I have driven the Los Virgenes Road, as it winds
from the Ventura Freeway to the ocean, many, many
times. Each time I have glimpsed through a flash
of trees the fascinating sunlit white tower of
an ornate eastern temple. My reticence to pass
uninvited into private domains always let my head
turn only a moment in curiosity as I drove on.
But one day recently, I turned off the main road
and into the temple. It is the site of the Hindu
Temple of Southern California. One enters barefoot.
The main building is composed of a large tiered
tower decorated with elaborate geometric carvings
and figures of goddesses. Separate structures
at each corner of the temple grounds house statues
of holy figures. Loudspeakers broadcast prayers
and sitar music. Women, wearing colorful Indian
dress, circle the temple, hands clasped in a prayerful
pose. This local temple is a copy of one four
times as large in the holy Indian city of Tirupathi.
It was in that city, near Madras, India, that
Krishnamacharyulu was born.
Krishnamacharyulu is the spiritual leader of
the Hindu Temple of Southern California. His title
is swami. His head is shaven. He wears a “dhoti,”
a simple white cotton loin cloth traditionally
worn by Hindu men. His voice is soft, exuding
a peacefulness that I am sure is part of his nature
and his religion. One has to listen intently to
understand his words and meaning, not only because
of his Indian accent but because, for someone
like myself, bred within the traditions of western,
Judeo-Christian culture, comprehending the concepts
of eastern religion is difficult.
Before we met, I was mindful of a Jewish fable,
the story of a man who wanted to understand the
essential nature of Judaism. He went to Hillel
and said, “teach me the whole Torah while standing
on one foot.” The rabbi stood on one foot and
said, “Do unto others what you would have them
do unto you. All the rest is commentary.” I must
have seemed very much like that annoying skeptic
when I entered Krishnamacharyulu’s temple and
inquired of his life and religion. But he didn’t
“shoo” me out. He welcomed me in, invited me to
sit before him on a rug, and hospitably offered
me a piece of fruit.
My knowledge of Hinduism comes from the distorted
roots of the sixties - an amalgam of pop star
education from the Beatles; newscasts about trendy
Indian gurus such as Maharish Mahesh Yogi, the
founder of transcendental meditation; and from
a miscellany of little understood hindu terminology
like “karma and yoga.”
“What are the Hindu god or gods called?” I asked.
“God is called Vishnu,” he explained. “There
is only one god, but different forms. Krishna
is a different form of Vishnu. Rama is a different
form of Vishnu. In different eras Vishnu took
Like the bible, there is also a Hindu scripture.
It is called the “Veda,” a Sanskrit word meaning
I asked the swami to explain the essence of
the Veda. My equivalent of asking a rabbi to explain
the Torah standing on one foot.
Krishnamachayulu didn’t hesitate. “Do good things,”
he answered. He went on to describe the essence
of Hinduism as “respect.” Respect first for one’s
mother, then for one’s father, for one’s guru
or teacher, and then to god. “Mother,” he told
me, “gives you birth. She introduces you to your
father. They both take you someplace where a guru
teaches you, removing your darkness. Only then
are you able to pray, to understand god.”
Hindus also believe in reincarnation and are
supposed to be vegetarians, to revere all life.
There is no special ceremony to become a Hindu.
“If you wish to pray,” he told me, “you may pray.
If you wish to learn, we will teach.”
Krishnamacharyulu arrived here twelve years
ago when a committee requested that the temple
in India send a priest. His father was a priest,
his grandfather was a priest, as were his forefathers
for generations before. He is married and has
a son and daughter.
On his forehead, there is a line of orange-yellow
paint that reaches to the bridge of his nose.
“Tirunaman,” it is called, “feet of the gods.”
“I am at the ‘feet of the gods.’ I am a servant
There are nearly a billion Hindus in the world
today, most in India, but also as many as 400,000
here in the U.S. Before Judaism, there was Hinduism.
Before Christianity, there were Hindus. Before
Islam, there were Hindus. Buddha was a Hindu.
And though there may be a great distance between
cultures of the east and west, there is a meeting
place beside a winding road near the ocean and
Malibu. And Swami Krishnamacharyulu is a teacher