SOME 400 PAIR OF SLIP-ON SHOES LIE OUTSIDE THE AUDITORIUM OF Laguna Beach's Anneliese's preschool. Beautiful yoga couples and 40-something hipsters dressed in colorful cottons mill about the lush gardens, mural-covered bungalows, an exotic bird sanctuary, and a pen that holds a couple of llamas and a pig that have been rented for the weekend. They're here for the 10th annual Kali Puja Festival, a two-day event dedicated to the worship of Kali -- God in the form of the divine mother.
Ruth, a pretty mom from Holmby Hills, admires the peacocks with her 5-year-old son, Simon. "It's really important to bring your kids to things like this. The music, the spiritual vibe, the different types of people . . . Kids don't have a sense of that today. Kids relate to God, like, right here in the peacock, in hearing the music. You take them to a church or a synagogue, God's just not there for them."
Scott, 26, drove 11 hours from Albuquerque with his 23-year-old roommate, Yuki, to be here. He sits holding a paper plate of vegetarian food. His thick brown hair is long and wavy. His skin is tan. His eyes are blue. He's talking about the three months he spent at a small hermitage in the Himalayas. "I was really considering being a monk. I was examining all my sexual hopes and dreams. That's partly what brought up so much anger."
Meanwhile, Bhagavan Das, the man responsible for introducing former Harvard professor, LSD enthusiast and Be Here Now author Ram Dass to his guru Neem Keroli Baba in 1967, is holding court. A red hibiscus peeks out of the mound of dreadlocks piled on top of his head. He is wrapped in a white sarong. Seated at a small, blue, child-size table, he sips chai and elaborates on his favorite form of God.
"Kali is the god of sex and death. See, all the relationships we build in this world are gonna be fickle. The only thing for certain is about death. But we are afraid to die, we are afraid to go all the way, afraid to show up, to zoom in. So, we live a half-life. The idea is to die to the moment, to surrender completely. What else are you going to do, go shopping?"
A butterfly lands on a large pink flower. Two barefoot children run by. The 6-foot-4 former surfer, onetime used-car salesman, is performing this weekend. His last CD, Bhagavan Das Now, was produced by Beastie Boy Mike D.
"Am I ready for death?" he continues. "No. I'm power tripping. I'm thinking of the future. I'm gonna get famous, I'm gonna buy a house, gonna have a big party. That's what my mind thinks. The nature of the mind is to think that. So, instead of beating yourself up -- back off. Get real."
The smell of incense wafts through the air. The yogic Moondog goes on. "This is who I am. It's not an act. I'm a naked hippie. I love the sensualness of it all. What I renounce is the idea that it's gonna fix me. The idea that if I hop into bed with the 18-year-old, she's gonna be around tomorrow. But I'm gonna give her everything that night. I'm gonna love every moment of it. That's the way I live. This life, you can't go around it. You gotta go through it. So, when Kali comes at me with her sword, I lean into it. I say, 'Let's go. This is what I've been waiting for.' Got it? Do what you love. Love what you do. Go all the way. Be complete. Get into life, 'cause you're going to die. But know that it's not gonna fix you. Follow me?"
In a long line, a gorgeous blond couple wait behind an East Indian family to make their offering of flowers and incense to a massive altar.
Outside, standing next to a white Cabriolet with the license plate "WITHIN," is Krishna Das, the chanting world's biggest celebrity, who has just wrapped up his Sunday-morning performance. If Grammys were given for kirtan, as chanting is called in Sanskrit, he would be the first to get one. His smooth rock vocals and inspiring sincerity have made him a staple on the ever-expanding yoga circuit -- and attracted people like Rick Rubin, who produced his last CD.
"I can tell you that Kali is supposed to be the aspect of the mother that absorbs all our darkness. That's why she looks so fierce." His words are punctuated with thoughtful pauses; his eyes are kind. "We are holding on to our ego. She is ripping that away from us and we're scared. But once the work is done, she turns into the golden Durga, who is only love. You can see her as all the difficult things that happen to you in life, that force you to look at yourself and clear your heart." A young girl in an orange T-shirt approaches the singer. She falls into his arms, crying.