Detailed overview of the history of the KwaZulu-Natal Indian Community

Detailed overview of the history of the KwaZulu-Natal Indian Community

Subjects of the Realm

All the epochal events that defined the vast Indian subcontinent were religious in nature, with one crucial exception - colonisation by the British Empire. For agents of the Crown sought only wealth, and 'cared not a fig about a man's beliefs, provided he can brew a proper cup of tea'. Ironically, it's thanks to this attitude that visitors to our Kingdom of the Zulu are able to learn from and enjoy this ancient culture in all its pure, unbridled glory.

For, as in the motherland, the British who established themselves on our shores did not set about mass conversion of migrant Indians to Christianity, nor attempt to impose Anglicised culinary or dress codes. It can be argued that the merchants and traders encouraged to accompany the indentured labour force were the result of London's sole appreciation of the complexities and demands of Indian ways of life.

Our Little India

And so it is that throughout our Kingdom - Durban Metro in particular - you'll be transported to exotic realms of fascination and delight. Walk in the incomparable footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi; marvel at the southern hemisphere's most ornate, gilded temple and largest mosque; rub shoulders in trinket-filled bazaars with traditionally-attired descendants of those first arrivals; savour the entire spectrum of intricately-prepared cuisine, including 'ascending food' that transforms the body into a vehicle for enlightenment; set your watch to the muezzin's call to prayer from a soaring minaret; discover the secrets of yoga and meditation from masters of knowledge with direct links to antiquity; allow imagination free rein in a space filled with sacred music and dance, or the avant-garde fusion of East-meets-Africa; move your body to the ultra-modern disco sounds of pumping 'Asian Underground' beats; mingle with glitterati at the local premiere of Bollywood's latest blockbuster - the India of yesterday, today and tomorrow stands at the forefront of our Zulu Kingdom!

Release the Pressure

It's one of the subcontinent's most ancient attributes, though, that's currently garnering the most attention - a magnet for the stressed and strung-out, weary and prematurely-wrinkled from all walks of life and countries of the world. We boast a wealth of authentic, fully-qualified Ayurvedic practitioners whose lineage dates back to the origins of Hindu scripture. Following the ascertainment of body/mind-type via pulse diagnosis, the 'patient' is pampered and soothed back to optimum health and balance with a series of massages and applications. The therapist utilises oils infused with herbs and precious substances empowered with time-honoured ritual. Unique vitality-enhancing and rejuvenating dietary supplements are then provided, taken in conjunction with sage advice on lifestyle choices. To discover further insights into that 'new, tranquil you' there's no better follow-up to a series of Ayurvedic treatments than a spell of total rest, relaxation and sheer bliss amid the myriad scenic, life-affirming delights that grace our singular, peaceful Kingdom.

Back to the Beginning

The wisdom of Ayurveda - the Science of Life - is derived from a particular set of Hindu scriptures known as the Vedas, written some 3 500 years ago. These were not the subcontinent's first holy works, though, for archaeological finds have determined that a major civilisation had already flourished there during the previous millennium. Sited along the Indus River valley in today's Pakistan, and further southwest just beyond the Rann of Kutch in India, great cities such as Mohenjodaro, Harappa and Lothal were priest-dominated. Even though the script of their religious texts remains to be fully deciphered, scholars have nonetheless discovered many similarities with the Hinduism that was to follow. Excavations at these sites also revealed highly sophisticated city engineering skills and even organised refuse collection, but it remains a mystery why such an advanced, thousand-year-old civilisation could so quickly disintegrate with the first invasions from its north.

The Rise of Hinduism

Aryan groupings began arriving around 1500 BCE, and although their early incursions were anything but systematic, the Indus River civilisation collapsed and the Aryans spread across northern India, following the Ganges River to the Bay of Bengal. A major legacy of these events is that people of north India are today defined as Aryans, and those of the south as Dravidians.

In basic terms, the religious practices of the Indus Valley priests, modified by the combined tenets of the southern Dravidians and Aryan invaders, resulted in Hinduism - Asia's largest religion as regards the number of adherents.

The First Challenge

Hinduism was shaken to its core by the enlightenment to Buddhahood circa 500 BCE of Siddhartha Gautama, prince of the Shakya kingdom in modern-day Nepal. This threat became particularly virulent when India's great Emperor Ashoka embraced Buddhism and carried it forth as his empire extended to include much of the subcontinent. While Ashoka sent missions carrying the Buddha's word to all the lands of South-East Asia - enormous monastic Buddhist 'universities' were being established along the Ganges River basin. Ironically, these great seats of learning contributed significantly to Buddhism's contraction in India. So-called 'ordinary folk' were daunted by the legendary meditative exploits of the incumbent scholars, saints and sages. Hindu priests took advantage of this decline in popular support by declaring the Buddha to be 'one of us' - an earthly incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu the Preserver. This move succeeded in returning large numbers of 'lapsed Hindus' to the fold.

Jews, Pharsis and Jains

Other contemporary developments posed less of a challenge to the Hindu status quo. The 'Jews of Cochin' arrived on the far southwestern shores in 587 BCE but made little impact philosophically. Neither did followers of the Zoroaster religion, named Pharsis in reference to their flight from persecution in Persia. Far western areas of the subcontinent fell to the Persian Empire under Darius between 521 - 486 BCE, replaced in 326 BCE by the armies of Alexander the Great on his epic, conquering march from Greece. Alexander's troops refused to advance further, though, and he turned back without extending his power.

Jainism flourished in a modest way in the west and southwest of India, but never troubled the Hindu hierarchy to the extent of its near-contemporary, Buddhism. While bearing similar hallmarks regarding moral and ethical values, its metaphysical outlook was not the 'revolutionary' equivalent of the Buddha's enlightenment.

Empires Rise, Empires Fall

The death in 232 BCE of 'Buddhist Emperor' Ashoka signalled the rapid decline of his Mauryan dynasty - the largest of any to follow prior to the British. Within half a century of Ashoka's passing, parts of the Mauryan Empire were directly replaced with Gupta conquerors. They faced territorial competition, though, from the Gandharas, Andhras and Telugus. These dramas were unfolding in the northern half of the subcontinent, while magnificent realms that rose in the south included the Cholas, Pandyas. Cheras, Chalukyas and Pallavas. The last-named were responsible for pioneering the exuberant, almost baroque Dravidian architecture that informs many of the eye-catching Hindu temples of today's Zulu Kingdom.

Egyptians, Romans and Christians attempted to make inroads into south Indian culture, but not even the arrival in 52 CE of St Thomas the Apostle would result in more than small enclaves of lasting influence.

Islamic Intentions

Less than a century after the Prophet Mohammed's triumphant return to Mecca in 630, Arabs from the Middle East bearing the Koran and the sword began raiding the northwestern boundaries of the subcontinent, destroying infidel temples and carrying off everything of value that could be moved. It was not until 1192, however, that Moslem power arrived on a permanent basis. First Ajmer, then the holy Hindu city of Benares (Varanasi) on the Ganges River, and finally Delhi succumbed to these incessant waves of attack. The first Sultan of Delhi was installed in 1206, and within two decades the entire Ganges basin had been wrested away. A series of tactical blunders saw this particular Moslem dynasty supplanted by another - the lineage of mighty Moguls beginning with Babur in 1527.

Changing Fortunes

Emperor Babur, a descendant of Genghis Khan, initiated a two-century period of Moghul greatness and collapse, the former epitomised by world famous landmarks such as the Taj Mahal, the latter by religious zealotry and subsequent Hindu revolts of massive proportions. Rallying chivalrous Hindu princes who've been likened to the 'gallant knights' of England, the Maratha kingdom eroded more and more of the Moghul's power and land. Having consolidated central India, however, the Marathas too fell victim to the dangers of over-expansionism, and lost all of north India to yet another wave of Moslem invaders from Afghanistan. Hindu kingdoms of the south continued largely unaffected by these events so pivotal to the north.

Another Die is Cast

In 1600, Queen Elizabeth 1 granted a London-based charter company the monopoly on British trade with India. Thus began 250 years of British dominion in India, exercised not by government, but the East India Company. The first permanent trading post was established in 1612, and by the century's end permanent seats were in operation on both coasts and in Calcutta. Portuguese traders positioned themselves midway down the western coast of India, and the subsequent arrival of French and Dutch colonists served only to witness all the intrigue of European power struggles in a new setting far from home.

Anglo-French Wars in India

First, Britain lost Madras to the French in 1746, but regained control three years later. French-backed Moslems then took Calcutta in 1756, outraging Britain with the infamous 'Black Hole of Calcutta' incident. Robert Clive reversed the situation within a year, though, routing the Moslem-French alliance at the Battle of Plassey. This ploy of using local kingdoms as pawns in Anglo-French enmity finally destabilised south India, as evidenced by the four Mysore Wars that raged sporadically for a decade from 1799. Britain gained final ascendancy at the end of this turbulent epoch.

The Empire Mops Up

As the new century dawned, only two obstacles stood in the path of Britain's total dominance of the subcontinent - the Marathas who'd wrested power from the debilitated Moghul emperors, and India's newest religious grouping - the Sikhs. Maratha strength was not focussed enough to withstand British pressure and final capitulation was concluded in 1803. The Sikhs, however, were an altogether different proposition. Founded by Guru Nanak in the late 1400s, the Sikh religion arose in response to the geographical meeting point of established Hinduism of India and Moslem invaders from Afghanistan. The Sikh gurus combined what they perceived to be the most beneficial aspects of Islam and Hinduism into a 'non-aligned' faith. Historically, this backfired on several momentous occasions and the Sikhs suffered persecution at both Moslem and Hindu hands. These events in turn compelled the religion to adopt a militaristic stance, including the collective surname Singh, meaning 'Lion'. These 'Lions of the Punjab' fiercely resisted British dominion - their short history was fraught enough, they believed - and two famous Sikh Wars were required to force them into submission.

Unification and Destabilisation

By the early 19th Century, then, India was effectively under British control, even though the subcontinent remained a patchwork of 'states' - many of them nominally independent but actually under strong British influence. This is where the Crown refined its 'divide and rule' stratagem. While on the one hand India's new rulers united the vast, disparate country through a staggeringly intricate railway network and the imposition of English language as bureaucratic medium, other colonial activities proved distinctly pernicious.

Great Britain was now a 'super power', thanks to the Industrial Revolution, and the export from India of raw materials and import of manufactured goods immediately undermined the country s indigenous industries, from textiles to handicrafts. Multitudinous ranks of the resulting unemployed were further swelled by many more thousands of displaced farm workers, the result of Britain's agricultural policy of putting commercial crops such as tea before food crops. With all surplus food harvests being exported, untimely poor yields led to millions dying of starvation. The desperately needed food lay not in Indian storage silos as insurance against unexpected hard times, but in well-stocked larders back in the 'Olde Country'.

Positions Vacant

Given these tenuous circumstances, it's hardly surprising that Indian householders, at wits' end to provide for their families, flocked to sign up for indenture-employment opportunities in Britain's even further-flung colonies - including the great unknown of our Zulu Kingdom in 'Darkest Africa'. The product of a history as colourful and epic in proportions as the voluminous classics of Indian literature, these 'uncertain ambassadors' boarded their allotted sailing vessels with great trepidation - little dreaming of the profound and lasting influence they were due to exert on our shores.