« Mandarom Shambhasalem » is the name given to the « Holy Town » located near the Verdon Gorges at 10 km above Castellane city in the Alpes-de-Haute Provence department.
The Mandarom is spread over 55 hectares and represents all existing religions. This is what the Mandarom’s followers call « Aumism » (the unit of all religions).
« Aumism » (in French: l’Aumisme) is a universalist spiritual movement founded in 1969 by « the lord Hamsah Manarah », who proclaimed himself as the « Cosmo-planetary Messiah », that is Gilbert Bourdin. The Mandarom was classified as a sect by a French parliamentary commission in 1995. Described as a « mystic religion » by its followers, Aumism presents itself as the « universal Religion of the Unit of God’ faces », and pretends to be the « synthesis of all existing religions ».
The guru Gilbert Bourdin
The word « aumism » comes from the Sanskrit mantra “Om”, which represents the original sound of the Universe’s creation in Hinduism and Buddhism.
In 2001, Aumism had about 400 followers in France, 100 from Quebec and between 30 to 50 monks within the Mandarom. Monks live inside the Mandarom throughout the year, and followers can come and go as they want (as told by them to us during our visit in 2008 summer)
The Mandarom has 5 main temples for each of the major religions of the world and numerous statues, including the highest sitting Buddha of the western world (22 m high). In front of him stands the statue of the cosmic Christ (21 m high).
The highest sitting Buddha of the western world
The statue of the cosmic Christ.
On the 6th of September 2001, a 33 m high statue weighing 1,100 tonnes called the « Cosmo-planetary Messiah statue » that represented Gilbert Bourdin was taken down in presence of the French Army. This event happened because the Mandarom sect had built it without a legal authorization. It cost 1 million francs to the state to destroy it. It was invoiced to the Mandarom community, but without much hope of recovering it. The destruction was carefully engineered as the statue fell neatly like a tree, on its back.
In spite of not having a legal authorization, the Mandarom sect built this giant statue in just 4 months… it was in 1990. The sitting Buddha as well as the cosmic Christ were also built without a legal authorization but the sect somehow managed to make their construction legal, after much fight.
The guru Gilbert Bourdin, who claimed to be the « Cosmo-planetary Messiah » died on March, the 19th 1998 from diabetes at the age of 74. A few months before his death, he was accused of rape by several young ladies belonging to the Mandarom. The Mandarom sect was also accused of selling kidneys and other organs taken from naive/weak followers to rich countries. It is Gilbert Bourdin (the founder of Aumism) who chose the site to build the Mandarom.
The location wasn’t chosen randomly. From the Mandarom, you get a breathtaking view of the lake of Castillon! To know more about this lake, please click on this link: http://arras-france.com/the-lake-of-castillon-in-the-verdon-gorges/
In spite of having a reputation issue, the Mandarom sect is planning to build a pyramidal temple, on a base of 8000 sq. meters and 33 meters height. An expert of the State Justice has been put in charge of estimating the damage inflicted to the Sainte-Baume hill because the temple’s foundations have already been built. According to the followers, the construction of this pyramidal temple will allow the “reincarnation of their Master”.
It is possible to visit the Mandarom as there are guided visits in several languages (French, English, German…) The visit costs 5 € (3 € for students) and lasts 30 minutes.
There is a bookshop where various items are on sale: books, posters, perfumes made by the Mandarom’s followers themselves, key rings…I even saw a book entitled: « The spiritual guide about life after death ». Some books were written by Gilbert Bourdin himself and are sold 150 € each!
There is also a prominent observation tower….our guide assured us that it was used to protect the Mandarom from forest fires and that it is always manned by 24 hours a day! We were also told an unbelievable story. According to our guide, the government threw 400 vipers near the Mandarom to discourage the followers from their mission.
The observation tower…
We were hoping to meet a few followers during our visit but the Mandarom was absolutely empty… apparently, followers are not allowed to to move inside the Mandarom during visits.
Click on the following links to watch videos about the Mandarom:
- If you understand French, here is a funny video:
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