Wilmot Rodman, 95, still has a firm handshake and sparkling blue eyes. The longtime La Crescentan sits on a bench opposite the Ananda Ashrama temple, munching on layered anniversary cake, recalling the early days of La Crescenta â€” before freeways, before smog. He recalls the days when orange groves stretched as far as the eye could see.
It's a bright Sunday morning. The only sounds are birds chirping and footsteps as people congregate outside the temple following celebrations inside marking the 85th anniversary of Ananda Ashrama, the only such temple in the Crescenta Valley. The Ashrama â€” another word for temple â€” was founded in La Crescenta in April 1923 under the direction of Swami Paramananda, a follower of Swami Vivekananda who introduced Vedanta and yoga to the U.S. in the late 19th century. The Ashrama's East Coast sister temple is the Vedanta Centre in Cohasset, Mass.
â€œI realized how much how of this has been built into me,â€ said Rodman, who has been coming to the temple since 1937. He recalls meeting Swami Paramananda as the swami was supervising the building of the temple.
â€œHe had a good baritone voice that could fill an auditorium. You could sit in the back and hear everything he said,â€ Rodman recalls. â€œHe spoke very easily and simply.â€
â€œHouses have been built up; the orange groves are gone,â€ Rodman said; however, â€œAs far as the teachings are concerned, that has stayed the same. I have never missed a day of meditation in the temple.â€
Rodman's son, Alan, believes the hills and nature surrounding Ananda Ashrama are all inclusive.
â€œI would say that the flowers and the trees are integral to the temple experience, not separate,â€ he said. â€œI can see why the founder chose this place. One of the things I've most enjoyed reading was discussions about the site in the early 20th century.â€
The temple is a part of the Crescenta Valley, and that is what Alan treasures the most. For him, the site is not exotic, it is California.
â€œI would say, many have come, many have left, and only a few have stayed,â€ said the Ashrama's Sister Mary Marta, who has been teaching at Ashrama since 1967. â€œPeople get attracted, and then they get bored with what they hear. You have to give people the freedom to say 'yes, I like this' [or] 'no, I don't like thisâ€ or 'I need to move on.'â€
Sunday's celebration was a low-key, simple service, which began in the main temple, on grounds above Foothill Boulevard. It is the last driveway you will encounter on the way up Pennsylvania Avenue. The entrance to the grounds are behind a nondescript iron gate which is kept open for public services.
Prior to the service, music filled the small temple, which is the spiritual seat of the Ananda Ashrama. Morning prayers were given a heavenly touch of sorts, as the sounds of a harp, violin and guitar complemented the incense which filled the room. Candles burned on each side of the altar, where a statue of the Virgin Mary and portraits of Jesus and Ananda Ashrama founder Swami Paramananda were displayed. Some people had their eyes closed. People listened intently to the words of Sister Mata.
Ananda Ashrama is founded upon the Hindu philosophy of Vedanta, which teaches tolerance for all religions and allows people to follow their religion more fully.
Ultimately, people find a deeper connection and discover that there are many paths to the divine and that â€œyou honor all of those pathways,â€ said Ananda Ashrama minister Anita Rodman.
â€œWe welcome any and all people,â€ said Sister Mata. We never ask people to change anything that they believe. If we can give them the message and they can get something out of it, that is wonderful.â€