When I was given a choice to visit an organic homestay “navadarsanam “or “Sri Ramanasram” spiritual retreat, I choose the former. Although I am a spiritual seeker , I was’nt sure I would simply sit in disciplined sessions , listen to spiritual jargon of atma, soul , jnana , vasana, the veda chantings etc which goes beyond my head. That certainly was not my idea of spirituality. For me spirituality is a way of life where I practice minimalism, try to keep things simple and try to silence my mind whenever possible and try to keep away from the unnecessary(!) material wants of life and try to keep away from competitivenesss( yes, all trying only) . That said, I still have a long way to go in spiritualism and do buckle sometimes. Also “Ramanasram” was my second choice because I did not want to travel from one hot weather to another.
So, I would say it was destiny that willed that I visit Ramanasram or else how would one explain the fact that one needs to pre-book a month before to stay there and it was my mom’s call to the office just a week before that got us an accommodation at” Achalam” the ashram guest house.
Sri Ramana's ashram- It was to this spiritual center in an unique location that we set out on a hot morning. Tiruvannamalai is an old temple town nestled at the base of a sacred mountain Arunachala or Arunagiri in southern Tamilnadu.The mountain has an history that dates back to thousands of years and home to many mythological legends. This is the place where countless rishis, sages and siddhas have lived and meditated in the past. Notable among them is Sri Ramana Maharishi, whose ashram I was visiting.
Although I was visiting this place after 18 years, I could see there was no change in the Archway, we went in got our keys to guest house, which was a 3 minute drive from the ashram on the opposite side of the road.
The guest house was spic and span and would put a 5 star hotel to shame. Ofcourse, There was no show or pomp , no modern day frills or necessity like net onnectivity, A/c, TV, but otherwise the basics like a wardrobe, clothes hanger, dresser table, mirror everything were all in place and the wash rooms were excellent despite the frequent usage.It felt like home.
After resting awhile, we came back to the ashram at 4 to have our tea and milk, as an ashram guest or invitee, we are allowed to have food in the ashram dining hall. It was a huge glass of milk/ tea and the milk is directly from the goshaala of the ashram.
After the tea/milk, I wandered into the open ground beside the dining hall at the foot hills of skandasram ( arunachala hill). I , my niece and little sis were so enamoured by the peacocks and they were so close to us and I was watching its plumes in close range and clicking away to glory with my mobile( I was on digital detox with occasional cheats but to this ashram I bought the mobile only to click photos) . I turned around to see the place where my great grandfather lived in one of the cottages and was one of his earliest disciples. I clicked the photo of that place again which was then a thatched roof.
I sat on the rough granite steps in front of the Samadhi of Lakshmi , the cow( Ramanas favorite cow) at the foot hills of skandasram and watching the peacocks wander, dance, call and hoot and watching the monkeys dance, and do all the naughty pranks and dropping all the tasty mangoes of the tree. It was one of the most wonderful experience sitting in a natural wooded environment where nothing seemed to have changed since my last visit, with all brick, mortar, wood and thatched awnings like age old times, no glass or chrome, no landscaping. The few moments were magical, I felt the place which was clean and rustic was simply diffusing all that a peaceful mind could ask for and I was absorbing them with delight. I was also clicking photos only to realize that I was the only one clicking and hoarding a mobile. All the ashramites ( many of them foreigners) were simply absorbed in a book or sitting still. I at once, decided I will not use the mobile any more in the ashram. The ashram does not have any restriction saying “no mobile”, but I think it goes without saying .
At 5, in the evening, the vedaparayanam( veda chanting) started at Ramana shrine, I thought, I would’nt sit though it and wander away into the ashram, but that was not to be. I sat through it like a person in trance, refused to move infact I was drawn closer to the shrine. Ofcourse, many times, in between, my mind and eyes wandered and I saw so many foreigners in Indian attire ( men in veshti( dhoti) and women in white cotton sareees and kurtas) were so engrossed. It was delightful to see a Japanese women chant Aksharamana malai ( a hymn composed by sage ramana) . I was amazed to see this especially at a time, when many ridicule or denounce anything eastern( read Indian), it was great to see west adopt eastern mysticism although in few numbers.
The oldest meditation hall again was full of westerners and they sat so simply, only my mind was wandering in awe. I had to work hard to bring my mind under control.
Even in the dining hall, the westerners sat down squatting on the floor and ate with their fingers eating the "vazhelai sappadu"( typical tamil vegetarian food served on plaintain leaf)and the food so yummy.( i should'nt be reviewing this)
After dinner at 7.30( we have to stick to the ashram timings), we went around the arunagiri mountain (giri pradakshinam) in the car and retired to our guest house and I had a sleepless night due to the heat. This is a very hot place in tamilnadu. I slept at 1.30 and got up at 3...... this post is getting lengthier .... more in my next post…
My next post will be the highlight of my visit.