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Celebration of Faith

August 29, 1993|GORDON DILLOW

NORWALK — Amid clouds of fragrant smoke from 1,008 "holy fires" and the chanting of mantras, about 20,000 people gathered recently on the Cerritos College campus to celebrate an ancient Asian Indian ritual known as a yagna.

The ceremony, sponsored by Gayatri Pariwar, an India-based Hindu religious movement, was said by its sponsors to be the largest of its kind held in the Los Angeles area.

"The specific aim of this project is to get rid of evil thinking and instill divine virtues," said Kevin Borad, a San Fernando Valley investment counselor and a trustee of the Gayatri Pariwar group.

Founded in 1940 by the late Pandit Sri Ram Sharma, the Gayatri Pariwar group claims 30 million followers, almost all of them in India. The movement combines scientific and spiritual elements, and advocates strong family life, "de-addiction" from drugs and alcohol and the worldwide emancipation of women.

Under a large, open-sided tent, thousands of people gathered around small sacred fires and burned offerings of purified butter, special wood and powder from medicinal plants, filling the air with a smoky haze.

Cerritos College was chosen as the site, organizers said, because it is at the center of the largest Indian population in Southern California. Census figures show that about 3,500 Indians live in the Cerritos-Norwalk-Artesia area.

But organizers stressed that the two-day event was not for Indians alone. "This message is for everybody, irrespective of religion, class, gender, anything," said Pranav Pandya, director of the Gayatri Pariwar organization.

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