India has always been a popular destination with spiritual seekers who flock to the country's many ashrams. Every ashram is different though, so which one to choose? This guide to 6 popular ashrams in India will give you some ideas as to what's on offer.
Founded in 1982 by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the Art of Living is renowned world-wide for its stress-elimination and self-development programs based mainly on breathing techniques, meditation and yoga. The Art of Living as a voluntary organization also undertakes various initiatives aimed at uplifting humanity and enhancing the quality of life. The foundation course at the ashram is the three day Art of Living Part I residential workshop. You'll learn revitalizing breathing techniques to restore the natural rhythms of body and mind.
- Where: In the Panchagiri hills, 36 kilometers southwest of Bangalore, near Udipalya village.
- Courses: Art of Living I & II, yoga, meditation, Vaastu Shastra, Vedic math, and youth training courses.
2. Osho Ashram
Osho was perhaps India's most controversial spiritual leaders due to his views about sex. The Osho ashram no longer holds workshops calling for undressing, and free love isn't encouraged. Yet, unlike many ashrams, there's no gender segregation anywhere at the Osho ashram. The ashram, which is more like a resort, aims to provide a luxurious environment where people can be at ease with themselves. Despite the compulsory wearing of maroon robes, it's commercial and far removed from Indian culture. Courses are mostly directed at healing from traumatic experiences, rather than personal development.
- Where: Pune.
- Courses: Active meditations (including jumping and screaming), Tantra workshops, plus a huge range of multi-diversity courses.
The Isha Foundation is a non-profit organization, founded by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev in 1992. Its purpose is to foster people's spiritual and physical wellbeing through yoga and outreach programs, such as environmental rejuvenation. The core of the Foundation's activities is a customized system of yoga called Isha Yoga. The 3-7 day introductory program, known as Inner Engineering, introduces guided meditations and a powerful inner energy process for deep inner transformation.
- Where: Isha Yoga Center, at the base of the Velliangiri Mountains in Tamil Nadu.
- Courses: Inner Engineering, Hatha yoga, yoga for children, advanced meditation programs, sacred treks, mind and body rejuvenation retreats based on Ayurvedic principles.
The teachings of Sathya Sai Baba, widely recognized by his mop of black hair, focus on belief in God, living a moral life, and helping other people. The spiritual leader encourages devotees to follow the religion of their choice and/or upbringing. People are drawn to the ashram by the desire to see and be healed by an "incarnation of God". However, the rules are strict, so do be prepared to follow them.
- Where: The main ashram (Prasanthi Nilayam) where Sathya Sai Baba mostly resides is in Puttaparthi, 125 kilometers northeast of Bangalore.
- Courses: Ashram life consists of pathways to God devotion, including early morning Vedic chanting, singing of religious songs, spiritual talks, and discussions.
Fondly known as the "Hugging Mother" or "Amma, the Mother of All", Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi envelopes devotees with her love. She focuses her attention on trying to overcome the lack of love and compassion in the world, and devotees are particularly attracted to her for her comforting embraces. Free public darshans (audiences) are held with Amma at around 10 a.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
- Where: The Amritapuri Ashram is in Kollam, Kerala. 110 kilometers north of Trivandrum.
- Courses: Integrated Amrita Meditation Technique (a 20 minute combination of yoga, pranayama, and meditation). Morning and evening mediation, prayers, and service are all part of the ashram life.
Founded in 1926 by Sri Aurobindo and a French woman known as The Mother, the Sri Aurobindo Ashram has grown into a diversified community with thousands of members. The ashram sees itself as working towards the creation of a new world, a new humanity. If you're looking for a quiet haven of retreat, this isn't the right ashram for you. It's "a vibrant center of life in a modern urban setting". There's no renunciation of the world there. Everyone spends time each day in one or another of the Ashram's 80 departments.
- Where: Pondicherry, 160 kilometers south of Chennai, in Tamil Nadu.
- Courses: Collective meditations are held, but there are no prescribed practices, rituals, compulsory meditations, or systematic instructions.