Photo by: Lynn Levitt
The setting sun painted the cloudy sky with deep orange hues that added to the peace and tranquility of the place of worship. Somewhere within the ornate surroundings, chanting could be heard from a man in a white robe and red sash. Krishnama Charyulu Samudrala, a priest at the temple, was leading a prayer in a deity chamber.
Samudrala is one of the priests at the Malibu Hindu Temple. Built in 1981, the temple serves as a place worship for Hindus in the area. Samudrala and the other priests dedicate their lives to god at this temple.
Upon entering the temple, a calming aura began to manifest. In the inner temple, a carpet used for meditation was laid on the floor. At the back of the temple, statues of important Hindu deities and gurus were abundant.
“We have only one god, but in different forms,” said Samudrala, in reference to the four pillars surrounding the temple that each represent a separate form.
“That’s why we have ‘G.O.D.’ – generator, operator and destroyer,” Samudrala said.
The “G” refers to Lord Venkateswara, who is the creator, while the latter two letters are meant to represent Vishnu the protector and Shiva the destroyer, respectively.
Samudrala has a wife and two children, as marriage is permitted for Hindu priests. He described how the life of Hindu is broken up into intervals of 25 years.
“The first 25 years is studies, the second 25 years is marriage and children. Third is to have a title and the fourth 25 years is renounce,” said Samudrala, who added that the last 25 years is meant to be dedicated to worship until death.
Prayer, yoga and meditation are daily acts for Hindus. According to Samudrala, the reasoning for doing them is that they produce a healthy mind, body and soul.
Samudrala never imagined that he would live in the United States. He grew up in a priest’s household and was chosen to move from Tirupati, India, to the Malibu Hindu Temple. Tirupati is considered a holy site for Hindus because of the temples there, and about 10,000 people visit the city per day.
Narashimha Bhattar, the head priest of the temple, also came from abroad.
“I came here in 1984,” Bhattar said. “I came from Australia before coming here.”
Bhattar said that an average day in the life of a Hindu starts and ends with god in mind.
“I start my day by waking up to god and taking a shower,” Bhattar said as he goes through his day with god in mind. Walking around the temple you find many points at the temple that have importance.
“This is the offering plate for the deity of travel,” said Bhattar about the altar for the transportation deity Vahana. The offering plate is on the steps of the altar with change that people put as offerings. Right in front of the plate is the front gate, with a pillar topped with five golden items.
“This pillar represents the five elements,” said Bhattar about the front gate.
Rajappaa Balagopal has visited the temple since 1986. He has always been going to temples, so when he moved he seeks out a temple.
“Every town I find the closest temple near me,” Balagopal said as he found the Malibu Hindu temple was closest to him. He finds this temple special to him.
Parvathy Balagopal, another temple visitor, has been going there since 2005 and said that both the temple and Samudrala are important factors in her life. Parvathy is Rajappaa’s wife.
“It’s just a very special place to me,” Balagopal said. “[Samudrala] is very special.”