Revered Swami Bhajanananda Saraswati has been with Kali Mandir since its founding in 1993 and serves as the Vice President, Head Priest, and 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 saint and yogi His Holiness Swami Vishnudevananda Saraswati of Prayag (Allahabad) who initiated him as a brahmachari (novice monk) in 1993. He received further initiations from His Holiness 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 Naga tradition of the Juna Akara from His Holiness Swami Omananda Saraswati, the spiritual successor of Swami Vishnudevananda Saraswati and head of Yoga Vedanta Kutir in Allahabad.
Swamji has earned his Bachelor degree in Religious Studies (BA) from the University of California at Berkeley and his Doctorate in Theology/Ministry (DMin) from the New Seminary for Interfaith Studies in New York, the oldest interfaith seminary in the world, founded by Rabbi Joseph Gelberman. 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. 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 recently featured in the documentary series Yogic Paths produced by Gaia TV. 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 tradition that are available as podcast and on Youtube.
Revered Swami Ambikananda Saraswati is a Western-born devotee of Sri Ramakrishna and Goddess Kali. He has a degree in English Literature from the University of California at Berkeley. He and 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, California in 1998. He was ordained as a brahmachari (novice monk) and Kali Mandir pujari (priest) in 2000 by Swami Bhajanananda and received his final monastic ordination as a naga sannyasin (renunciate) of the Dasnami Vedantic Order on Vashant Panchami 2011 at the holy confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers from His Holiness Swami Omananda Saraswati Maharaj, Sri Mahant (abbot) of the Yoga Vedanta Kutir ashram in Allahabad, India. When not traveling in India, Swami Ambikananda stays at Kali Mandir Ramakrishna Ashram in Laguna Beach, serving Ma and the devotees and acting as Secretary. Currently he is working on a translation of the Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita from Bengali into English (see Kathamrita Project).
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 Swami Bhajanananda Saraswati at Kali Mandir, where he serves as an ordained minister and pujari. He regularly travels thorughout 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.
REV. ADI KESHAVA DAS (BRIAN CAMPBELL)
Associate Instructor, South Asian Studies & Tantra
Adi Keshava has been studying and practicing Hindu spirituality since high school and spent several years living in ashrams and monasteries. He studied orthodox Sri Vaishnava ritual 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 earned his Bachelor's degree in Cultural Anthropology from the University of California at Berkley and a Masters in Anthropology from the University of Chicago. He is presently working on his Doctorate in Religious Studies at the University of California at Davis and serves as Adjunct Lecturer in South Asian/Religious Studies at the University of California at Sacramento.
An ardent devotee and scholar, Adi Keshava is also a gifted musician. He has studied tabla in the Lacknow and Punjabi gharanas for more than fifteen years and often accompanies kirtan/bhajan singers on khol-mridanga.
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 and research scholar, 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. He is also an advisor and editor for the Kathamrita translation project sponsored by Kali Mandir.
REV. BRAHMACHARI ATMARAM CHAITANYA
Facilitator, Seminary Podcast
Brahmachari Atmaram is an initiated disciple of Swami Bhajanananda Saraswati and was ordained as a Dasnami novice monk and Kali Mandir pujari on Kartik Purnima in 2016. He currently splits his time between Kali Mandir Ramakrishna Ashram and San Diego County, where he is continuing his higher education in philosophy.
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 Chetananadaji 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.
Development Manager and Student Supportive Services
Dmitri is a Kali devotee, mystic and empath with many years of spiritual practice and experience behind him. For more than a decade he has worked in administration and management in religions education, most recently at the San Diego Jewish Academy and presently at the Claremont School of Theology. He and his wife Rajkumari attend Hindu worship ceremonies throughout Southern California and have been indispensable in their service to Kali Mandir and their loving support the devotees.
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.
Pranab Ghosal is a priest of the famous Dakshineswar Kali Temple in Kolkatta, where Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa lived, worshiped and taught. Pranab received initiation from a direct disciple of Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi. Pranab assisted the late Sri Haradhan Chakraborti, Dakshinewar head priest, in performed the prana-pratishtan (awakening/consecration ceremony) of Sri Ma Dakshieswari Kali in 1993, thus helping to start Kali Mandir. He has come to Laguna Beach ninteen times to worship Ma and train Kali Mandir pujaris. He remains a vital link between Kali Mandir and the Dakshineswar Temple.
Free Satsangs Podcast and Videos
Weekly public discourses given at Kali Mandir Ramakrishna Ashram are available as Podcast and on Youtube.