Sweet Guru

If you’re lucky enough to visit and stay at an ashram this adds to your knowledge of India and its religious, spiritual and daily life.

Today is the day we get our ‘Ashram fix’. We are booked for three days into the Art of Living Ashram situated on the top of the Panchagiri Hills, 24km southwest of Bangalore, near Udipalya village.

I came here twelve years ago and met the Guru, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (not the sitar player) and although I’m not a follower I know something about this guru, his reputation and the philanthropic work his organisation carries out in India and other parts of the world.

the complex has grown amazingly since my last visit. The ashram campus itself is spread over 65 acres and in addition there is a new Ayurvedic centre, upmarket hotel style accommodation,  an Ayuverdic hospital, cattle breeding and a farming community where most of the food is grown. In all it’s a total of 200 acres. In the campus itself a variety of small shops ensure you have everything you need for an ashram stay, everything from meditation CDs to toothbrushes or packets of biscuits. There are landscaped gardens and winding footpaths leading to the peaceful lake. Shuttle buses carry you from the cool marbled receptions to the spa centre where Ayuverdic treatments are available (since that involves a lot of massage I’m very happy). Overlooking it all is the beautiful Vishalakshi Mantap, the central domed meditation hall where we will go in the early morning and evening to meditate and perhaps join in the devotional chanting.

The ashram is currently preparing for a big event here in two weeks time when they are expecting over a million people to gather for devotions and celebration. Sri Sri will be in residence and crowds from all over the world will flock to see and listen to him.

People are astonished when I say I had a private audience with him the last time I was here. He now only gives audiences for thousands, individuals, like me, never get near him and he is surrounded by a posse of security and bodyguards.

It was all very different twelve years ago. I came for the day with my friend Mridula, and she and I sat with about twenty other people (including his retinue) in his Receiving Room. He sat, very Guru-like, in a large chair with cushions and we watched as he did business and people came and went. Eventually he looked up and beckoned us forward. He indicated we should sit and chat with him. He wanted to know where I was from, and what I was doing in India. At the time I was visiting a good friend, who was dying, so the conversation had a particular poignancy as he spoke John’s name out loud and said a prayer for him. He seemed delighted I had come to visit him and the one memory that still makes me laugh is the very unusual souvenir he gave me before we left; he summoned one of his retinue who brought something to him. Then, with a huge smile he handed me a perfectly wrapped sweet and a small carton of orange juice. I was amused and charmed at the same time!

Before we left someone took a photo on my camera. The flash didn’t work so I have a very underexposed picture of me sitting at the feet of the Guru who gave me a sweetie.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s