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List of Projects

REDDY, Kristappa

Born: 1863
Died: 1941


JW Grossert (1942) is the authority on REDDY's work as a temple builder. REDDY, a bricklayer by trade, probably worked with temple-builders in North Arcot, near Madras, southern India. He arrived South Africa 1898 and was indentured to the Campbells on Mount Edgecombe sugar estate in Natal. He was almost immediately engaged in building Ganesa Temple on Mount Edgecombe Estate. He completed his indentures in 1903 and settled in Cato Manor, possibly to build a temple for the Pather family. REDDY became a well-known temple-builder but was successful in various other enterprises.

(Fransen 1982; Gossert 1942; Mikula 1982:14, 15, 16; SAAR Jul 1965:23-6, article by JW Grossert)

There is little available knowledge about the designers and builders of South African Hindu temples. Interviews with a number of trustees, officiating priests and more recent temple builders, suggest strongly that their construction has followed the age-old method of the Indian craftsman, silpin, who was both designer and executioner and who learnt his craft from his predecessors rather than through book learning. The evidence also indicates that the buildings were based on the simplest of drawings, for the benefit of trustees or the local authority, the elaborate forms developing as the buildings proceeded. Surviving members of the families of donors often boast that their forebears brought down special artisans from India to plan and build the temples in question. However, as far as is known, this is true only of the sculptors of the rebuilt Umbilo Temple on Bellair Road, Durban.

It is very likely that the first South African temples were experiments motivated by the community's newly emergent need for places of worship. In the same way as the immigrant workers to the cane fields, improvised their dwellings, so too they structured their temples, leaning heavily on those with the best memories of the forms as they had known them in India, and those with some skill and some experience. There is nothing to indicate that the oldest known builders of South African temples, Kistappa REDDY and Kothanar Ramsamy PILLAY to whom must be attributed the local Hindu architectural and sculptural traditions were skilled craftsmen, in the sense that they were silpins, who had served their heredatarily determined apprenticeships and become well versed in the lore. There is some evidence to suggest however, that both men had worked with silpins in India and had thereby acquired some rudimentary knowledge of the techniques. Hence Kistappa REDDY described himself as Koluthukar (bricklayer). Both men were learned in Tamil and are known to have possessed some manuals, sastras in that language, but it seems unlikely that they possessed the Mansaras or Silpa Sastras in their entirety, or that they had any detailed drawings or photographs of the forms they executed. Both REDDY and PILLAY belonged to a generation and class in which such representations were rare or totally absent, and not likely to be found in Indian homes or Indian public collections. It is more than likely that their sculptural forms in particular, were recreated from memory and guided by the elaborate descriptions of the Purannas and Tantras.

The oldest existing South African Hindu temples are believed to be the Narainsamy Temple at Newlands, and Ganessa Temple at Mount Edgecombe reportedly dating back to 1896 and 1899 respectively, both designed and built by Kristappa REDDY. The Shree Subramaniar Alayam erected on the southern bank of the Umbilo and the Emperuman Alayam in Mount Edgecombe and the Magazine Barracks Temple at Somtseu Road are believed, to have been among the first South African Hindu temples, built about 1875. The first two institutions continue to operate though the original buildings are no longer iri existence and have been replaced by new buildings. The original temple at Umbilo was destroyed by a flood and was finally rebuilt at Cato Manor in 1940 and is now known as the Shree Ambalavanar Alayam. It was consecrated in November 1968. The Somtseu Road temple near the Durban beachfront, where until recently, the Corporation housed Indian employees, was demolished in the same year.

Kistappa REDDY's work, examples of which can be seen at Mount Edgecombe (Ganessa Temple, 1899), Narainsamy Temple, Newlands, Pietermaritzburg Subramaniar Temple (1909-1911), Empangeni 1914-1916), Esperanza (Perumal Temple, 1925), Wyebank (1933-1935) and Umhloti (Perumal Temple, 1936-1938), show his adeptness at both the circular and pyramidal domes, and his sculpture reveals his particular flair for floral and animal representations. A characteristic feature of many of his towers is the fusion of two sculptured figures into one at cornices. REDDY's forms are angular and relatively geometrical.

REDDY arrived in Natal from Madras Presidency in 1898. [He] came as an indentured worker, from North Arcot, and after serving his contract in Mount Edgecombe, moved to Durban, where he set himself up as a builder. He appears to have attained a comfortable living standard, building himself a large house, designed rather in the manner of a temple, at Cato Manor on six acres of land. Two of his sons followed his vocation to the extent that they became professional plan drawers. The main family business however changed at some stage from building to printing and Reddy made two trips to India to buy Tamil types for the press. He died in 1941.

Neither PILLAY, nor REDDY confined themselves to temple building, but were general builders earning about five pounds a week at the height of their building careers. Evidence suggests that neither men based their work on carefully prepared plans, though both may have used some rough drawings to guide their architectural and structural forms.1

  1. Meer, F. 1969. Portrait of Indian South Africans. Durban: Avon House, pp. 75-178.

[Schalk LE ROUX, October 2010]

All truncated references not fully cited in 'References' are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.

List of projects

With photographs
With notes

Empangeni temple: 1914. eMpangeni, KwaZulu-Natal - Architect
Ganesha Temple (lotus-dome temple): 1898/9. Mount Edgecombe, KwaZulu-Natal - Architect
Narainsamy Temple (Vartharaj Perumal Temple): 1906. Newlands, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal - Architect
Permumal Vishnu Temple: 1925. Esperanza, KwaZulu-Natal - Architect
Permumal Vishnu Temple, George Armstrong's Estate (Canelands): 1936. Umhloti, KwaZulu-Natal - Architect
Perumal Vishnu Temple, Barracks: 1922. Mount Edgecombe, KwaZulu-Natal - Architect
Subramanya and Mareeamman (Mariamman) Temple (towers only): 1909. Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal - Architect
Subramanya Temple (Siva Subrahmanya), First Umbilo Temple: 1903. Durban, KwaZulu-Natal - Architect
Wyebank Temple: 1933. Wyebank, KwaZulu-Natal - Architect

Books citing REDDY

Beck, Haig (Editor). 1985. UIA International Architect : Southern Africa (Issue 8). London: International Architect. pp 58

Meer, Fatima. 1969. Portrait of Indian South Africans. Durban: Avon House. pp 75-178