PASSINGS: Swami Swahananda

Swami Swahananda, 91, the longtime spiritual leader of the Vedanta Society of Southern California who had previously headed the Hindu religious organization's branch in Berkeley, died Friday at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center after a stroke, according to an aide.

Since 1976, Swahananda had led the Southern California society, which has its headquarters in a domed white temple in Hollywood and is affiliated with the Ramakrishna Order of India. But Swahananda, a senior monk of the order, was also known for his role in founding Vedanta centers around the United States, including one outside Washington, D.C., and another in upstate New York.

One week before his death, Swahananda traveled to the opening of a Vedanta center in Austin, Texas, where he surprised aides by speaking at length at the ceremony. "He was in his element," his personal assistant, Swami Mahayogananda, said Tuesday. "He was working until the end of his life."



Swami Swahananda:

An earlier version of this online article misstated the timing of a recent visit Swami Swahananda made to Austin, Texas. That trip was one week, not two weeks, before his death on Oct. 19. The article also misspelled the name of one of the Vedanta Society’s founders. The correct spelling is Swami Vivekananda, not Vivekenanda.

Vedanta philosophy, which holds that each person in essence is divine and that all religions are paths to God, arrived in the United States at the 1893 World's Parliament of Religions in Chicago, when a speech by one of the society's founders, Swami  Vivekananda, attracted wide attention. The first U.S. Vedanta centers soon followed.

As leader of Vedanta's Southern California branch, Swahananda succeeded Swami Prabhavananda, who founded the Hollywood center in 1930, drawing interest from the writers Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood, among others.

Born Bipadbhanjan Goswami on June 29, 1921, Swahananda grew up in a village near Habiganj in what is now Bangladesh. He joined the Ramakrishna Order in 1947, after earning an undergraduate degree from Murari Chand College and a master's in English literature and language from the University of Calcutta. He arrived in the United States in 1968, serving as assistant minister of the San Francisco Vedanta Society before moving to Berkeley and then Los Angeles.

-- Los Angeles Times staff reports