Sivananda Ashram - Spiritual Field
Sivananda Ashram is a place for sadhana (spiritual practice) preferred by aspirants from all over the world. Everyone - whether a beginner or a very advanced level sadhaka (spiritual aspirant) - has found this Ashram as an ideal place for sadhana, a place highly charged with the spiritual vibrations. Any person who wants to pursue sadhana as per his pre-planned sadhana programme with advance intimation is given permission to stay for a some days, if accommodation is available, without any discrimination with regards to caste, religion, country, social/economic status, etc.
What has contributed to such a wonderful spiritual atmosphere? Several factors, such as:
1. Sivananda Ashram is situated in the foothills of Himalaya on the right bank (which is considered to be very sacred) of holy Ganga. This brings in some divine splendour as the background.
2. According to mythology, the pot containing the Divine Nectar was put on the bank of Ganga at Haridwar. The Divine Nectar sprinkled around covering this Ashram area as well, leaving Divine vibrations permanently.
3. The name Rishikesh was given to this place because Hrishikesh (Lord Krishna) gave here His admonitions to Uddhava. This Uddhava Gita (book XI, Ch. 6-29) is a top jewel not only of Srimad Bhagavatam, but also of the entire gamut of Indian philosophy.
4. Lord Rama's brother Laxman had practised the most intense austerities for twelve years here (at a place only 150 meters from the Ashram).
5. This area on the outskirts of Rishikesh is known as Muni-ki-reti, - Muni (sage), ki (of) and reti (sand) - indicating that here on the sands of Ganga bank sages practise austerities and sadhana.
6. During the intense sadhana period (1024-34) of Swami Sivananda, the Ashram area was a hilly jungle and here (at the site of Vishwanath Temple); he used to practise meditation and had attained transcendental Experience. Also, after the Ashram was established, many sages have done sadhana here and are still doing.
There are many buildings on the slope of a hill making it possible to have a view of Himalaya and Ganga from most of the buildings and even from good many rooms as well. The construction is done economically to provide moderate accommodation providing basic requirements to sincere sadhakas.
A visitor must inform well in advance his programme to the General Secretary,
The Divine Life Society,
PIN: 249 192 Uttaranchal, India.
The decision about whether the application should be approved or rejected and for what duration the visitor would be permitted to stay is solely the discretion of the General Secretary. The visitor should confirm his visit to the Reception-in-charge (ph: 0135-430040) and contact him on his visit.
A Typical Day at Sivananda Ashram
The first thing that one would have to say about a "typical day at the Sivananda Ashram" is that there is definitely no typical day at Sivananda Ashram! This is true for various reasons. One is due to the absolute large-heartedness and tolerance of Swami Sivananda himself. He did not demand that people hold to a definite daily schedule, although he did lay out very specific suggestions in his writings. Finally though, every individual seeker was free to formulate his own daily programme, in whatever way he thought best. Another reason why it is hard to chart out a typical day is that there are so many festivals, special worships and activities, and one might be hard-pressed to rigidly hold to one routine. Having said that, here is what a typical day might look like.
Gurudev believed very firmly that one should rise early, preferably at 4 am if possible. Each morning beginning at 5 am there is morning meditation in the Samadhi Shrine with chanting, 30 minutes of meditation and a 10-minute talk in English. Following this, many people go next door to the Viswanath Mandir (Temple of Lord Siva) for the morning puja and prayer. The puja begins promptly at 5:40 am, and while the puja is going on the devotees will be chanting the sacred mantra of Lord Siva, "Om Namah Sivaya." The puja and chanting conclude at 7 am with the distribution of prasad. Breakfast follows from 7 to 7:30 am. If one is feeling especially energetic, one could leave the worship early and attend a Hatha Yoga class from 6:30-8:00 am. (Missing breakfast may not be a problem as lunch is served at the relatively early hour of 11 am.)
Having invigorated oneself physically, one could turn one's attention to the highest Vedanta philosophy, and that opportunity is provided in a small class that is offered from 8:20 till 9:00 am. Morning is also a good time to offer some service. Swami Sivananda himself worked tirelessly for the benefit of all and advocated extensive Karma Yoga (selfless service). One could inquire in the various departments if any regular assistance were needed.
For seekers inclined to the devotional path, each morning at 7:30-8:30 am, the mantra "Om Namo Narayanaya" is chanted in the Samadhi Shrine. One could also attend a mid-morning worship service in either the Samadhi Shrine or the Viswanath Mandir. On Thursday, Guru's day, pada puja worship is performed beginning around 9:30 am in the Samadhi Shrine. For the more philosophically minded, there is a discussion and meditation from 9:30 to 11 am in the Academy.
After such a busy morning, one would surely be ready for lunch in the Dining Hall. There are two sittings: 11 and also 11:30 am to accommodate people's different schedules. The sannyasi, brahmacharis, sadhaks, guests and workers are seated in rows on the floor with a thali (steel plate), a cup for water and a small bowl for dhal. The Mahamantra is chanted along with the 15th Chapter of the Bhagavad Gita as the food is being served. The Dining Hall attendants come around with vegetables, dhal (lentils), rice and chapattis (unleavened bread) and one can have as much as one likes, as long as the food is not wasted. The food should be eaten in silence with attention and devotion. The attendants come around once more offering seconds, and no one goes away hungry! On feast days the devotees are given a special bhandara (feast), which is paid for out of the generosity of contributors. Special dishes and sweets are prepared to the delight of all! The Dining Hall takes care, whatever the day may be, to prepare nutritious and filling pure vegetarian food.
After the lunch, one might choose to take a short nap, as is the custom in India, to rest up for the remainder of a very full day. The afternoons, even in winter, can be quite warm, sunny and pleasant. Later in the afternoon, one could go down to the Ganges bank and visit Gurudev's Kutir and sit there for a while in meditation. Various personal articles from Swami Sivananda's time are also on display for the visitor. An opportunity that should not be neglected is the chance to bathe in the Ganges at Sivananda Ghat. It is an aspiration of many people all over India to have darshan (holy presence) of Mother Ganga at least once in a lifetime.
Whatever the time may be, day or night, winter or summer, one can always go to the Bhajan Hall to meditate or just sit quietly and listen to the Akhanda Kirtan (unending chanting). Ashram residents living in quarters adjacent to the Bhajan Hall share the duties of chanting the Mahamantra for world peace every minute of every day, each day of the year. Most amazingly this chanting has been going on unbroken for 59 years!
In the morning and afternoon one can enjoy the Library which houses 18,000 books, almost all of which were donated to the Ashram by devotees. The card catalogue is presently being entered into a computer system, and one can select any number of worthwhile books. If one's interest is more visual and less literary, one can go to the Audio-Visual Library that is located just below the main Library. There one can listen to audiocassettes, view videos and see pictorial displays of saints from the Sivananda Ashram as well as from all over India. Cassette players with earphones and VCR/TV's are available there to be used. A display case of cassettes and CD's is also on-hand for those who want to purchase some material for their own use. After the Main Library closes at 4 pm, the space there is made available for women who want to attend Matri Satsang between 4 and 5 pm. The devotees do chanting of Sanskrit prayers and stotras and also read from Scriptures.
Later in the afternoon a visitor has a number of choices. One can attend an afternoon group chanting of the "Om Namo Narayanaya" mantra, also 4:30-5:30 pm. As the sun begins to set and the workday concludes, there is still more to keep the heart and mind engaged. Yet, the schedule described here would be overloaded if one did everything, every day without finding time to oneself. The point is however that these worthwhile activities are available to whoever chooses to participate and to whatever extent they choose. No one is compelled. One should also mention at the same time that the overall effect of years and years of this level of unbroken devotion, meditation, Satsang and worship is that the Sivananda Ashram has an incredibly powerful atmosphere. One need only pass through the gates and a peace just overtakes a person. The feeling is palpable, even powerful at times. Visitors who came planning to stay for two days often end up longing to stay 20 days. Devotees of the Ashram find themselves returning year after year, drawn by this mysterious force that so animates and elevates this place.
But, oh, we were talking about the schedule, weren't we!! At the very auspicious time around sunset, worships are held at both the Viswanath Temple and Samadhi Shrine. At the same hour as the worship, 5:30 pm or so, one can also go down to the Gurudev's Kutir for Bhajan, Kirtan & Ganges for a Ganga Arati-a worship of Mother Ganges with lights and lamps which are set loose to slowly float downstream-a truly impressive and inspiring sight. Once again one is invited to the Dining Hall and at 7:00 (6:30 in Winter) dinner is served.
Afterwards wouldn't it be fitting to speak to some of the other devotees-"what did you learn today, how were you inspired, how have you grown, etc.?" Fellow aspirants can come together and support and encourage one another. This coming together with other wise and sincere people is called "Satsang." Swami Sivananda was convinced that Satsang is one of the most important aspects of the spiritual life and attended Satsang himself every evening, no matter how tired his body might be from the enormous work and responsibility of his day. The Ashram continues that tradition and each evening, 7:30-9:30 pm, the devotees come together for chanting, reading of the Gita, lectures in English and Hindi, bhajans (devotional songs) and a concluding worship.
With this, the organised activities of the Ashram are concluded, but one's day of contemplation and meditation need not itself be finished. As one edges closer to sleep, one should recall the things encountered and learned during the day, and with a rested and peaceful heart, one can merge into sleep and arise the next day fresh with possibility.
The entire atmosphere of the Sivananda Ashram is spiritual. To live in the Ashram for a few days is by itself a spiritual experience and sadhana. Many devotees visit the Ashram to get themselves spiritually charged. There are several spiritual, academic and welfare activities carried out by the Divine Life Society at the Ashram. The visitor may select activities of his choice and participate in them. Some of the regular activities are:
There are regular classes of Yogasana and Pranayama in separate batches for men and women.
In the Bhajan Hall non-stop kirtan (chanting) of the Mahamantra (Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare; Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare) is going on round-the-clock continuously since 3rd Dec. 1943.
Puja is done in the Viswanath temple thrice a day with the traditional rituals. During the morning puja, samkirtan (group singing) of the mantra 'Om Namah Shivaya' is also done from 6.00 to 7.00 in the morning. Anyone is free to participate in the puja and samkirtan.
In the Samadhi Mandir (Temple) daily Paduka Puja, 3 time puja, chanting of the 'Om Namo Narayanaya' Mantra, group recitation of Vishnusahasranama Stotram and other activities take place.
Round-the-clock group chanting is done on the eve of Purnima (full moon day), Amavasya (new moon eve day) and many other special days.
Special celebrations and puja are arranged on important festivals.
Puja is done in the morning and evening in the Durga Mandir and Dattatreya Mandir.
The daily evening satsanga in the Samadhi Mandir is a very important activity of the Ashram. The programme includes recitation of stotras and Bhagavad Gita, a spiritual discourse. Bhajan, kirtan, samkirtan, concluding prayers, aarati, etc. Usually the senior Swamijis see some of the visitors (mainly newly arrived ones and those who are to leave) after the aarati.
The daily early-evening satsanga in 'Gurudev Kutir' and Ganga aarati are also regular features.
In the afternoon, Matri-satsanga (satsanga for ladies) is conducted in the library hall.
Daily in the morning from 5.00 to 6.00 a.m., there is a session of prayer, meditation and a brief talk. Many sadhakas & visitors do Japa and meditation for long time inside the Kaivalya Guha or in their rooms, in Samadhi Mandir, Viswanath Mandir, Dattareya Mandir, Durga Mandir or on the Ganga bank.
The Society runs the Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy.
Some scholars are conducting regular daily classes on different scriptures.
Library: There is a very spacious library with a good stock of spiritual books. The library also receives a large number of spiritual magazines.
We have recently established an Audio-visual Library and are continuously expanding and updating it.
Spiritual functions and celebrations:
Some of the functions and celebrations which have become regular features of the Ashram Calendar are as follows:
As a very large number of devotees come to the Ashram on Guru Purnima, a one-week Sadhana Shibir (spiritual retreat) is organized from the following day. Discourses of eminent spiritual dignitaries and other spiritual programmes are arranged. In the evening, cultural programmes are also organized.
The devotees from cold countries prefer to visit the Ashram during December and January. So, a special spiritual retreat is held during Christmas.
Non-stop chanting is arranged on all the Purnimas, Amavasyas and on the eve of certain special days like Mahasivaratri, Gauranga Mahaprabhu Jayanti, Guru Purnima, Sri Krishna Jayanti, Sivananda Jayanti, Anniversary of Akhanda Mahamantra Samkirtana, Anniversary of Viswanath Mandir.
9 days Navaratri Puja, Six-day Skanda Puja, night-long Siva Puja on the Mahasivaratri Day, special Puja on Sri Krishna Jayanti, Sri Rama Jayanti, etc. are performed with great enthusiasm.
Special Day Celebrations: Special programmes are held on the Lunar New Year Day, Sri Rama Navami, Adi-Sankaracharya Jayanti, Guru Purnima, Aradhana Day (Punyatithi of Swami Sivananda), Birthday Anniversaries of Swami Sivananda and other saints, Vijaya Dasami, Dipavali, Sri Bhagavad Gita Jayanti, etc.
5-6 am Chanting, prayers, meditation, talk Samadhi Shrine
5:40-7:15am Worship/ Om Namah Sivaya chant (6-7am) Viswanath Mandir
6:30-8am Yoga asanas (men only) Yoga Hall.
7-7:30am Breakfast Dining Hall
7:30-8:30am Vishnu Sahasra Nama & Om Namo Narayanaya chanting Samadhi Shrine
8:20-9am Vedanta class Divya Naam Mandir
9-11am, 2-4pm Reading Period Main Library
8:30-10:30, 1:30-3:30 Viewing of videos films A-V Library
8-10:30, 1-3:30pm Purchase of Sivananda books SPL Bookstall
9:30-11am Philosophical discussions, meditation Academy Building
9:30-10:15am Worship Viswanath Mandir
9:30-10:15am Worship (Thursdays, pada puja) Samadhi Shrine
11-11:30, 11:30-12 Lunch Dining Hall
3:00pm Tea served Dining Hall
4-5pm Matri Satsang Main Library
4:30-5:30pm "Om Namo Narayanaya" chant Samadhi Shrine
5:30-6:30pm Yoga Asanas (women only) Yoga Hall.
5:30-6:30pm Bhajan, Kirtan & Ganga arati Gurudev Kutir Ghat
5:30-6:30pm Worship Viswanath Mandir
6-6:45pm Worship Samadhi Shrine
6:30pm (7 in summer) Dinner Dining Hall
On-going Akhanda Kirtan Bhajan Hall
7:30-9:30pm Evening Satsang Samadhi Shrine