By Suma Varughese
This summer, give succour to your soul by taking off on a spiritual holiday. Here we offer you options that range from traditional and non-traditional ashrams to Zen meditation centres, yoga retreats, nature cure sanatoriums and luxurious spas. Enjoy!
Krishnamurti Study Centres
Existing under the aegis of the Krishnamurti Foundation of India, an organisation that oversees the teachings of the sage-philosopher, J. Krishnamurti, these centres arose out of his desire to provide a tranquil and supportive setting for seekers to immerse themselves in his teachings.
Krishnamurti (1875-1986) was an unconventional wayshower. He eschewed all established religions, doctrines and paths. He said: “Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any road…”
But he suggested that this spiritual cul de sac could be negotiated with the application of self-knowledge, the ‘choiceless awareness’ of one’s feelings, thoughts, reactions, and dreams. And, of course, his own teachings.
The centres are located within the complexes that house the Krishnamurti schools, though a few are on their own. There are centres in Vasant Vihar, Chennai, headquarters of the Foundation, Rajghat (Varanasi), Uttarkashi, Rishi Valley School in Andhra Pradesh, Sahyadri School near Pune, The Valley School, Bangalore, etc.
Books, audio- and videotapes of Krishnamurti’s teachings are available. There is no fixed regimen; the seeker is left with his own “seriousness to guide him”. Situated in places of great natural beauty, the centers encourage visitors to spend time with nature, the greatest teacher of all. The weather in the centres in Uttarkashi, Rishi Valley School and The Valley School is pleasant during summer months.
Accommodation/food: All the Study centres have accommodation facility (furnished rooms with attached baths) with excellent vegetarian food provided. Reservations must be made in advance, from two weeks to six weeks. Laundry facilities are available on request.
Fees: In keeping with Krishnamurti’s wish, the fees are nominal in order to make it available to all. They range from Rs 150 per day to Rs 350, depending on the centre.
Contact: Krishnamurti Foundation India, Vasanta Vihar, 64 Greenways Road, Chennai 28. Ph: (044) 24937803. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
For Rishi Valley: Rishi Valley P.O. Chittoor District, 517352.
Ph: (08571) 280622/280582/280261. E-mail: email@example.com
For Rajghat: Rajghat Fort, Varanasi 221001. Ph: Study Centre Guest House (0542) 2430289 . E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For The Valley School: Haridvanam, Thatguni Post, Kanakapura Main Road, Bangalore 62. Ph: (080) 28435243. E-mail: email@example.com
For Uttarkashi: Uttarkashi Education Centre, P.O. Ranadi via Dunda, Dist. Uttarkashi, Uttaranchal 249151. Ph: (013712) 5417.
For Sahyadri School: Study Centre, Post Tiwai Hill, Taluka Rajgurunagar, Pune 410513. Ph: (02135) 284278/3.
School of Ancient Wisdom,
Devanahalli, near Bangalore
Situated 32 km from Bangalore, this haven of beauty and tranquillity offers weekend and one-day courses on a variety of spiritual and esoteric subjects such as The Seven Spiritual Planes of Nature and the Seven States of Matter, Yoga and Meditation, total Body, Mind Health and Stress Management.
Started in 1998 by Manize Sait, a former industrial engineer, the School is not aligned to any spiritual organisation, though it is influenced by Theosophy. Its major attraction, apart from the courses, is the wonderfully landscaped grounds that do homage to the full glory of nature, providing a tranquil and soothing atmosphere for spiritual inquiry. Flowering trees and plants and a forest pond with water lilies and golden fish refresh and rejuvenate jaded urban senses. The tiled cottages too are straight out of an English countryside. A bookshop, library, an ayurvedic doctor, inhouse astrologer and numerologist are other facilities on offer. The School forbids smoking, drinking and the consumption of non-vegetarian food within its premises.
Visitors are welcome to extend their stay before or after the beginning of the course. Sightseeing tours within Karnataka can be arranged. Groups can be offered custom-made programmes on a prior notice of two weeks.
Accommodation/food: The rooms are comfortable and clean with modern amenities. Food is simple but appetising vegetarian.
Fees: Courses are free. Accommodation inclusive of food is Rs 750 per person per 24 hours, with Rs 350 on the day of departure. Fees for corporate and government bodies are higher. Therapies, astrological and numerological consultations are at extra cost.
Contact: Ram Menon, School of Ancient Wisdom,
Ph: (080) 7682181/2. Mobile : 9845077128.
In Bangalore: (080) 5586837. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Aurobindo Ashram houses the samadhi of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and is a sprawling and disparate collection of 400 buildings set in the eastern side of Pondicherry. Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) was of the view that human evolution is incomplete and that a brand new species—‘supramental being’—would come about. He was later joined by the Mother, a Parisian occultist called Mira Alfissa, under whom the ashram grew.
The ashram does not have a structured spiritual practice, but visitors can spend time at the samadhi, and visit the hundreds of tasteful little businesses that the ashram runs, like those delightful Pondi crochet slippers, handmade paper and the famous Auroshikha incense.
Accommodation/food: You can stay at one of many ashram guesthouses. Seaside Guesthouse is the best, located in the middle of the beach road. Food is available. Park Guest House has rooms facing the sea. You can also partake of the tasty vegetarian fare at the ashram.
Fees: Price per day ranges from Rs 650 for an A/c double room to Rs 80, depending on the guesthouse.
Contact: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Rue de la Marine,
Pondicherry, 605002.; Ph: Central Bureau (0413) 2339648;
E-mail: email@example.com; website: www.sriaurobindosociety.org.in
Auroville is a commune, where some 1,000 residents strive to realise Sri Aurobindo’s vision of “a divine life in Matter”. A vast and disparate colony of some 80 settlements (each with their own culture and flavour) scattered over 2,600 acres of land, it is an experiment in community living. The community is committed to deep ecology, organic farming, renewable energy, appropriate technology, holistic architecture, holistic healing, and the practice of a dazzling range of arts, crafts and personal growth therapies. The spiritual soul of Auroville is Matri Mandir, a huge globe within which is a beautiful meditation chamber of pure white marble, at the centre of which is an enormous crystal sphere.
Accommodation/food: There are guesthouses within some of the settlements where you can stay and observe the many experiments in spiritual living run by the community. Some are basic while others are comfortable and professionally run. Among the better ones are Centre Guest House, Afsaneh Guest House, Atithi Griha Guest House, Samasti Guest House and Gaia’s Garden. Food is available at many restaurants.
Fees: Rs 350 to Rs 1500, depending on where you stay.
Contact: For general information, Visitors Centre, Auroville 605101, Tamil Nadu. Ph: (0413) 2622239; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For accommodation contact: Ph: (0413) 2622704
E-mail: email@example.com. Website: www.auroville.org
Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu
A Zen meditation centre run by a Christian father is as integrative as you can hope for. And when it is located on the cool and beautiful hills of Kodaikanal, its attraction is real. Father Ama Samy, the Zen master, is of the Sanbo Kyodan lineage of Kamakura/Japan. At the Zendo, emphasis is on zazen (meditation), sama (work), study and community living. The daily schedule includes four to five hours of meditation, community work and time for private study. In addition, they have a day of silence and meditation once a week. The first weekend of each month (Fri–Sun) is a mini intensive retreat (called sesshin). There are also periodic longer retreats of 5-7 days duration. All are free to attend though the affable Father requests a prior notice of preferably two months, at least a month. The weather between April and June is pleasant, with cool evenings. Take a sweater along.
Accommodation/food: The Zendo can accommodate 30 people and tends to be full from December to May. Rooms are simple and austere and with single occupancy. Food is simple vegetarian.
Fees: A nominal fee of Rs 200 per day is charged for food and lodging. But, says the thoughtful Father, lack of money should not stop you from coming.
Contact: Father Ama Arokia Samy, Bodhi Zendo, Perumal Malai P.O., Kodaikanal 824104, Tamil Nadu. Ph: (04542) 230345.
Vipassana International Academy
Founded by S.N. Goenka, the Vipassana International Academy claims to have brought back the Buddha’s original meditation practice from Burma to the land of its origin. A rigorous 10-day programme featuring 10 hours of meditation daily, it has two stages. For the first three days you practise the preparatory anapana-sati, watching the movements of the breath over a smaller and smaller part of the anatomy until it is reduced to the triangle between the upper lip and nostril.
Then comes the actual practice of Vipassana, which consists of scouring every part of the body for sensations, neither resisting the unpleasant ones nor clinging to the pleasant ones. As the days go by, the sensations become more and more subtle until you see the body and mind as vibrations, arising and disappearing ceaselessly. Thus the Buddha’s assertion that all aspects of existence are impermanent is proved experientially.
All are free to participate, thought the waiting list is long, especially at Igatpuri. However, there are meditation centres all over India, including one at Dharamsala. Igatpuri is likely to be hot in summer, which may be taxing, particularly as fans are not permitted in the meditation halls for fear of interference with breath patterns. Courses are held every 15 days on scheduled days.
Accommodation/ food: Accommodation is comfortable, ranging from dormitories to single rooms. The simple vegetarian food is very good. No meals are served after the noon lunch but first-timers will get a light snack of murmura and bananas at tea-time.
Fees: The organisation does not charge fees because it believes that the work you are doing is dharmic and will benefit society. However, at the end of the course you are requested to make a donation to enable future meditators to avail of the same service you benefited from.
Contact: Vipassana International Academy, Dhammagiri, P.O. Box 6, Igatpuri, Dist Nasik, Maharashtra 422 403. Ph: (02553) 244076, 244086; Fax: 244176; Website: www.vri.dhamma.org. In Mumbai, contact Amita Parikh
(022) 26122226; in Delhi: Ph: (011) 26452772, 26473295.
Uralikanchan, near Pune
For a retreat with a difference, try the most illustrious nature cure sanatorium in India, started by Mahatma Gandhi himself. Nature cure philosophy advocates the removal of disease through drugless therapy which consists of a natural diet of mostly raw food and juices and the use of elements of nature such as sunlight, water, earth, and air. The focus is on restoring the natural healing powers of the body by the elimination of toxins.
Set in a salubrious thickly greened complex, two hours from Mumbai, the Uralikanchan ashram, as it is popularly known, soothes, heals and pampers the body, mind and spirit. Its active yet peaceful schedule includes getting up at 5.30 a.m. for a walk followed by yoga, before undergoing a host of treatments such as massage, enema, various hydrotherapies, sun baths and mud baths. Lectures by the doctors, daily walks, afternoon naps and nightly prayers are other elements in the programme.
The ashram has had considerable success in combating psoriasis, hypertension, diabetes, respiratory allergies, gynaecological ailments and arthritis. Nevertheless, weight loss is the number one objective of most of those checking in. While the institute recommends a minimum stay of 7 days and multiples of that for those looking to heal, it offers wellness packages of 3 to 5 days. Groups of 15 to 20 can also be offered custom-made programmes. Families with children above 12 are also welcome.
Accommodation/food: Options range from dormitory facilities and single rooms to rooms with attached baths, and suites for families. The rooms are adequately furnished and clean. There are only two meals a day, interspersed by vegetable and fruit juices. Salads, soups and lightly steamed vegetables form a substantial part of the diet. But be warned, in all probability you might be expected to be on a juice fast for the first three days in order to detoxify.
Fees: The cost per day ranges from Rs 60 to Rs 350 depending on the accommodation. Food is extra and you will have to pay for massages. For wellness packages, there is a consolidated fee of Rs 600 per day per person for groups and Rs 450 per day per person for weekend stays. Please book two weeks in advance.
Contact: Nisargopchar Ashram, Uralikanchan, Pune, Ph: (020) 26926298. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Web: ww.naturecureashram.com
Osho Meditation Resort
Zorba the Buddha is the catchword for one of the key tenets of the late controversial guru, Osho (1931-1990), who professed that spiritual and material bliss go hand in hand. Fittingly, the headquarters of his movement, based in Pune, is not an ashram but a meditation resort. The new attraction of this staggeringly beautiful place with its landscaped grounds (including a fantastic park made out of a dumping ground), striking black buildings, fabulous food and all-day meditations is the introduction of a residential guesthouse. Now you can stay there 24 hours a day and participate in a variety of personal growth programmes at the Osho Multivarsity. Programmes include Mystic Rose, a three-week course of three hours duration each day. The first week you laugh, the second week you cry and the third week you silently witness. Born Again is a 7-day course to help you get in touch with your inner child.
This apart, the Resort offers a range of free meditations at the Osho Auditorium through the day starting with Osho’s trademark Dynamic Meditation, and including Sufi whirling and Kundalini meditation. There is also a tennis court and swimming pool. Wearing maroon is mandatory and the last meditation of the day, White Robe Brotherhood, requires white attire. An AIDS test, conducted within the complex, is compulsory.
The Resort also offers wellness packages between April and October. The package is for 3 days and 2 nights and includes food, meditation in Osho Auditorium, use of the sports facilities and evening events and parties.
Accommodation/food: The rooms are elegant with every modern amenity. The food is utterly delicious, inclusive of Indian and western cuisine. The sesame biscuits and other baked goodies are to die for.
Fees: On the steeper side, cost per day is Rs 1,600 for singles and Rs 1,800 for couples, not inclusive of food. The wellness package is Rs 5,000 (single), Rs 8,000 (couple) for Indians. International rates are slightly higher.
Contact: Osho Guesthouse, Osho Meditation Resort, 17 Koregaon Park, Pune 411001. Ph: (020) 4019900 Email: email@example.com
Prajapita Brahma Kumaris Ishwariya Vishwa Vidyalaya
Mount Abu, Rajashtan
This worldwide women-centric spiritual movement has one mission: to guide humanity towards its spiritual destiny and thereby help with the birth of Satyug. Headquartered in Mount Abu, Rajasthan, the movement boasts over 4 lakh lay members and 5,000 centres in 87 countries.
The Brahma Kumari philosophy revolves around the premise that we are souls and not the body. To establish this fact, they teach Raja Yoga Meditation in all their centres. The meditator is required to focus on a point of light issuing from a lamp, as the teacher intones a combination of guided visualisation and affirmations. In addition, the group runs many workshops and programmes at Mount Abu to which all are welcome. These programmes are run at one of the three establishments: the headquarters at Pandav Bhavan; the Academy for a Better World in Gyan Sarovar which hosts workshops for 13 professional and special interest groups such as scientists, engineers, doctors, educationists, media, businessmen, politicians, farmers, women and youth; and at Shantivan, Taleti, on the plains of Abu Road. The weather is pleasant in the summer months.
Accommodation/food: Accommodation is comfortable, ranging from dormitories to twin-sharing rooms with attached baths. Brahma Kumaris place high emphasis on cleanliness and the premises are pristine. The sattvic vegetarian food is delicious and abundant. The sense of service among the Brahma Kumars and Kumaris is so well-honed that the visitor can well believe he is in heaven.
Fees: No fees are charged but there are donation boxes into which you can slip whatever you wish to.
Contact: Braham Kumaris Ishwariya Vishwa Vidyalaya’s Academy for a Better World, Post Box No 2, Mt Abu 307501, Rajasthan.
Ph: (02974) 38261 to 38268; Fax: (02974) 38952.
Note: Route application for stay at the ashram through the local centre.
The Brahma Kumaris have recently opened the Om Shanti Retreat Centre (ORC) just outside New Delhi, offering a wide variety of programmes in a 28-acre complex. The ORC has residential facilities for 500 and dining facilities for 1,000 people.
Contact: Director (Programmes) Ph: (011) 263779658/ 26379734/26379960; email: firstname.lastname@example.org/ email@example.com. Mobile: 9810272453.
Ananda in the Himalayas
Set in the foothills of the Himalayas above Rishikesh, the luxury spa named Ananda offers a holistic approach to its range of rejuvenation therapies. Its picturesque locale plays a significant role in rest and recuperation.
Ananda’s philosophy is to integrate the traditional healing methods (ayurveda and yoga) with contemporary spa principles. Spread over 21,000 sq ft, it has 13 therapy rooms and 3 relaxation areas, hydrotherapy, fitness centre, the Aveda Beauty Institute and an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
The day starts with ginger herbal tea before a Himalayan sunrise, followed by yoga at Naach Ghar Palace Roof Pavilion. And then, medical consultations, meditation and spa treatments.
Hydrotherapy section includes the Kneipp therapy, foot-bath, steam and sauna chambers, jacuzzi and a relaxation lounge to help detoxify the body and kickstart the invigorating metabolic processes.
The fitness studio assists guests in establishing a healthy lifestyle and to provide fitness guidance for health and physiological goals. The exercise studio offers a variety of daily fitness activities and programmes like ‘stretch and tone’ as well as muscle specific workout sessions.
There are four ayurveda therapy rooms including one for panchakarma. Ayurveda packages include Abhyanga, Pizhichil and Njavarakizhi. Also offered are Swedish massage, aromatherapy, traditional Thai massage and reflexology.
A doctor is available for individual consultations on treatments or even a medical check-up. There’s also a qualified dietician who gives advice, plus lifestyle counselling, taking into account stress levels and other related factors. Meditation and yoga are an essential part of therapy.
Accommodation/food: 70 deluxe rooms and 5 suites. A restaurant, an outdoor restaurant and a tea lounge.
Fees: Room tariff starts from Rs 10,000 a day, suites’ rate is much steeper. Packages for different purposes and different durations are available. A 4-day package for couples costs Rs 40,000.
How to get there: Nearest airport is Dehradun; nearest railway station is Hardwar. From Delhi, 260 km away, you can travel by road, or by a chopper.
Contact: Ananda spa, Ph: (01378) 227500, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.anandaspa.com. In Delhi: Ph: (011) 2689 9999
Email: email@example.com. In Mumbai: (022) 2497 3408
Bihar School of Yoga
One of the main centres of yogic instruction in India today, it calls itself a yoga university, offering intensive teacher’s training courses and a two-year master’s programme in yogic arts and sciences.
Started by Swami Satyananda, a disciple of Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh, the BSY, as it is known, incorporates guided visualisations and kriyas to the yogic practice of asana and pranayama. Its trademark is the introduction of yoga nidra, a meditative relaxation process that is enormously refreshing and rejuvenating.
Every month between the 3rd and 20th, BSY holds health management programmes that all can attend. In April, the course is directed towards diabetes, the endocrine system and mental problems. In May it focuses on digestive problems of all nature, and in June on general ailments. The medium of instruction is Hindi. Those wishing to participate should apply a month in advance. Application forms can be obtained from Munger—may be your local centre can help.
Accommodation/food: Clean and well-furnished single and double rooms are available. Ladies and gents have separate wings. The food is sattvic vegetarian.
Fees: The health management course is for Rs 2,000 per person inclusive of food and lodging.
Contact: Bihar School of Yoga, Ganga Darshan, Fort, Munger, Bihar 811201. Ph: (06344) 222430, 221516, fax: 220169
For application forms in Mumbai: contact Ramnavmi: (022) 26486582; Mobile: 9821122038
NB: Since the summer months are likely to be rather warm in Bihar, here are some cooler options for those wishing to immerse themselves in yoga.
The Yoga Institute, Prabhat Colony, Santacruz (E), Mumbai.
Ph: 26110506/26122185. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kaivalyadhama, Shriman Madhava Yoga Mandir Samiti, Lonavla 410403, Maharashtra. Ph: (952114) 273039/273001.
Sivananda Ashram (Divine Life Society HQ)
One of the most illustrious of traditional ashrams, the Divine Life Society (DLS) was founded by Swami Sivananda, a former doctor stationed in Malaysia who renounced the worldly life and came to the Himalayas when consumed with the quest for spirituality. During his ministry, DLS was a major spiritual movement which produced many famous masters, including Swami Vishnu-devananda who went on to set up the many Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres in the West, and Swami Satchidananda, creator of Integral Yoga. Swami Satyananda of the BSY is another famous alumni as is Swami Chinmayananda, who started Chinmay Missions all over India and the world.
The philosophy of Divine Life Society is classic Yoga Vedanta. The daily programme at the ashram includes meditation morning and evening, group prayers in the morning, temple worship thrice a day, yoga practices in the forenoon and afternoon, daily discourses on Yoga and Vedanta, and satsang at night. The location, set in the right bank of the Ganga in Rishikesh, is peaceful and inspiring, especially as the town is soaked in spirituality. There are ashrams and temples everywhere, and guides will point out places where Arjuna is said to have meditated or Shiva made a stop-over, so that the mythological events appear to have happened just the other day.
Tourist season peaks between May and July, when people go on yatras to Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri. So you will have to write and get prior written permission to stay at the Sivananda Ashram.
Accommodation/food: Both food and accommodation are basic, for the ashram believes in simple living and high thinking. Sattvic food is emphasised.
Fees: No fees are charged though you can make a donation. The ashram also runs a whole host of charitable activities including free educational and medical aid caretake of lepers, free spiritual literature and the disbursement of free food to all who arrive at its doorstep.
Contact: Swami Jivanmuktananda, The Divine Life Society, P.O. Shivanandanagar 249192, Dist Tehri-Garhwal, Uttaranchal, Ph: (0135) 2430040, 2442046; E-mail: email@example.com. Website: www.dlshq.org
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