natal and the Tai Pucam Kavady Festival as practised at the Shree Siva Subramaniar Temple in Melrose, Gauteng. In this context the pre-Kavady rituals, the main kavadi festival and the post-kavadi rituals will be dealt with. The paper will also include a brief synopsis of Skanda Sasthi as well as other Murugan cult practices not undertaken at the above-mentioned temples. The presentation will include visual information on the important Murugan shrines found in South Africa. A documentary video-recording of the kavadi festival and its component rituals as practiced at Brake Village will form part of the presentation.

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