Monday, April 29, 2013

Ashram Life in India

Rangoli in the reception area of Vivekanandapuram

To kick off our travels together, Ami and I spent time in 2 different Ashrams. I’m actually staying at a 3rd Ashram in Rishikesh at the moment as well.

Swami Vivekananda’s Ashram, Vivekanandapuram, in Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu
Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), known as the wandering monk, opened an ashram there on a huge piece of land. He’s known for bringing yoga and the Vedanta philosophy to the west, as well as bringing Hinduism to the status of a major world religion.

Swami Vivekananda’s Ashram was closer to a bird sanctuary or national park than an active daily ashram. We now know that it is a natural spiritual retreat for those on a spiritual journey. I’d hoped for kirtan, yoga and meditation, but it’s more of a resting ground for groups or individuals on a pilgrimage. The rooms were interesting. See right..

The one great thing is that within the 100 acre campus you have access to watch the sunrise and sunset from the beach. I also really enjoyed the many enlightening quotes displayed all around. Here are two I connected with:

“Infinite purity, infinite patience, and infinite perseverance are the essentials to success, and, above all, love.”

“In a day when you don’t come across any problems – you can be sure that you are traveling in the wrong path.”

Night one was perfect example of Indian hospitality. There was a group of travelers on a yatra (spiritual pilgrimage) that wanted to take pictures with me. I obliged and as they were communicating with me, Ami realized they were speaking Gujarati. Thanks to Ami’s mad Gujaratie skills we were invited to dinner. We accepted and dined with them later. They were all very sweet and excited to have us as guests. Although I know they captured many awkward photographs of us eating. I’m getting used to it by now. 

Why did the peacock cross the road?

Amma’s Ashram, Mata Amritanandamayi Math, in Amritapuri, Kerala
We took the train from Kanyakumari to Kollam at the crack of dawn. We planned it out so that we would make it time to take the public ferry through the backwaters to Amritapuri to visit Amma’s Ashram. 

Kerala Backwaters

Thali for Lunch on our way to Amritapuri

Our first view of the Ashram as the boat was pulling up. It is huge!

Amma is a humanitarian who spreads love and embraces all through her hugs. Amma, pronounced Uhmma and which means Mother, has created a beautiful community at her ashram. She travels all over the world and millions flock to her in hopes of receiving a hug from her. Her hugs are said to be the most comforting and remove sorrow from those in her embrace. Amma wasn’t there at the time so no hugs for us (darshan), but she will actually be in SF the week I return.

She attracts very warm, humble followers. The moment we walked in the ashram, many people were offering to help us with our luggage and directing us to where the dining hall is located. The ashram even holds daily orientation to get you familiar with the campus.
Amma’s ashram is very active and home to nearly 2000 people from all walks of life: Indians and foreigners, old and young, rich and poor, single and married, full time residents and short term travelers. Amma strongly encourages Seva as part of your stay. “At Amritapuri, selfless service is an integral part of the spiritual practice of residents and visitors alike. When we work for others without expectation, we reap the wealth of a peaceful mind and an open heart.” Ami and I were happy to help. We choose to fold clothes and organize items in the second hand store. I loved it & for anybody that knows me, I was very excited to color coordinate the tops haha. We also participated in bhajans, sunset meditation and yoga during our stay (no voluntary 4:30am wakeup call for me). Here’s Amma’s daily schedule:
4:50 – 6:00 Archana (Chanting of the 1,000 names of the Divine Mother)
6:30 – 7:30 Meditation at the Beach
7:30 – 9:00 Yoga (women only)
9:00 Breakfast
10:00 – 13:00 Seva (selfless service)
13:00 Lunch
14:00 – 17:00 Seva (selfless service)
17:30 – 18:30 Sunset Meditation
18:30 – 20:00 Bhajans (traditional devotional songs)
20:00 Dinner

The Ashram itself is quite westernized, even with a western dining hall option. It was 250 rupees a night including Indian meals. We stayed on the 13th floor of one of the buildings that rose high above the sea of palm trees. I can’t even describe how densely packed the land is with palm trees, it was incredible! Amritapuri is an island that lies between the Arabian sea and the Kerala backwaters. Amma’s ashram was a beautiful place to rest, enjoy nature’s embrace and connect with your heart.
“May the tree of our life be firmly rooted in the soil of love;
Let good deeds be the leaves on that tree;
May words of kindness form its flowers;
And may peace be its fruits.” –Amma

Sunrise from our room.

Note: I don't have many pictures as photography is forbidden within the Ashram.

Parmath Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand
Parmath Niketan is right on the east bank of the Ganges in the holy city of Rishikesh. The ashram was founded in 1942 by the great saint Pujya Swami Shukdevanandji Maharaj (1901–1965).  

There are nearly 1000 rooms at the ashram - 500/300 (single/shared room) rupees per night including all meals, hatha yoga and meditation. Every evening at sunset, the vibrant ganga aarti is held at the riverside temple of the ashram. There’s singing, changing, musicians, the lighting of candles and pooja at the water’s edge of the Ganges.  I’m actually still in the middle of my stay so I will write more about my experience here in a later post. Here are a couple photographs until then. 

A photograph from my first night at Ganga Aarti

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