The most beautiful Sivananda International Cultural Centre at La Mercy, situated on a site almost 20 hectares in extent, amidst rolling hills and green canefields, has developed into a substantial complex.
1. Sivananda Prayer Hall consists of two spacious wings providing seating accommodation for approximately 1 800 males and females. The Cry Room adjacent to the prayer hall is used by mothers to take care of babies who become restless. A most beautiful illuminated shrine with duratrans of our Divine Master, Sri Swami Sivananda, Maha Guru Swami Vishwananda (Guru of our Divine Master), Lord Krishna, Lord Rama, Lord Siva, Mother Saraswati and Lord Ganesha captivates the hearts of all those attending Satsang in the hall.
3. Darshan Hall is used as a classroom during the one-day monthly Yoga Camps.
4. Kitchen & Dining Hall are opposite Darshan Hall. As these were found inadequate to cater for increased number of devotees attending Satsangs, a new dining hall and kitchen complex has been set up (see 17 further on).
5. Sivananda Guha is used for Yoga Camps.
6. Workshop is used by our carpenters to produce various items for the SICC complex, like burglar guards, balustrades, etc.
7. Vishwananda Hall is used for Yoga Camps and overflow of Sivananda Prayer Hall. It has a beautiful shrine like that in Sivananda Prayer Hall.
8. Atmananda Hall is used for Yoga Camps and overflow from Sivananda Prayer Hall. It has a beautiful shrine similar to that in Sivananda Prayer Hall.
9. Sewing Centre produces garments for the poor and needy Africans in the area.
10. Ganga Darshan, 25-roomed living quarters for the rishikumars (male renunciants).
11. Toilets & Bathrooms
12. Children's Auditorium consists of two halls, one of which is terraced. They are used for the monthly Yoga Camps and also for overflow of Sivananda Prayer Hall. The terraced hall has a lovely shrine like the one in Sivananda Prayer Hall.
13. Ganga Rani has a half Olympic size covered swimming pool for children (our Spiritual Darlings), attending the one day monthly Yoga Camps. The beautiful shrine of our Divine Master, Sri Swami Sivananda, is illuminated with a garland of colourful duratrans. Ganga Mata's lovely shrine is situated near the pool where devotees prostrate. There are carpeted seats for males and females for silent meditation. Except when children swim, complete silence is observed in Ganga Rani. It is sanctified with holy Ganges water on auspicious days. A small circular paddling pool for the little ones is on one side of the large pool.
The rishikumars conduct Satsang daily with Ganga Arati being relayed over the sound system. On important Satsang days devotees offer flowers to the holy Padukas of our Divine Master at his shrine. They then prostrate to Ganga Mata at Her shrine, and take some water from Ganga Rani. Most of the devotees attend functions at the SICC mainly because of the attraction of Ganga Arati. A similar Ganga shrine is also in Bhagirathi.
On entering Ganga Rani many remark on the beauty and serenity that pervades it. Even a Christian and Muslim gave it high praise. With green fibregrass all around the pool, and light from the transparent roof sheeting, Ganga Rani looks quite spectacular. The girls who perform Ganga Arati dress in saris and observe strict rules of cleanliness.
14. Guru Kripa captivates the hearts of all those who enter it. The remark often made by devotees and visitors is that it is "heaven on earth". Illuminated duratran shrines of our Divine Master, Sri Swami Sivananda, Maha Guru Sri Swami Vishwananda, Lord Krishna, Lord Rama, Lord Siva, Mother Saraswati, Sri Hanuman and Lord Ganesha are enchantingly beautiful. The green wallpaper gives added serenity and beauty to the shrine.
There are also many display cabinets with stunningly beautiful multi-colour pictures of exotic birds, flowers, animals, scenic wonders, etc. A large section contains lovely photos of animals, scenic wonders, birds, etc. mounted on boards. Guru Kripa is not only a place pervaded with serenity but is also highly educational, for it contains inspiring sayings of our Divine Master that are simple to understand, universal in outlook and practical in application. Guru Kripa certainly gives peace and solace to all those who visit it. Pencils and pads are kept on the display cabinets for visitors to take notes of the sayings.
15. Sivananda Nature Reserve occupies the area next to the verandah of Guru Kripa. Here also there are several illuminated cabinets with information on nature and animals. Guru Kripa and Sivananda Nature Reserve are both beautifully carpeted. The soothing, soul-stirring music played in Guru Kripa enchants all those who visit the place.
16. Vishwananda & Sivananda Presses are fully equipped with offset printing machines, including the new Four Colour Heidelberg Speedmaster, folding machines, guillotines, etc. They produce spiritual literature, mainly for free distribution.
17. Dining Room & Kitchen Complex: This large complex consists of a spacious, modern kitchen with electrical cooking equipment and three carpeted multi-purpose dining halls. The beautiful water fountain called "Saraswati" is situated in the middle of the dining halls. The dining halls are used to conduct workshops, etc.
18. Bhagirathi has three water fountains with water cascading from one fountain to the other. It is extremely beautiful. The sound of cascading water has a soothing effect on the mind. Water therapy is used now in some overseas hospitals for treatment of ailments. On important function days Ganga Arati is performed in Bhagirathi, with offering of flowers to the holy Padukas of our Divine Master in front of his lovely shrine. As in Ganga Rani, the girls performing Ganga Arati dress in saris and observe strict rules of cleanliness.
19. Vaikuntha Dham displays the Society's spiritual literature. Framed multi-colour pictures of exotic birds, flowers, etc. as well as health tonics are available in this extremely beautiful section. It is tiled and has four carpeted sections separated by decorated wooden balustrades, where devotees may spend a few minutes in silence and prayer in front of beautifully illuminated shrines of Lord Krishna, our Divine Master, Sri Swami Sivananda, and Sri Swami Vishwananda. Silence and prayer go on side-by-side with the sale of books and health tonics. Light, instrumental music and Ram-Nam Kirtan are also relayed over the sound system.
20. Sivananda, Vishwananda & Ganga Stadiums have seating accommodation for about 5000 people. A spacious sports field in front of the magnificent stadiums provides ample space for Satsangs, mass drill displays, Zulu dances, plays, etc.
Vishwananda Stadium has three halls, two of which are fully carpeted. These multi-purpose halls are used for serving meals, conducting workshops, etc. The hall on the ground floor is used as a workshop to produce school furniture, windows, etc. for the many schools the Society is building for the disadvantaged.
Parking: The most beautiful Sivananda International Cultural Centre is very fortunate in being able to provide ample parking space for vehicles.
Location of the Centre: The Centre is located in Sivananda Nagar, next to Desainagar on the North Coast of KwaZulu-Natal, about 35 km north of Durban. It overlooks the Indian Ocean and is situated amidst rolling hills and green canefields.
Directions: From Durban City Centre, take the M4 (Stanger Street) northwards, till you cross the Umdloti River and reach the Desainagar turn-off on the M4 (old N2); then follow the Divine Life Society signposts to the Centre.
If you are on the N2 heading up the north coast, turn off at the Verulam/Umdloti interchange, which is the alternate route marked A . Thereafter turn right on the M27, and within 200 meters left on the M4 to Ballito. On crossing the Umdloti River, continue as above.
A Visitor's Comments:
We reproduce extracts from a letter written by Dr Anil Sooklal, Counsellor for Political Affairs for the S.A. Government, stationed in Geneva, Switzerland, after his visit to the SICC in April 1997:
I was filled with awe as the magnificent complex came in view. As I arrived at the Ashram I marvelled at the sheer beauty of the place, but more so I was absolutely overwhelmed by the sheer size of the complex.
The last time I had been to the Ashram was in 1993. Since then it has expanded considerably, so I was unsure where to proceed as I watched the hundreds of devotees of Gurudev stream to the Ashram on that tranquil Sunday morning.
Lovingly one of the devotees suggested that I first visit Ganga Rani, and directed me towards the building. I wondered what exactly Ganga Rani was. As I entered the building I could not have imagined the existence of such a unique and spiritually elevating concept. I sat in this most magnificent spiritual centre which makes one lose all perceptions of time and space, transporting one to the 'world of the Devas'. I am sure that Ganga Rani is unique, not only to South Africa but the world.
Having had the blessings of Mother Ganga, I returned to the peace and tranquillity of the Satsang Hall where I had the good fortune to partake in Satsang, which I had dearly missed since leaving South Africa eighteen months ago.
I subsequently visited Guru Kripa, the exhibition centre, which I am sure will serve as a great medium of education to young and old alike. Finally, I had a wonderful double helping of the biryani prasadam which I thoroughly enjoyed!
The Sivananda International Cultural Centre is a tribute to the perennial teachings of Sri Gurudev Sivanandaji and a living embodiment of the vibrancy and relevance of Gurudev's teachings to this day and age. I felt extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to visit the Ashram and renew and recharge myself by being bathed by the immense spiritual ecstasy that fills this wonderful home of Sri Gurudev and all his beloved devotees.
Thank you, Swamiji, for giving South Africa this magnificent spiritual retreat and centre of spiritual education and regeneration, which I am sure will soon become a familiar landmark in the country. I dearly look forward to returning to the Ashram in December when I visit South Africa for my home leave.Sri Anil SooklalCounsellor-Political AffairsS.A. Govt., Geneva, Switzerland