Fifty years of serving, loving and giving

2011-09-21 00:00

THE smell of burning incense wafts through the air, mingling with the calming resonance of the water fountain dropping into the pool of Ganga water. The devotees sit, separated by gender, chanting in unison to the rhythmic beats of the tabla and deep drone of the harmonium. A feeling of complete serenity engulfs the room, even for those who don’t know the words to the bhajans. It’s a space open to everyone.

The Divine Life Society in Pietermaritzburg recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. It is a Hindu ­organisation that has a universal approach.

Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, the founder of the Divine Life Society, “had no colour, cast or creed in his eyes. All were the children of God,” explained Sarwan ­Bridglall, one of the committee members who has been a part of the Divine Life Society since he was a little boy.

“The basic teachings of Divine Life is to serve, love, give, purify, meditate and realise,” continued Bridglall. “Doing these things will enable one to reach the highest sadhana (spiritual goal). Sri ­Swami Sivanandaji’s simple motto was “be good, do good”.”

The organisation is not only a sanctuary for spiritual education and healing, it also does a great amount of charity work.

Members of the community from the Divine Life currently make 75 loaves-worth of ­sandwiches every school day for various schools, such as Woodlands High School and Northdale Primary School.

On All Souls’ Day, the first day of every month, special prayers for the peace of those who have died are held and breyani, cooked with 40 kilograms of rice, is given to indigent schools, or needy families in the Northdale area.

Divine Life also offers free ­sewing lessons to anyone interested in creating employment. Using ­industrial machines, school ­uniforms are made for school children.

After a six-week course, a ­certificate is handed out, and if the student manages to sell a certain number of uniforms, he or she ­receives a free sewing machine to assist him or her to start his or her own business. Other classes ­involve lessons in Sanskrit, yoga, a youth academy and the ­Sivananda Academy for Children.

The branch in Durban also built approximately 400 schools throughout the country, as well as two clinics in Inanda, with many of the devotees from Pieter­maritzburg involved in these projects.

The project to build an ashram (temple) in Pietermaritzburg was conceived in 1960, and began in 1961.

Speaking about the current ashram on the corner of Mysore and Lahore roads, Bridglall said: “This plot of land was initially marked for a Northdale social club, but that didn’t go through and the city council gave us the land for £285. The money was raised by the community, and the committee went to the city council with bags of pence.

“The entire ashram was built by the community. People helped out in the areas that they could, whether they were business­people or teachers, waiters or ­factory workers. They all came and helped to build the ashram.”

Initially, before it was built, ­satsangs (congregation chantings) were held at members’ ­houses in Pietermaritzburg, and the waiting veranda of the Northdale Clinic.

“There was a municipal farm, now the present dump site, that had a small temple, and every ­Sunday morning they would have a small satsang. I remember my father and I riding bicycles to attend every satsang there, rain or no rain,” said Bridglall.

The ashram in Northdale now has a weekly programme ­dedicated towards ensuring the delivery and entrenchment of ­spiritual education.

Bridglall said: “The ashram has been built to serve the community. We therefore appeal to you to make use of the facilities, and ­become a part of our family.”

• For more information, visit or phone Sandy Govender at 033 397 1685

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