The Role of the South African Hindu Maha Sabha in (Re) Making Hinduism in South Africa (1912-1960)

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Seminar Date
March 14, 2012
This paper looks at a history of the South African Hindu Maha Sabha for the first half century of its existence. Founded in 1912 to unite all Hindus and create a unitary Hindu identity in South Africa, the organisation experienced long periods of inactivity during its early years. While its leaders and visiting Hindu missionaries who visited the country from time to time stressed the importance of uniting Hindus under one banner, South African Hindus were a heterogeneous group who partook in a wide variety of diverging religious practices drawing from various traditions, and were hardly receptive to the idea. In 1960 when the Maha Sabha celebrated the centenary of the arrival of Indians in South Africa, it published a book which accounted for its history and reflected on its achievements. By this time the organisation had experienced steady growth and the 1950s saw it achieve a few important milestones. By exploring the stagnation and growth of the Maha Sabha at different times during these five decades, this paper tries to address some of the ways in which Hindu and Indian identities were negotiated by South African Hindus in accordance to the changing historical setting. This paper looks in particular at the reasons put forward and the attempts made by Hindu leaders to unite Hindus and briefly address their level of representation amongst the larger Hindu ‘community’ of South Africa.
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