My sister, Neelam, and I (Monica) first met Swami Omkaranandaji, the Founder and Head Priest of Badarikashrama Temple in San Leandro, CA, when we first moved to California, back in 1976. We were both in our single digits, and we bonded with Swamiji because of his kindness and willingness to talk with us (which even we realized was unusual for people of his position). At the time, Swamiji was performing Hindu ceremonies for his small band of devotees out of a spare room in his apartment. Over the years, his congregation has grown exponentially. His humble guest bedroom became too small to fit all those who wanted to attend his services, so in 1984, he opened the Badarikasrama Temple in San Leandro. At the time, it was just the prayer hall, but it was always full whenever Swamiji scheduled a service. Today, the property hosts a two-bedroom apartment for Swamiji to live in, a commercial kitchen, a spacious dining hall, and a tarmac courtyard big enough to host religious celebrations and temple fundraisers.
Swami Omkarananda never tired in his pursuits. But he realized that his age was catching up with him, so he began looking for someone whom he could train to take over one day. As luck would have it, someone “found” him!
A bright young woman, who had suffered more than her share in life, impulsively attended one of Swamiji’s lectures. His message struck a chord in her. In short order, she approached Swamiji and asked if he would take her on as his disciple. After some “understandable” hesitation, he agreed.
As this woman’s Guru, his first order of business was to initiate her and give her a Hindu name. Thus was “born” Mangalananda. Now, Swamiji figured that “this” would be a passing phase in Mangalananda’s life, because training to be a sanyasini is far more rigorous than he expected Mangalananda to be able to handle. But he promised her that he would be her guru, so…
Over the next few years, Mangalananda was put through the paces: get up at four in the morning and sweep and mop the temple and grounds; polish the murtis and puja thalis; prune the bushes; pull the weeds; cook the food; you name it! Time passed, but Mangalananda persisted.
Type the bhajans and make enough booklets for the congregation; lead the singing of bhajans; restock the booklets and other paraphernalia that was available for devotees to buy; order more supplies; redecorate the alter; organize the additional programs… on and on his demands went. And on and on she performed!
Thoroughly surprised, and totally delighted, Swamiji finally acknowledged Mangalananda’s sincerity. And, shortly thereafter, made her a sanyasini in her own right. But the story doesn’t end there…
Soon after, Badarikashrama’s congregation purchased a 2-acre plot of land in rural Karnataka and donated it to the temple so that Swami Omkarananda could fulfill his deepest and most enduring wish: to open an ashrama in India somewhere to provide basic human services to the surrounding communities. Construction began swiftly and the finished Temple was inaugurated in 1986. Since then, it has grown to 52 acres. It hosts separate living quarters for visiting devotees and a primary school for the surrounding children, who are bused in and fed daily.
Currently, the ashram is in the process of finishing a project to build another set of classrooms in order to house a middle school for those children who have aged out of the primary school. Although the finished school building will function spectacularly, it is still in its construction stage. To complete this project, the ashram is desperately in need of funds. Their goal is $500, 000 USD. If you would like to help them, you can make a donation by going to the following website: http://www.badarikashrama.org/donation.php And you needn’t worry, because all the funds collected will go directly into completing this project.
Monica Sawyer and Neelam Wadhwani