GURU SUBRAMANIAM 25 December 1919 - 2 June 1988 The following article is taken from the Lenasia Branch's brochure which was presented on occasion of the 40th Anniversary on Saturday 13 November 2010 Guru Subramanian's family heritage can be traced back to Madurai, South India where it was in the family tradition to become priests. He was born of devout Tamil parents on 25 December 1919, in 23 rd Street, Vrededorp Johannesburg. He received his early Tamil education from the late Senior Masana and the late Thiru Arumugam Frances. In 1936 he moved to Durban where he worked on a farm owned by the family. He married Thirumathi Salatchee Munian and thereafter moved back to Johannesburg where he lived in Nursery Road in Fordsburg. He began to conduct temple services and was encouraged by his wife who was deeply devoted to her religion and family. He received his religious training from Sri Mari of India, Sri Vasugar of Kerala, South India and the late Senior Masana. He also received instructions in the Guru Mantra, Yantra, Agamas and Tantra philosophies. In 1969 Guru Soobramaniam moved to Lenasia, Statice Street. Guru Subramaniam's knowledge of the Tamil culture and religion was unsurpassed and this knowledge prompted many western scholars to seek his advice, guidance and opinion on the Hindu culture and religion. Such was his knowledge that it prompted the Rand Afrikaans University to contact him to help them in their research into Hindu culture and philosophy which in their letter to him stated that his help was noteworthy and indispensable. An honorary doctorate was conferred on Guru Subramaniam by the Rand Afrikaans University. Guru Subramaniam according to the noteworthy historian Dr.Cyril Hromnik was one of the few Tamil or Hindu religious leaders who could attest to the authenticity of the Nelspruit historical site on which a huge Lingam was found, this in turn added value to the theory that early Dravidians traversed South Africa. Guru Subramaniam attained Samadhi on 2 June 1988, his lasting legacy is the temple that we worship in and the greatest compliment we can pay to him is to worship Sivaperumaan and to propagate our Guruswamigals's teachings in any way that we can. Interesting facts. There are some common threads that can be seen when one compares the lives of our Master and Guru Subramaniam, our Master formed our great institution when he saw the performing of unnecessary rituals and animal sacrifices in the name of our culture and religion, he saw that ordinary people being mistreated, used and abused by temple administrators and spiritual leaders, he saw the abominable caste system as practiced in India being brought to our shores and practiced here. Our Master saw the mass conversions of Tamils and Hindus to Christianity and hence formed our great institution to stop all of the above. Even before Guru Subramaniam's acceptance of Saivism he abhorred animal sacrifice, he despised anything and everything that could be construed as the practice of the caste system as his home was open to all and sundry at any time of the day or night. In Lenasia in the late 60's and early 70's our religion and culture was something that was not given much thought and unnecessary ritualistic practices by unscrupulous so called priests was rife, the conversions to Christianity was on the increase as the Christian pastors etc saw the void and took full advantage of this, the prayers that today we take for granted such as the Maha Sivarathri Prayer, the Maha Sakthi prayer etc were almost nonexistent. In this period that can best be described as a dark one Guru Subramaniam formed the branch, it was as if a bright light was switched on eradicating the darkness that had engulfed Lenasia, here was a man and an organisation that accepted all, never asked for and never took money for self enrichment, that observed prayers and rituals that had meaning, introduced the congregational worship which was nonexistent at that time and introduced a foreign concept that there are no middlemen between ordinary men and God. The Saiva Sithantha Sungum, Lenasia Branch under the leadership of Guru Subramaniam was solely responsible for the renaissance of the Tamil religion and culture during this tumultuous period. Just like our Master gathered a band of young men and started the renaissance of Saivism in South Africa, Guru Subramaniam gathered young men and women, initially from his family and then from the community and started the renaissance of not only Saivism but our culture as well. Where did it all start?Unfortunately nothing or very little was written down in those early years of how the Sungum actually started or what was the spark that ignited the Saivite flame but from interviews with members and family that were close to Guru the following is accepted as being accurate or very close to actual events. In 1968 Guru, Thirumathi Salatchee and Thiru Nadasen Phillip who was Guru's elder brother travelled to Durban to attend the funeral of Thiru Coopasamy Munian who was the father of Thirumathi Salatchee, it was at this funeral that they first witnessed the Sungum's procedure and system. The reason that the Sungum conducted the funeral was due to the fact that Thiru Govindsamy (Goin) Munian (Thirumathi Salatchee's brother) was a member of Head Office and insisted that the Sungum do the necessary, he was in fact quite a forceful but colourful character and although not being the eldest his word carried. Prior to this funeral and during many visits by both Guru and Thiru Nadasen Phillips, Thiru Goin Munian tried his level best to convince both about the virtues of the Saiva Sithantha philosophy and system and one can be assured that there were many lively debates in the Munian household. One many never know what really turned the tide in favour of the Sungum system but the Transvaal contingent returned home suitably impressed; they went back to Durban for the memorial and returned with a tape of the Sungum's keerthanais (music) which was given to Thiru Nadasen Phillip. He in turn asked Thiru Kista Moonsamy to listen to the tape as his intention was to request the Sungum to officiate at the wedding of his niece on his wife's side Kanama Kundan who was betroth to his nephew Theva Phillip who was the eldest son of Guru Subramaniam Phillip. Due to his powers of persuasion as well as being the elder brother Thiru Nadasen Phillip persuaded Guru to agree to the wedding being conducted by the Sungum. Thiru Goin Munian possibly sensing bigger things in the offing together with his elder brothers Thiru Soobramoney(Frank) and Thiru Jagathesan (Juggie) made most of the arrangements that made it possible for the Sungum members to come up to the Transvaal, keep in mind that this period was in the dark days of apartheid, not only travel arrangements were to be made but also “permits” had to be obtained because “non whites” were not allowed unhindered travel between Natal and Transvaal. One can just imagine the excitement that must have been generated by this wedding as it was the first Sungum wedding to be conducted in Transvaal. The wedding was held in the Phillip family's home which at that time was in Statice Street. Stories abound of the number of people who attended and as large as the tents that were erected it was simply not enough to accommodate the invited guests.
Suffice to say the invited guests and hosts alike were really impressed by the simplicity and the divinity of the Sungum wedding ceremony, so impressed that Thiru Nadasen arranged for the Sungum to come back to Transvaal the following March (1970) to conduct the wedding of Neela Phillip to Devidas Vandayar. Incidentally both weddings were conducted by the then Spiritual Head Karunianandha Swamigal who personified humility and spirituality. The wedding took place on Saturday 27 March 1970 in the Tahiti cinema which at that stage was still a building that was a work in progress. Sri Karunianandha Swamigal requested to have service the following Sunday at the Tahiti cinema which was duly arranged, therefore the first Sungum service was held in the Tahiti cinema on Sunday 28 March 1970. After service everyone made their way back to Statice Street where all the Sungum members stayed and the Swami asked Guru if he could talk to some of the younger family members and Guru then arranged with Thiru Kista Moonsamy to gather the younger members to meet with Karunianandha Swamigal, this watershed moment took place in Dama Phillip's room. The five that met with Swami in no particular order were, Thiru Deva Phillip, Thiru Thangvel Kundan, Thiru Marnie Ramsamy, Thiru Kista Moonsamy and Thiru Devidas Vandayar. The Swami spoke about numerous attempts and subsequent failures to establish a branch of the Sungum in Transvaal, they had previously approached elder priests and such like without success and had now decided to change their strategy and approach younger people hence the meeting. The Swami assured the gathering that knowledge of Saivism was not important as that would follow but a branch should be started if all agree. At this time everyone was very impressed by what they had witnessed and it did not take much convincing for the five to agree. Furthermore they had been privileged to hear the addresses of Swami Navaler especially on the Saiva Sithantha philosophy which had really amazed and enthralled all who listened and they were also really impressed with the Sunday service. The problem the five envisaged was that none of them could read, write or speak Tamil; the Swami stated that they would consult with Guru Subramaniam to assist the five as he was well versed in Tamil. The one hour service recordings were sent from Durban and the five listened to them continuously and that's how our service started in Guru's lounge. One of the problems they initially faced was the fact that three of the members were in the catering field and only got onto the 1 am train for home and to get up and be ready for service at 9 am was not really feasible therefore service was held at 3pm. This resulted in further problems as having service at 3 pm meant that service was held after lunch and concentration levels were severely affected. The other problem was the difficulty in learning the keerthanais, guru virthams and guru vaichiums, one of the ideas was to translate Tamil into Afrikaans and then to English which as strange as it seems was quite true at the time. The breakthrough came about when Thiru Jagathesan Munian (Juggie) a former school teacher and brother of Thirumathi Salathcee came to Lenasia for a holiday, he advised writing the keerthanais on large brown sheets and translating word for word in rudimentary form and this resolved the problem of learning. The five played the tapes over and over resulting in the keerthanais being imprinted in their minds and ringing in their ears even at work. Swami also stated that it was not feasible or desirable for the branch to operate independently of the women folk, the Sungum was basically a family oriented organisation therefore it was only proper for the women folk to join. It was not an easy task to get the women folk involved but this eventually happened, the members at this point were as follows Guru, Thirumathi Salatchee Phillip, Thirumathi Neela Vandayar, Thirumathi Kanama Phillip, Thirumathi Rosie Moonsamy, Thirumathi Paarie Kundan, Thiru Devidas Vandayar, Thiru Kista Moonsamy, Thiru Theva Phillip, Thiru Thangvel Kundan, Thiru Marnie Ramsamy and Thirumathi Phylla Ramsamy. It was also becoming unfeasible to continue having service in Statice Street as the membership was growing but there were disruptions due to family visitations which were only natural therefore the Subramoney temple was approached to use its premises. This also proved to be problematic as there were times when the Subramoney temple had functions and prayers and the Sungum members had to wait till these were finished. Even during this time at the Subramoney temple service still started at 3 pm. Due to the problems experienced Thiru Radha Naidoo who was the principle of Park Primary was approached for permission to use one of the classrooms, he graciously acquiesced and that's how service started in Park Primary.Guru appointed Thiru Kista Moonsamy as the first chairperson, Thiru Devidas Vandayar as the first secretary and Thirumathi Rosie Moonsamy as the first treasurer. The 3 pm service was not ideal as it was tiring in the afternoons as well as there were 22 branches of the Sungum starting service exactly at 9 am therefore it was decided to do the same at the Park Primary. Thiru Nad Ragaval who was one of the first members to join, carved a Sivalingam out of wood and this was used for all the years leading up to the installation of the permanent Sivan Silai (Sivalingam), the wooden Sivalingam is still in existence. It is interesting to note that this Sivalingam was transported to and from the Park Primary to Statice Street in a baby's pram. To get the community involved and to increase membership the members did intensive cottage services; spoke to friends and relatives about joining the new branch of the Sungum which paid off handsomely as membership increased dramatically. This resulted in firstly an additional classroom bringing the number of classrooms to two and then another to three. This must be viewed as a major achievement as the newly formed Lenasia branch was viewed by many as an outcast and pariah Organisation as the system followed was considered by many to be revolutionary as well as contrary to “Hindu” principles and to compound matters the Sunday congregational service was very akin to the Sunday church service. To quote the words of Karunianandha Swamigal when he spoke to the 5 pioneer members “you will advance spiritually whilst following the Saivite philosophy but you will become an outcast in your community because Saivism is not a religion attuned to the majority who favour ritualism”. The Swami also stated that family members will also turn their backs, brother against brother and so on. These words uttered by the Swami proved to be quite true in the years following the formation of the Lenasia Branch. To many in the community this was a “new religion” and the Sungum was treated with disdain and contempt, it is ironic to note that Saivism is indeed the oldest religion in the world and most other religions are basically off shoots of Saivism. The first function that was held in Park Primary was Karthigai Theebam which was conducted by Swami Navalar. This function like all Sungum functions was an eye opener in those early days, all the members and the community only knew of Deepavali and the celebration thereof and here was a function that was not only a Tamil celebration but had so much religious and spiritual meaning as well. Guru requested that all members should observe Karthigai Theebam together with the membership but on the day after they should do the same in their homes (Veedu Theebam) and this was carried out and one can only imagine the reactions of neighbours when they saw the Sungum members light agals around their homes and then singing the Karthigai Theebam keerthanais at a time and date that was not “appropriate”. It is a testament to them that this practice is now accepted and wholeheartedly celebrated by other Tamil organisations and it is one of the highlights of the Tamil yearly festivals. A highlight of 1972 was hosting the Kavi Yogi Maharishi Suddhanantha Bharathi who was brought to South Africa by Head Office; this astute dynamo of a man was a revelation both as a practising master of yoga, great poet and freedom fighter but also for his philosophical treatise on life and all that made life interesting. The Maharishi portrayed all that was great and wonderful of out great culture and religion, although a past master at yoga, the publisher of 500 books , travelled around the world 7 times and a world renowned lecturer he was a down to earth person with a great love for his fellow man. During his lifetime he held the position of President of the World Yoga Board, President of the Dieticians Society and many more other exalted positions. One of the many highlights of those early years was hosting Pithukuli Murugadas for a fund raising show. Contrary to popular belief it was not the Lenasia branch that brought him to South Africa but another organisation which for all intents and purposes shall remain nameless, due to certain differences with the promoter and the organisation there was a breakdown in relations and the show was offered to the Sungum. The members had a maximum of 6 days to sell the tickets and they did this with gusto and forbearance that can only be admired, they went door to door and often had unpleasant experiences but they persevered and realised a significant amount of money. As a point of interest Pithukuli Murugadas was hosted by the Sungum on another occasion albeit a few years after the first show. The visit and lectures by the Hawaiian Swami Subramuniyaswami Gurudeva was a revelation in that it showed that Saiva Sithantha was a religion for all and broke all barriers whether it be class,colour and or creed. People who attended the Gurudeva's lectures were amazed at his insight and grasp of Saivism. It was his publication of Hindusm today that took Saivism to the mainstream of the Western realm, prior to this publication most of the Westerners did not even realise that there was a religion and a way of life called Saivism. He was a shining example of awakening and wisdom, recognized worldwide as one of Hinduisms foremost masters. (Taken from the Hinduism Today website). Even though the branch was still in its infancy in the early 70's it dawned on Guru and the officials that a temple was going to be needed in the very near future, the congregation had grown in leaps and bounds and the Park Primary school would soon be inadequate for a large congregations' needs. Plans were drawn for a temple and a suitable large tract of land was sought in Lenasia. How the present land that the temple is built came to be the land that was sought after is somewhat contentious, there is a school of thought that this land was earmarked for the Kali Amman temple that Guru officiated in and the land was then purchased by the Sungum but there is another school of thought that this land was earmarked and purchased by the Sungum with no connection to the Kaali Amman temple at all. Whatever the case may be the land was bought by the Sungum and this was signed and sealed by Swami Sivananda Navalar who became the spiritual head after Sri Karunianandha Swamigal attained Samadhi and GuruArnajellum Pillay who was the General Secretary of the Sungum at that time. The actual date that the transaction took place was on 22 August 1974. It must have taken great courage for Guru to make such a decision, although he was still only 55 years old it must have been a daunting challenge as very few men make such brave decisions at such an age. One can only speculate as to whether this was a wholly supported decision by all interested parties but the reality of the matter was that Guru was going to shoulder much of the burden. Although very few records exist the building proper probably started in 1982. One can only imagine the excitement that gripped the membership when they heard about the temple building project. There must have been those that did not doubt for a second that the project would reach fruition and there must been those that doubted this venture would succeed. To those that knew Guru well must have had no doubt whatsoever, his character was such that he probably felt he could do anything and everything, his faith and his passion must have been awe inspiring. It must be stated that the major donors would not have got involved if it was not for Guru's leadership and acumen, there are many donors, some of them from other denominations who donated large sums of money not caring whether it was for the Sungum or not, all they needed to know was that the money was given to Guru and they knew it was going to be used for a good and worthy cause. One must take note of an interesting quirk that Guru had, if anyone gave a donation, be it cash or cheque, he would never take the money but would ask a third person to take and place it in a safe place. Strange but true. After a number of years of really hard work, frustration, stress, expectation and disappointments the temple for most part was completed by 1988. Sadly Guru Subramaniam only had a little time to savour the fruits of his, the officials and members' hard work, dedication and devotion in building the temple because he sadly passed away on 2 June 1988 after an automobile accident.It is highly debatable whether the Lenasia branch of the Sungum would have survived, without the active participation and presence of someone of the calibre of Guru Subramaniam? His knowledge, his stature and the respect he commanded all contributed to the success of this new venture and in many ways a “new religion" in Lenasia. One can only imagine and theorize as to the thoughts and challenges that Guru faced, would the people that followed him previously follow him now? Would he lose the respect and the love that people had for him? Was he letting down all that had prized and had great faith in ritualism? Did he have the strength to face adversity and would those that started this great new venture falter at the first hurdle and leave him to face difficulties alone? The answers as we know today were that he faced all challenges and won every single one of them. Those that have met and interacted with Guru will testify that he was not an easy person to understand and in fact he was quite a complex person. Guru's code of ethics and principles were unique in that they were of a higher calibre than most and Guru at times unrealistically expected all to share the same ethics and principles. The result was that when he did not see the same in others he became very annoyed and Guru's annoyance was not a very pretty sight and I seriously doubt that if anyone escaped his wrath at some point or the other. It is said that all great men and women are driven and in their desire to achieve they sometimes forget the frailties of those that look up to them. In saying that we must also recognise that Guru did not hold a grudge against anyone, as quickly as he flared up he was just as quick to equally forget and continue as if nothing had happened. I seriously doubt if there will ever be another great soul that will change the course of history as Guru did and if one examines exactly what Guru did in his lifetime then the reader will know exactly what I am referring to. Off course Guru was ably supported by a truly wonderful soul, his gracious wife Thirumathi Salatchee, how many of us still remember that wonderful welcoming smile, a dignified lady that never complained at the numerous visitors that traversed her home at all hours of the day and night, a ready cup of tea and a hot plate of food for all including the beggars who came to her door daily. Guru's meeting place was not the lounge but his bedroom, when visitors met with Guru they used to be astounded by his knowledge and dynamism and most forgot that time had passed by and the hour was late because of the interesting conversations, this led to this good lady being kept up sitting alone in the dark in the lounge. You may question why they met in Guru's bedroom and the answer is quite simply that Guru's family is quite large and all other bedrooms and the lounge were utilised by the Phillip children. How many of us know that when the Durban members came to Lenasia all stayed in Guru's house, sometimes up to 15, when this happened all bedrooms were given up to the members and all the Phillip boys either slept in the lounge or in the back rooms. Now when I think of Thirumathi Salatchee I am astounded by her perseverance, her patience, her understanding and above all her love she had for Guru Subramanian, for her family and the Sungum. This wonderful lady used to get down on her hands and knees and scrubbed the temple toilets, the temple proper, swept and watered the temple yard and never once complained, to put that into perspective we have a hired a caretaker to do all that she did on her own. I wish I had the opportunity just for one small moment in time to say thank you because I firmly believe without Thirumathi Salatchee there would not have been a branch of the Sungum today for all of us to worship and flourish in. One can never adequately qualify and quantify what Guru Subramanaim, Thirumathi Salatchee and the Sungum meant to all those that were looking for salvation.
Points of interest: · Thiru Nadasen Phillips although being the elder brother was not into religion as much as his younger brother but he was very astute and knew that the old ways of ritualistic practice was becoming confusing for the younger generation and if something was not done quick enough then conversions would be the order of the day as was experienced during the early 1930's that which prompted our Master to form the Saiva Sithantha Sungum. This is probably one of the reasons that he used his influence with Guru to possibly change from the orthodox to Saiva Sithantha. · The branch owes a huge debt of gratitude to the musical group of the 70's especially Thirumathi Allima, Thirumathi B.Chetty, Thirumathi Kogie and Thirumathi Sindha. They travelled often to Lenasia and tutored the budding musical group,eventually the branch musical group were quite proficient in the renditions of our Master's keerthanais. · Guru Somasundram Marie Pillay, Spiritual Head of the Siva Gnana Sabay played the violin in those early fledgling days of the Lenasia Branch. · Giving out invitations in those days meant going door to door and personally handing out such invitations. · The popular methods of fund raising were cake sales and jumble sales, the latter became possible as a result of collecting clothes by going “door to door” for a period of 1 to 2 weeks and then having the actual sale, as a result of this interaction the Sungum became a household name. The members used to get together and sort out the clothing into different batches according to description and prices were attached, the clothes were then stored at Thiru Kista Moonsamy's house as his house was closest to the station. At 5 am the clothes and a fold up table were taken to the station and all the members met up and the sale would then start, 20c for a shirt, 30 cents for trousers etc and by 11 am most of the sales would have been made and the members would leave for home and a job well done. · The Sungum gained prominence and when Bishop Naidoo, the first Tamil Bishop came to Transvaal, the Sungum was the only Organisation that was invited to his reception.When invited to render a song, Yella Mathithinerum was sung and Guru translated, the Bishop then stated that it was a very appropriate and befitting song that was well suited to the occasion. · The Four Seasons was an independent group that was formed to alleviate the issues that arose when catering for meat and liquor was requested, the members who made up this group in no particular order were the late Norman Samuels, the late Thangvel Kundan, the late Gopal Kundan, the late Marnie Ramsamy, the late Harry Palani, the late Theva Phillip, Ronnie Madurai, Radha Govender, Gopal Naransamy,Maya Palani and Garson Naicker · It is difficult to ascertain exactly how the money was raised to build the temple as no documents exist from those early days especially during the building of the temple but suffice to say it took a lot of hard work by the members via the cake and jumble sales, donations from well wishers and funds raised by the Four Seasons. Even though the names of the well wishers who donated large sums of money are known their names will be withheld as some of them did not want their names to be known as well as there are multitudes of the less fortunate and the average person in the street who donated their hard earned money and to not mention their names would be a travesty. · The success of the branch in those early formative years can be attributed to the motto of serving the people first and foremost. · Today some 22 years after his death Guru is still talked about in a manner that befits his status, that of a true Guru. There will never be a another Guru Subramaniam just like there will never be another Master, all of us have a role to play and sometimes those roles seem to be destined for a special or higher purpose and we are never really in control as these very special people have Sivaperumaan to guide them, sometimes contrary to the individuals preferred path. Guru achieved so much yet he suffered ill health almost all his life. Why did Guru Subramaniam change from the orthodox to Saivism, why indeed did he eventually sever all ties with the orthodox practices? The path that he followed helped numerous souls who were troubled and in despair. The answer may lie in the fact that he may have seen the future and that future was at odds with his tantric beliefs, he may have realised that the youth would be asking questions that would be difficult to answer. He must have seen that the times were changing and believed that Saivism was the answer.