March 23, 2003 VNN7923 This story URL: http://www.vnn.org/usa/US0303/US23-7923.html
Magical Mystical Tour
FROM LOS ANGELES INDEPENDENT
USA, Mar 23 (VNN) By Brian Lewis
Ever since he watched a video about the Bhagavad-Gita Museum, Mamabu not only wanted to see the unique attraction but move to Los Angeles to be part of it.
Like a metaphysical miniature golf course of sorts with hundreds of costumed characters amid detailed settings, the Bhagavad-Gita Museum features 11 animatronic dioramas bringing the ancient sacred text of India to vivid, spectacular life and laying out the basic precepts of the Hare Krishna religion -- which operates the small facility, along with numerous others, on a block-long stretch of Watseka Avenue in the Palms area.
The warren-like museum sits between the highly regarded vegetarian restaurant Govinda's and a temple, across the street from an apartment building for members of the Hare Krishna community, down the block from the North American headquarters of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, several other houses, apartment buildings and an ashram that houses students, and around the corner from the movement's publishing offices.
And although the museum just recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, its existence has bordered on being a well-kept secret for much of the last quarter-century.
Mainly enlightenment seekers in the know have made pilgrimages to the museum -- like the late George Harrison, who in a 1982 interview with a Hare Krishna publication called it "better than Disneyland" and "as valuable...as the Smithsonian," and Mamabu, who moved to Los Angeles five years ago to help with its renovation.
When repairs to the clay dolls, which were made in Los Angeles following ancient Indian tradition, and computer system operating the displays was completed, Mamabu decided to stay on as the museum's primary tour guide.
"It answered for me the meaning of life," he explains, "which is to love God and to serve him."
Most days of the week find Mamabu sitting in the closet-sized office of the 3764 Watseka Ave. museum, which operates Tuesdays through Saturdays 1-7 p.m. and Sundays 3-8:30 p.m.
After handing over the $2.75 admission price, $2 for students and $1.75 for seniors, tourgoers are led into the darkened corridor by Mamabu, who explains that it takes a few seconds for the system to power up.
Suddenly, ethereal sitar music begins to play and the sonorous narrator starts in with his dulcet voice to explain the Bhagavad-Gita, a Sanskrit poem describing the Hindu path to spiritual wisdom that was written thousands of years ago.
A lamp slowly begins to glow, illuminating Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder of the Hare Krishnas, translating the Bhagavad-Gita in a small room in a temple in India. As the lamp gets brighter, visitors can see the exotic details behind the glass partition and notice the figure's head move slightly up and down as the recorded narrator describes Prabhupada's life and the religion he founded.
According to Mamabu, Prabhupada personally requested the museum's development in the early 1970s. "He felt a diorama is worth a thousand pictures," says Mamabu, adding that Prabhupada oversaw the construction process and viewed the first diorama before his death.
The next display lays out the story of the Bhagavad-Gita, a dialogue on self-realization between Prince Arjuna and Lord Krishna in the midst of a battlefield.
And from there, museumgoers take in displays documenting the stages of life from fetus to corpse, the five senses, the path to enlightenment and the forms of god before stepping inside a diorama and sitting in one of three theater seats as a curtain pulls back to illustrate how Krishna changes from human to universal form. The tour finally concludes at a diorama depicting a view of heaven as laid out in the Bhagavad-Gita.
"Different people appreciate it at different levels," Mamabu says. "For some it's an awakening of their spiritual awareness. For others it gives them an understanding of the soul. And others come to appreciate the difference between a personal god and a universal god."
For Mamabu, it's an honor just to be a part of the museum.
Born and raised a Buddhist, he says he was shown the door as a young adult for asking impertinent questions. From there, he says, he began studying different religions, including doing a stint with the Church of Scientology, before finding the Hare Krishnas and settling down.
"I needed something that would incorporate reincarnation because I was firm on that," he says. "I also needed a god, I really believed there was a personal god, a god with a personality."
Twenty years later, Mamabu says he's just doing his part to assist his fellow seekers of enlightenment.
"I feel very privileged being here," he says. "It answered my questions."
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