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The Ashram of Salamanga and Saint Kalidas

Calane da Silva, grandson of Kalane Megdji of Gujarati Indian, builder of the temple of Salamanga accompanies us in the morning on a Sunday in June, during a visit to the temple of Salamanga. According to the myth of Kalidás, the temple was built by the express will of the saint, who for more than a hundred years passed through the place. Calane da Silva has unveiled the stories and memories of the site.

For those who travel on the new road between Maputo and Ponta do Ouro, crossing the bridge over the Maputo River, the pyramidal dome of the temple, probably the oldest one in Africa, stands out in the landscape. Strangely, it is a style of architecture that differs clearly from the traditional African constructions that surround it, as well as from some constructions of colonial time in masonry.

Salamanga is a small town in the Matutuine District. The importance of its location is well understood, since it is the only crossing point of the Maputo River. But the question of building a temple of this size in this place over a hundred years ago and its maintenance from there is an intriguing question. It is not possible to understand this construction without understanding the Hindu community of Mozambique.

This is a temple that crosses several times of history. In it come stories and memories that reflect their nature as a sacred place for the Hindu community and that remain very alive.

First is a time of Indians migrations by the Indian. Peaceful migrations from Indian communities that are lost in records and memories. On the east coast of Africa they have been registered since the 13th century. In this region of Salamanga, crossing over the Maputo River, they arrive at the end of the 19th century and remain there. With the rhythms and flows of time, lives are adjusted and adapted.

The History of the Calanda family is a paradigmatic example. Kalana Magdji arrives in Mozambique at the end of the 19th century. According to Calane da Silva, a marriage between families had been prepared according to the Hindu tradition, which Kalana Magdji did not want to honour. The solution was to escape by boat, landing on the eastern African coast. Mason by profession dedicated himself to the construction of buildings and canteens in Bela Vista.

The installation of Hindu communities in the late nineteenth century in Matutuine, Bela Vista should be related to the beginning of colonization in Lourenço Marques. With the transfer of the capital of Mozambique to Delagoa Bay, and settled the territorial litigation with the British, who demanded the land strip between the Transvaal and the Coast, the construction shoots. Dio’s masons are a natural choice. With population increase it is also necessary to feed the people. In Dio the rice and salt cultivation techniques were well known. In Bela Vista the necessary resources for these three activities are gathered. The limestone mines of the floodplain of the Maputo River and the force of the tides at the mouth of the Maputo River. Salamanga lies at the point where the narrow river route, an ideal place to connect the two banks and proceed to the north, to the city of Maputo, by land or by waterway.

Although these geo-political issues are of little concern to Hindu communities traditionally concerned with trade and labour, urban and demographic growth in southern Mozambique is an ideal place to settle new vacancies in the Hindu community in the region.

Why this Temple in Salamanga?

Going back to the story of the builder of the Magdji temple, a mason residing in the area, without a wife, but certainly with some social prestige. Calanda da Silva tells us, he will have sought “King”(Regulo) Ngoanazi and asked for a woman to take care of the house. The boss chose Mahazul Mabica, a Ronga woman who had learned from a lady “clear” some techniques of cutting fabrics and seams. With his wife Magdji kalane had eight children and passed away in 1926.

After the death of her grandmother husband Calanda was expelled from the house, found shelter in the Katembe, where Calanda da Silva was born and collected his teachings. It is a story that is an example of the beginning of the process of European colonization in the region, which shows us the complex relationship with the local African communities.

To finish the question of the construction of the temple in Salamanga, according to Calane da Silva, his grandfather will have been a direct witness of the presence of Saint Kalidas in the region.

The Saint travels from India, from Gujarati State. You will have entered in by Mozambique or Inhambane. From Inhambane you will have walked to Salamanga. Once dazzled, the sight of nature, the presence of many trees and animals, chose the place to stay. At that time (in 1908) according to Calanda da Silva there should be in Salamanga a Hindu population with about 50 people who managed a dozen canteens. It was there that in the shadow of a tree, the saint meditated, according to the precepts of the Hindu religion.

During his presence in Salamanga he will have done several miracles for the local population. One of these miracles will have been made in Mahoca, a few miles to the west. According to the story, the local population that fought against the lack of drinking water, will have come to Salamanga intercede to the saint. Upon learning of the population gathering, the administrator wanted to know what was going on. He then challenged the saint to perform a miracle in the lagoon of that place. Saint Kalidas accepted with defiance. It is said that the administrator invites the saint to go with him by car. According to tradition, Kalidás will have replied, “Saints who walk and rivers that run are good things. Follow you by car. I’ll walk, but when they get there, I’ll be there. When the administrator arrives at the lagoon the saint was already there waiting for him. Soon he touched the water and drank it. To this day the population continues to drink from the water of the lagoon.

Shortly after, after a long meditation, the saint stands up and claims that his work in Salamanga was finished. Leave instructions to Calane da Silva’s grandmother to build a temple and disappear to walk on the river. It was never seen again, nor does it know where it went.

According to local tradition, the temple was begun in 1908 and was completed in 1914. It was an ornate quadrangular structure with four peacocks that topped the columns where the pyramidal dome rested.

The temple times

The Hindu community of Mozambique has not ceased to grow. The flows between Gujarati and the eastern coast were maintained. In Salamanga, over the years, Indians who had taken over canteens, as happened with the canteen of Minhembeti in the 60’s, were also an example of this epic that dynamited an important network of formal commerce that ensured the food subsistence of the population, including the link between African communities and goods of commerce.

Maputo will be the focal point of this canteen trade. From its port flow to the peripheral territories the products that the land does not give, essential for the process of agriculture that then develop along the river Maputo. In 1925 the Hindu community of Maputo becomes an associative space that supports the community and those who arrive in search of new lives. It also helps those who want to leave, because in many situations the relations between the various territories remain. The Hindu community has adapted to the times and to the many changes taking place in the world and in Mozambique, keeping their traditions visible in clothing, religious practices, gastronomy, festivals and mutual aid practices.

This specificity helps to understand the maintenance of time in Salamanga at the turn of the century. Without this connection to the Hindu community of Maputo and its diaspora in the world it is difficult to understand. But it is not enough to understand the generosity and devotion of the community in its maintenance and longevity. There is something in this place that attracts and fixes. It is a place with spirituality, respected and recognized by those who go there.

The temple is affected by weather and by the fury of wars. During the great floods of 1980, the original temple, built by Kalane Magdji was affected, having been rebuilt in an upper quota. It is the present temple, which follows the tradition of the old, though broader and with some elements of devotion. Peacocks are however the same. Over the years, small improvements have been made to maintain the temple, where many of the major pilgrimages of the community take place, in particular during the great Diwali festival or the lights, which marks the Hindu New Year between October and November.

As a sacred place, over the years has also witnessed the main events of the twentieth century in Mozambique. It witnesses the independence of the post-war period and its successive shock waves in the region. In 1949 the independence of India. In 1961 the integration of the Portuguese colonies in India (Dio, Daman and Goa) and the impacts they had in the common Hindu age. In 1975 with the independence of Mozambique with its program of African socialism. In the eighties the Mozambican civil war.

The successive food crises also have their impacts on the life of the temple, which develops some solidarity action in the community. In Mozambique drought and floods are cyclical, dragging with them the inevitable cycle of poverty that the temple action seeks to alleviate.

The times of the progress of the territory will also affect the territory. The construction of the bridges over Maputo in the sixties, the new road to Ponta do Oro, bring people and new challenges and new brands to this place. All times there are men and women who live and feed, who have dreams and devotions. All this this temple witnesses. The saint’s story is an example of Hindu mythology and the importance of water as the purifying stream to which we all flow. This temple is a window of the world.

Por Pedro Pereira Leite

Dinamizador do Museu Educação Global e Diversidade Cultural
Museu Afro Digital - Portugal.

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