Malibu is gorgeous this time of year. The heavy rains of the past few months have transformed the brownish hills into verdant slopes, the cascades of Bougainvillea are blooming and the air is crystalline. Hard to fathom that, in a few months, the hills will be a tinge of burnt brown, the beaches packed and the traffic a long caterpillar snaking on PCH.
I meandered along Malibu Canyon many times before, mainly to escape traffic or trying to get home faster when the 101 just doesn’t yield but, somehow, I never noticed the white structure peeping through some trees off Las Virgenes Canyon Road. On closer inspection, it looks as if a giant helicopter had lifted an Indian Temple from the Punjabi and deposited it on the Malibu Hills, carvings and colorful gods et al.
Armed with curiosity, I pull over on a glorious Monday morning and roll through a rusty gate where I notice quite a few cars are parked. The white structure is incongruous because unexpected but, once inside, a feeling of peace, if not of welcome, is hard to miss. Shoes are left outside – I hadn’t thought of it – and now it’s my suede boots that look incongruous next to a long line of slip-on sandals. A couple is taking a photo at the entrance and it doesn’t take long to notice I am the only non-Indian around – most women wear colorful saris or shalwar kameez but nobody makes a fuss of my red jeans (really, what was I thinking?).
I seem to have stumbled upon a service. Up the stairs, I enter a wide courtyard which contains a square room where the service is taking place: incense wafts out with repetitive chants. I peer inside where a small community of diverse people stand listening to the chanting monk.
The perimeter of the courtyard is dotted by 4 small structures, all topped with the same ornate carvings that form the roofs of the temple. Inside each one is the figure of a different god: Lakshmi, Bhodevi, Krishna and Hanuman, my favourite, the monkey-god whose legs span continents. I was always drawn to Indian mythology and, amongst all religions, the Hindu one is by far the most imaginative, with a pantheon of benign gods and goddesses in colorful attire, always up to all sorts of adventures.
A very large monk enrobed in a toga-like garment is going from one god to the next, offering prayers, incense, fresh water and flower petals. Some devotees follow him, praying and drawing the incense smoke towards their faces. A woman is walking wide circles in the courtyard, muttering prayers to herself, a shapeless form clad in orange and gold that disappears and reappears between the altars. The chanting and the smells are very soothing and I would like to sit for a while, but nobody is sitting and I don’t wish to be the offending outsider.
I am told that on week-ends, a canteen offers vegetarian Indian food and all are welcome. When I pull out of the parking lot, I notice the large monk leaving through the rusted gate in a Porsche Cayenne. Maybe I should have left Hanuman an offering…