FACULTY AND STAFF
REV. DR. SWAMI BHAJANANANDA SARASWATI
Dean of Seminary and Senior Instructor
Pujya (Revered) Swami Bhajanananda Saraswati is a Hindu ascetic, priest, educator, and spiritual preceptor who has been with Kali Mandir since its founding in 1993 and serves as vice president and mahant (head priest/abbot).
Born in Mexico and raised in the United States, Swami Bhajanananda started his spiritual search and study in his teens. In 1987, while still in high school, he met his guru, the great yogi and saint His Holiness Param Pujya (Most Revered) Swami Vishnudevananda Saraswati of Prayagraj/Allahabad, the senior disciple of Yogiraj Handiya Baba (Param Pujya Swami Hridayananda Saraswati). Param Pujya Swami Vishnudevananda initiated him as a brahmachari (novice monk) in 1993. He received further initiations from His Holiness Param Pujya Swami Chidananda Saraswati, the late president of the Divine Life Society, Rishikesh, and from Sri Haradhan Chakraborti, the late head pujari of the Dakshineswar Kali Temple. In 1999 he received his final monastic ordination as a Dasnami Sannyasi in the tradition of the Juna Akara from His Holiness Sri Mahant Param Pujya Swami Omananda Saraswati, the successor of Param Pujya Swami Vishnudevananda and head of Yoga Vedanta Kutir at Prayagraj.
Swamiji earned his Bachelor of Art degree in Religious Studies from the University of California at Berkeley and his Doctor of Ministry degree in Applied Theology from the New Seminary for Interfaith Studies in New York, the oldest interfaith seminary in the world, founded by Rabbi Joseph Gelberman and His Holiness Swami Satcitananda Saraswati. He was recently awarded a Doctor of Divinity degree (h.c.) in Tantra Brahmavidya by Maharshi Vedvyasa International Virtual Vedic University (MVIVVU), in recognition of his more than twenty-five years of pastoral service to the Hindu community. He served as an instructor at the University of California at Irvine in their Yoga Studies Program for several years and is presently an advisor for Hinduism at the New Seminary and adjunct faculty in Tantra Studies for the Virtual Rishikulam at MVIVVU . He has translated and authored several books, including Return to the Source, Collected Writings on Spiritual Life; recorded albums of devotional kirtan; and has spoken at universities, high schools, religious centers and professional gatherings on Hinduism and interfaith relations. He is featured in the documentary series Yogic Paths produced by Gaia TV, as well as the film Imagemaker, about the making and worship of Kali murtis. Swamiji is considered an expert in the ritual worship of the Mother Goddess as per the dakshina-marg (right handed path) of Tantra, which adheres to traditional conservative Hindu norms in the mood of selfless devotion. He regularly gives discourses on the Hindu scriptures, the teachings of the saint, and sacred traditions. Recordings of hundreds of these discourses are available on Kali Mandir's podcast page and on our YouTube channel.
REV. SWAMI AMBIKANANDA SARASWATI
Research Fellow, Ramakrishna Studies
Pujya Swami Ambikananda Saraswati is a devotee of Sri Ramakrishna and Goddess Kali. He and Pujya Swami Bhajanananda grew up together as childhood friends. In 1996 he received spiritual initiation from Sri Haradhan Chakraborti, the late main pujari of the Dakshineswar Kali Temple in Kolkata, India, and from Revered Swami Aparananda Puri Maharaj, senior monk of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission and head of the Vedanta Society of Berkeley, in 1998. He was ordained as a brahmachari (novice monk) and Kali Mandir archaka/pujari (servant priest) in 2000 by Pujya Swami Bhajanananda and received his final monastic ordination as a Dasnami Sannyasi in the Naga tradition of the Juna Akaraon on Vashant Panchami 2011 at the holy confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers from His Holiness Sri Mahant Param Pujya Swami Omananda Saraswati, abbot of the Yoga Vedanta Kutir ashram in Allahabad, India.
Swamiji earned his Bachelor degree in English Literature from the University of California at Berkeley and is currently completing his doctoral capstone project at Ramakrishna Seminary. He is presently working on a new translation of the five-volume Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita from Bengali into English (see Kathamrita Project). When not traveling in India, Pujya Swami Ambikananda resides at Kali Mandir Ramakrishna Ashram in Laguna Beach, serving Ma and Her devotees as pujari, Secretary of the Board of Directors, and as a Research Fellow for the Ramakrishna Seminary.
KAMALAKANTA (NAREN K. SCHREINER)
Rev. Kamalakanta represents the sacred culture of India blended with American idealism. He is talented teacher and musician of India’s sacred traditions and represents the sacred lifestyle of India’s ancient religion applied to modern life in America. He began his own spiritual search when he was 14, exploring different paths and teachers and received initiation into the Kriya Yoga lineage of Paramahansa Yogananda at 16. In 1996 became a monk in the Self-Realization Fellowship where, for the next 14 years, he lived as a brahmachari (monastic yogi), studying religion, practicing yoga and living the pure, disciplined life of a monk.
With the supportive guidance of his spiritual counselors, Kamalakanta chose to leave the ashram and expand his lifework. During a pilgrimage to India that year, he visited many holy places, deepening his spiritual sadhana and expanding his experience and knowledge of 'the motherland' that gave birth and raised the divine gurus and sages. In Kolkata, he was invited to refine his musicianship at the ITC-Sangeet Research Academy in India, where he studied with maestros of classical music, concentrating on the foundations of "bhavsangeet" -- music that is classically-based, yet emphasizes "bhav", or the divine sentiments.
In 2012 Kamalakanta founded Sangita Yoga in Encinitas, CA. and has recorded several CDs of sacred chants. He continues to deepen and expand his spiritual understanding and practices under the guidance of Rev. Swami Bhajanananda Saraswati at Kali Mandir, where he serves as an ordained minister and archaka/pujari. He regularly travels throughout the US and Mexico teaching Sanatana Dharma, singing kirtan and bhajans, and performing pujas.
Initiated in the spiritual lineage of Paramahansa Yogananda, Lopa's spiritual focus is the foundation of her life. By nature she is a bridge between the cultures of India and America. She lives and moves with ease in both countries and cultures, fully integrating the best of each. Born in Kolkata, India, she was naturally drawn to the sacred art and culture of her homeland. Her degree in Philosophy from University of Calcutta reflects her deep interest and study of the spirit. As a young woman she made the courageous move to America to start a family. She went to design school and started a residential design business. Her career expanded to other areas of design and art. She was the design manager and buyer for a high-end, spiritually inspired boutique of Indian imports. Lopa's professional skill and passion to create beautiful interiors is now combined with her ongoing study of Vastu, enabling her to transform any space into a sacred space as a service to spiritual seekers. She is the owner of Supreme Swan, which provides high quality, ethically-sourced yoga-based products.
ADI KESHAVA DAS (BRIAN CAMPBELL)
Scholar in Residence
Rev. Adi Keshava has been studying and practicing Hindu spirituality since his high school years, which upon completion, prompted him to go on a pilgrimage to India to "see" firsthand what he had been learning and practicing. Upon returning, he spent the next several years living in ashrams and monasteries, studying orthodox Sri Vaishnava ritual (Vaikhansa Agama) with traditional priest families in Europe and South India, and was ordained as a Kali Mandir pujari/archaka (priest) by Swami Bhajanananda in 2006. He has also trained in the South Indian Sri Vidya Tantric tradition.
Adi earned a bachelor's degree in Socio-Cultural Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley, a master's degree in Anthropology from the University of Chicago, and was a graduate student instructor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California, Davis for several years. Adi currently serves as Adjunct Lecturer in the Religious Studies Department at California State University, Sacramento and is an independent scholar researching the history, theory, and practice of Vedic, Tantric, and Hindu ritual with a focus on mantra, language ideologies, and indigenous theories of semiosis. An ardent devotee and scholar, Adi Keshava is also a gifted musician. He has studied tabla in the Lucknow and Punjab gharanas for more than fifteen years and often accompanies kirtan/bhajan singers on khol-mridanga.
Sacred Art and History
Halley Goswami graduated from Calcutta University and earned a law degree from South Calcutta Law Collage. Although trained as a lawyer, Halley focuses his attention on his religious themed art, reviving traditional Bengali painting styles. An independent thinker, research scholar, and cultural critic, his love and passion for Bengali history and culture informs his art and commentary. He performs an elaborate Durga Puja every year in his family home in Kolkata, sculpting the image of the Goddess with his own hands. Many of his original paintings depicting Sri Ramakrishna's lila hang at Kali Mandir. He is also an advisor and editor for the Kathamrita translation project sponsored by Kali Mandir.
APARNA DEVI (LAUREN HOOK)
Student Affairs and Registrar
Aparna is a devotee of Mother Kali and Sri Ramakrishna who has worshiped and served at Kali Mandir since 2011. She is an initiated disciple of Revered Swami Chetananandaji Maharaj, a senior monk of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission and the spiritual head the Vedanta Society of St. Louis. She earned a BA in Economic Theory and Development from the Johnston Center of Integrative Studies at the University of Redlands.
ELIZABETH USHA HARDING
Advisor and Kali Mandir Founder-President
Born in Vienna, Austria, Elizabeth Usha Harding lived most of her adult life in Laguna Beach, California. In her professional career, she worked as a journalist covering the computer software industry. Usha has been a devotee of Sri Ramakrishna since 1970. She authored a book entitled Kali, the Black Goddess of Dakshineswar and was instrumental founding Kali Mandir in 1995. Since she retired from working as a journalist, she has dedicated her life full time to work for the Divine Mother Kali.
Jatehswar Das is a disciple of Pujya Swami Bhajanananda Saraswati and a Kali Mandir ordained itinerant pujari serving in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. He lives in Ashland, Oregon with his wife Shivaani Devi and their three children. Together they run Omen Tea, providing the community with wild, old-growth, and sustainable tea. Jateshwar also studies indigenous sacred body art and tattooing.
SRI PRANAB GHOSHAL