Gandhi’s Ashes in L.A.

On Friday night, we watched “Gandhi” (1982) on hulu.com.  I remember going to the cinema with my parents to watch this film when it was first released.  I was so small; I had to sit on everyone’s winter parkas to see the screen.  I had never seen a cremation before so the image of a burning funeral pyre was seared into my six-year-old brain.  

Mohandas Gandhi (1869 – 1948) was working as a lawyer in South Africa when he first decided to challenge the injustices faced by Indians living in South Africa.  When he returned to India in 1915, he started to question the status of Indians within the British Empire, and his own place in Indian society.  To highlight inequities perpetrated and perpetuated by the ruling class, Gandhi and his followers practiced non-violent civil disobedience for decades until Indians won freedom from British colonial rule in 1947.  He was assassinated in 1948 while on his way to address a prayer meeting.  After his cremation, his ashes were divided into urns that were sent across India to memorial services held throughout the country.  Most of Gandhi’s ashes have since been scattered along bodies of water, in keeping with the Hindu belief that releasing ashes into the water, the air, or the earth signifies the return of a body to its elements and smooths the spiritual transition to the afterlife. 

I was surprised to learn that some of Gandhi’s ashes are enshrined in Los Angeles at the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine Temple in Pacific Palisades.  On Sunday, we decided to make a pilgrimage to the shrine.  In 1950, a guru named Paramahansa Yogananda had built the shrine on the grounds of Inceville, a silent movie studio.  The property is now a twee theme park of religion, a pastiche of faith featuring statues, a waterfall, a windmill, a houseboat, and a temple which welcomes all creeds.  The Golden Lotus Archway is a “wall-less” temple that leads to the Gandhi World Peace Memorial, where a thousand-year-old Chinese sarcophagus holds a portion of Gandhi’s ashes.  The monument is an incongruous tribute to a man who was devoutly ascetic.

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  1. My favorite scene: At Gandhi’s trial, he walks in and the entire courtroom including the judge stands up.

    Makes me sad to hear so many labelling all protesters at the G20 as dangerous trouble makers. Sure a small number are no more than hoodlums trying to make trouble. But most are peacefully voice their concerns motivated by noble ideals and must be heard, supported and protected if we want to live up to being a democratic country.

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