A spiritual fire

The Malibu Hindu Temple, located on Malibu Canyon Road at the border of Calabasas and Malibu, has been under construction since 1981. It was the site of a special fire ceremony led by a spiritual leader from India on Sunday. William McGarry / TMT

A guru from India, who Hindus say is spiritually connected to the gods, led a special “fire” ceremony on Sunday at the Malibu Hindu Temple.

By Vive DeCou / Special to The Malibu Times

Hidden behind the oak trees on busy Malibu Canyon Road on the border of Calabasas and Malibu stands the Malibu Hindu Temple. Locals may know it as an exotic work in progress, as over the years the temple’s ornate ivory towers have risen with scaffolding visible from the canyon road.

What locals might not know is that, despite ongoing construction since 1981, the temple is regularly used for prayer ceremonies, weddings and other special events, including a recent fire ritual led by a highly regarded Hindu guru.

Work on the 26,000 square foot temple that sits on a 4.5-acre plot, has cost $3 million to date. On the first floor, there is a large hall and kitchen used by the Hindus for weddings and other special events. Above that, on the second floor, are the shrines to the Hindu gods, which are crowned by ornate towers (sculptural work on the towers was done by temple artisans from India). The temple is owned and operated by the general body of the Hindu Temple Society, with more than 1,000 members. It is open every day and holds prayer ceremonies for Hindus regularly, led by Chief Priest Narasimha Bhattar, who has been working at the temple for 23 years.

The temple welcomed on Sunday, to perform a special fire ritual, Gurudev Rahuleshwaranandji, a guru who Hindus say is spiritually connected to the gods. He is the founder of the Padmashree Foundation and two spiritual centers in India that are dedicated to teaching the art and knowledge of spirituality.

According to literature from the Padmashree Foundation, Rahuleshwaranandji spent 20 years in the Himalayan Mountains studying under the spiritual masters. Hindus believe the sages who live in the Himalayas are hundreds of years old and some are immortal. It is also believed they can take a human form or a soul form, and that the soul form can travel anywhere, unencumbered by material constraints. Living with these sages, Rahuleshwaranandji became versed in the Vedic arts and sciences such as mantra, tantra, yoga, numerology and astrology and says he familiarized himself with 58 Indian languages.

Approximately 60 people, almost all Hindus, removed their shoes and were welcomed into the temple for the fire ritual, or Yagna. (The Yagna is an act of purification and is meant to increase and intensify the positive energy of the environment, the body and the spirit, according to Padmashree.) The ceremony took place in an open-air platform among the shrines that honor the Hindu gods, as well as among existing scaffolding, evidence of the ongoing work on the temple.

As Rahuleshwaranandji arrived, wearing a bright orange doti and angavastra (traditional Indian dress), the ritual participants were given bright orange shawls with words that read, when translated, “Saluting the spiritual soul of the Guru.” Each person sat on a woolen mat on spread over the concrete floor, with all the items for the ceremony spread in front of them-an urn and wood for their fire, as well as camphor, flower petals, rice, water, seeds, fruit and oil. Each item had significance in the ceremony. As the ceremony progressed, mantras were chanted and offerings were made to the fire.

Explaining through a translator the guru said, “Things you put inside you change the inside and things you put in the fire have an effect on the environment and are meant to purify it.”

He told the participants to concentrate on the ceremony and not think about the mundane aspects of life.

“Focus your energies on the fire,” Rahuleshwaranandji said. “That will enable you to achieve what you desire to achieve in your life.”

The participants all performed the ceremony in their own way, some shared the fires while others opted to just sit and watch the proceedings. There were even helpers moving about the crowd showing correct form to novices and those who may have forgotten.

Although the Vedic arts and the associated rituals are intrinsic to Hindu and Indian cultures, the guru said he believes they are a science and transcend the boundaries of any culture or religion. The fire ritual is meant as a purely spiritual practice. The guru said he believes spirituality can be achieved, and the Yagna is the fastest way, according to the ancient Indian scriptures, to achieve it.

A woman who declined to give her name said, “It [Yagna] is a cycle of energy. The fire goes up into the environment and draws cosmic forces back in.”

Rahuleshwaranandji is in Los Angeles until Oct. 24 and will be conducting spiritual ceremonies and classes.