Early Ramakrishna Missionaries in Africa
Swami Adyananda and Swami Ghanananda, both of the Ramakrishna Mission, India, each stayed
in South Africa for a few months at the invitation of the local community in 1934 and 1947,
respectively. From 1959 Swami Nihshreyasananda, stayed in Southern Rhodesia (now
Zimbabwe) moving about the neighbouring countries. However, it was left to a South African
born young man, Mr Dhanagopal Naidoo (later Swami Nischalananda – 19251965)
establish and strengthen the Vedanta Movement in South Africa and give it a firm footing in Africa
by forming the Ramakrishna Centre in 1942, when he was 17 years old.
From his youth Mr D C Naidoo was inspired by the life and message of Swami Vivekananda,
characterised as it was by Renunciation and Service. He travelled to India in 1948 to the
International Headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission where he was initiated into spiritual life
by Swami Virajananda, the 6th President of the Ramakrishna Order. He undertook further training
under Swami Purushottamananda in a cave, Vasistha Guha, on the banks of the Ganga at the
foothills of the Himalayas. He returned to South Africa in 1953 as the first South African born Hindu
monk. He recognised that selfeffort
and an indomitable will to succeed were the essential
ingredients that were needed if the disadvantaged and marginalised people of South Africa were
to overcome the negative effects of decades of political, cultural and economic servitude. To this
end, he worked with a missionary zeal to arouse Hindus to take their rightful place in society.
Swami Nischalananda heralded an epoch of spiritual renaissance never before seen among the
Hindus in South Africa. His depth of understanding, masterful oratory, tireless work and
compassionate heart made the Centre the focal point of Hinduism. In 1959 he acquired a property
in the Glen Anil suburb of Durban. A worship hall, clinic, printing press, bookshop,
outdoor auditorium and residential quarters for monks and novicesintraining
were part of this
initial Ashram premises. This came to be known as the local Headquarters of the Ramakrishna
Centre of South Africa.
Swami Nischalananda was succeeded by his only monastic disciple, Swami Shivapadananda in
1965. The present Ashram campus in Durban, comprising a Universal Temple to Sri Ramakrishna
and ancillary buildings for the humanitarian projects of the Centre was initiated by
Swami Shivapadananda (1938 – 1994). The charm of his unassuming personality and the silent
influence of his deep spirituality left a lasting impression on all who came in contact with him.
Under Swami Nischalananda’s inspiration, Prayer Groups were established in almost every village,
suburb and town where Indians had settled. The local community would meet at weekly intervals in
congregational worship using private homes or any other local amenity. This pattern has now
become the norm on the South African Hindu religious landscape. Many of these groups
have matured into independent societies with their own constitutions and premises. Among these
local organisations were those that had imbibed the spirit and ethos of the worldwide Ramakrishna
Movement. Swami Shivapadananda nurtured these and brought them under the umbrella of
the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa as ‘branches’ under a unified constitution.