Skip to main content

The Bhagavad-gita Museum

The second diorama, "Setting the Stage"

Who would have thought a quiet and unassuming neighborhood just off of Venice Boulevard in Culver City, California was hiding one of the most unique museums in Los Angeles? The Diorama-museum of Bhagavad-gita, or simply the Bhagavad-gita Museum as it is commonly known, is one of those off the beaten path locations that even many locals are unaware of, despite it having been there for nearly forty years. But what is it, exactly?

The museum is more of an immersive spiritual experience than a traditional museum. Visitors proceed through a series of unlit rooms, demanding you give your full attention to each of the eleven dioramas. These dioramas are not just three dimensional displays; each one is accompanied by a narration and light show to enhance the effect of each scene. Each of these dioramas portray either a scene from the Bhagavad-gita or explains a concept of the belief system that has sprung it.

The Bhagavad-gita is a religious text of the Hindu faith which tells the story of a prince named Arjuna and his charioteer, Krishna. Krishna, however, is not just any charioteer--he is in fact a living embodiment of the god Vishnu. The book records a conversation between the two, in which Krishna paves the path to spiritual enlightenment to both Arjuna and the reader alike. Technically, the Bhagavad-gita is just a chapter of a greater work, known as the Mahabharata, but to followers of Vishnu, collectively known as Vaishnavas, the Bhagavad-gita is the most important religious texts of their faith.

The displays are motion activated, so as you approach the next scene, it automatically begins. The entire experience takes about 45 minutes. The experience is truly one of a kind; the dioramas do an excellent job of bringing the book to life and explaining some of the core beliefs of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) movement.

Also known as the Hare Krishna's, the ISKCON organization was founded by Swami Prabhupada in 1966 upon his arrival in New York. The movement has expanded quite a bit since then, and now has around 500 temples and centers around the world.

A detail from the third diorama, "Changing Bodies"
The Bhagavad-gita Museum first opened in 1977. As it turns out, the building itself has always been a holy place. Built in 1914, it was originally a Methodist church. It, along with the buildings that make up the temple complex, were purchased by Swami Prabhupada in 1971. The property was immediately converted into the ISKCON Western world-headquarters.

The concept for the museum and its life-like statues was conceived years before that. When the organization was still in its infancy in New York, Swami Prabhupada asked a few of his new disciples to travel to India and learn the traditional art of doll making. They were a bit incredulous at the prospect but did as their guru asked. Over the course of the next fifteen months they mastered the craft of making these incredibly detailed clay "dolls" and returned to the US and began the task of creating these images on site.

From the 8th diorama, "God's Universal Form"
The eighth diorama, titled "God's Universal Form", is perhaps one of the most visually stunning. It shows us the scene from the Bhagavad-gita where Krishna allows Arjuna to see him in his supreme form. Called Vishwaroopa (or Vishvarupa, the English spelling can vary), this is the form of Vishnu in his true state (Krishna was a specific embodiment of Vishnu; they are one and the same but Krishna is a limited form of the god--if that makes sense). The entirety of the universe is contained within Vishnu, the sustainer of the universe, and experiencing him in this state is overwhelming to the point of terror; millions of eyes, mouths, and faces of all creatures in the cosmos are converged into one being. Arjuna is only able to bear the sight for a few moments before he begs Krishna to return to his normal form.

Swami Prabhupada once described these dioramas as being "living books" and was quoted as saying "people say that pictures are worth a thousand words. Well, we have another saying: 'A diorama is worth a thousand pictures.'" He was absolutely correct in this description. If you ever find yourself in the Los Angeles area, a visit to this humble museum is well worth the price of admission. One thing to remember when arriving at the museum--ring the doorbell before entering! It is easy to miss, but there is a button near the top of the right door which will alert the host that there is a new visitor.

For more about visiting the museum, please check out their official website:
For more about the history and background of how the museum was founded:
The museum's address is 3764 Watseka Ave., Los Angeles, California


If you enjoyed this post, please consider supporting the blog by choosing one of our ebooks from The Forlorn Press