Sometimes when I'm in an unfamiliar area I type random words into my phone's GPS. Like "historical buildings" or "fountain pens." Don't laugh, I found the worlds greatest fountain pen store that way.
I think this is driven by childhood dreams I used to have of finding magical places in my neighborhood. Sometimes I get lucky and find a cool place to paint or sketch. A few years ago I did this in an unfamiliar area in the San Bernardino mountains. Driving around looking across the treetops, I saw what looked like a gold dome — like a glimpse of the Taj Mahal. It was tantalizing but I couldn't find access. When I got home, I looked it up.
Usually this stuff turns out to be a themed coffee shop or some other unremarkable mirage. But being in a forest this far off the the beaten path, it seemed really strange. It turned out it was the real thing, built by a Yogi from India in the twenties and thirties. In fact it was an entire camp, Camp Mozumdar, named for A.K. Mozumdar, with an amphitheater called the Pillars of God.
Everything I read about it made it sound like it was a heavily guarded, stay-away kind of place. I left it at that until a few days ago when I did some more research. This time, I found that the Universal Peace Federation, formerly known as the Unification Church (Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity) or, derogatively, the "Moonies," were reviving the property. Turns out the church has owned the property since the 1970s and were now reaching out to the local community. I called the director and pastor of the camp, Juan Morales, and asked if I could come by, and he immediately said yes.
I parked at the front gate off Mozumdar Drive and was greeted by barking dogs. Then Scott O'Brien, a member of the church, came up and we all walked down to the cabin where Juan lives. We sat down and talked for two hours or so.
Juan told me his journey to Camp Mozumdar, his trips to Israel — including one where he met Yasser Arafat, who he said cried when he heard Reverend Moon's teachings. He also pointed out the bedroom Reverend Moon stayed in when he was at the camp. Juan came to Camp Mozumdar from New York where he had a ministry.
After our talk, Scott and another Church member, Marvin, took me on a tour of the property. First we hit what they call "Holy Ground," a picturesque overlook with split log benches. It overlooks Silverwood Lake and beyond to Death Valley. We moved on to the Pillars of God, an amphitheater with twelve granite pillars representing Jesus' disciples circling out from a cross in the center.
Then we headed to the object of my desire, the "Temple of Christ." The Temple reveals itself in pretty spectacular fashion, and it looked bigger and in better shape than I'd imagined. It's really surreal in this setting. I love that what Mozumdar dreamed and built almost a hundred years ago is still here and imagined Mozumdar giving his talks in the temple all those years ago.
This was definitely satisfying my childhood "magical place" fantasy. It doesn't get much better than stumbling onto a mini golden domed Taj Mahal in the Southern California mountains.
We went back to the cabin and Juan had whipped up some pork mole and rice. We said a little prayer and ate. I went back for seconds.
I asked if I could hang out and they said sure, as long as I wanted. Scott and I went down to the Temple and I decided to do an oil sketch, a luxury since I don't usually have a stationary subject. Scott hung out and talked. He told me how he met members of the Church in Berkeley in the seventies, about a chance encounter with Bob Dylan and meeting the Reverend Moon himself.
I came back the next day and sketched the amphitheater and the Holy Ground. I was also enjoying the conversations with Scott.
The man who built all this, Akhoy Kumar Mozumdar, was born in India to a high caste family. Later in his life, his spiritual quest led him to a teacher that told him he was destined for teaching in America. He arrived in Seattle, Washington via tramp steamer in 1903. He began lecturing about what he called "Universal Truth," established his ministry in Spokane, wrote books and his message spread.
He's considered a part of the "New Thought Movement," a spiritual movement based on the teaching of Phineas Parkhurst Quimby that started in the 19th century. In 1919, he made his way to Los Angeles. From there, he bounced around the country teaching and healing. At one of these lectures someone mistakenly introduced him as "Prince Mozumdar," and it became a nickname that stuck the rest of his life.
Somewhere around this time, he purchased ten acres of land at what is now Camp Mozumdar. It eventually expanded to the over 100 acres it is today. He wanted a place where people of all faiths could come and worship. He lectured at the Pillars of God on Sunday afternoons in the summer. People came and camped and he never charged them.
As he got older people commented on how he didn't age, that he'd found his own "fountain of youth." But in 1953 time caught up with him like it does all of us. His camp was sold to the YMCA then to the Universal Peace Federation in 1977.
I found a lot of this info on a site run by David E. Howard. I contacted him about the current level of interest in Mozumdar's teachings, and he wrote back, "I wish I could tell you that interest in AKM's teachings was white hot and growing but from my perspective that's not the case. I've never followed statistics about activity on our website but I can report that occasionally a reader will write an email of appreciation or make a donation or share an experience from long ago at Camp Mozumdar.
I hope they get Mozumdar's dream back to its full glory. That it's still sitting there more than 80 years on, surviving fires or demolition by shortsighted people, is a miracle in itself. I wish I could thank him for the magical little adventure it brought me.