There is something deeply mysterious and spiritual about India that has drawn people from the world over to our country.
Whether it’s the recent Coldplay video showcasing the colors and vibrancy of India, or Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love coming to terms with herself while living in an ashram, the West clearly looks to India for inner peace.
So why is it that people rarely think of an ashram as a plausible destination when planning a vacation or a getaway?
An ashram is not just for those who have renounced the material world, but for anyone who wants to push their creative limits and find some peace within their stressful lives.
They may not have huge swimming pools and serve fancy cocktails, but they can offer you an experience far richer than any five-star hotel.
If you’re looking for an adventure that takes you away from the exhausting indulgences of the material world, here are seven Indian ashrams that should be on your itinerary.
Isha Foundation Ashram
If yoga has sparked your interest in India’s ancient spiritual practices, then Isha Ashram can provide a wonderfully immersive experience for you.
Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, the founder of Isha Foundation is not only a yogi and a mystic, but also a wonderful speaker. The ashram is located in the lush green Velliangiri mountains, an ideal backdrop for a soulful holiday.
Location: Isha Yoga Center, at the base of the Velliangiri Mountains in Tamil Nadu.
Courses: They offer a 3-7 day introductory program known as Inner Engineering which introduces guided meditations and a powerful inner energy process for deep transformation.
Accommodation: Cottages are available on prior booking at a very nominal charge. Public telephones and internet services available for guest use.
The Art of Living Ashram
The brainchild of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Art of Living Foundation was created in 1981.
Away from the hustle and bustle of Bangalore, the ashram is a haven for the city’s stressed IT and corporate folk and makes for a perfect weekend getaway.
The simple courses taught at the ashram are known to be especially effective tools for stress management.
Location: Panchagiri hills, 36 kilometers southwest of Bangalore, near Udipalya village.
Courses: The foundation course, Art of Living Part I, at the ashram is a popular three-day residential workshop. As a beginner, one can also take up the Sahaj Samadhi guided meditation program.
Accommodation: The ashram has several residential blocks for program participants across a range of budgets and conveniences.
When it comes to controversial Indian gurus, Osho is probably on the top of the list. His ultra-progressive views about sex and spirituality have found a huge following both in the east and the west.
If you’re an ashram newbie, you’ll find this place right up your alley. The place has a more resort-like feel except for the compulsory maroon robes one needs to wear.
Location: Koregaon Park, Pune (4 hours from Mumbai).
Courses: One can engage in active meditation sessions which could involve whirling or even screaming, Tantric workshops, plus a huge range of multi-diversity courses.
Accommodation: Though slightly heavy on the pocket, the ashram guest house provides air-conditioned double rooms on prior booking. The rates are different for winters and summers, with the latter being cheaper.
Sathya Sai Baba Ashram
The following of Sathya Sai Baba has been such that the non-descript village of Puttaparthi, baba’s birthplace, has turned into bustling town.
This agnostic ashram gets thousands of visitors each year. Known as Prasanthi Nilayam, the ashram has a sprawling campus with meditation centres, lecture halls, a bakery, canteen and even a museum.
Location: Puttaparthi, 125 kilometers north-east of Bangalore
Courses: There are no set courses but visitors can take part in early morning Vedic chanting, singing of religious songs, spiritual talks and discussions.
Accommodation: The ashram has a guest house and rooms can be booked in advance through their online reservation portal.
Mata Amritanandamayi Ashram
Located in a remote fishing village on a small and serene island cradled between the backwaters and the Arabian Sea, Amritapuri is surrounded by swaying coconut palms and blue waters.
Known as the “Hugging Mother”, Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi is famous for embracing all those who come to her with a warm and loving hug.
Location: Kollam, Kerala, 110 kilometers north of Trivandrum.
Courses: Integrated Amrita Meditation Technique (a 20 minute combination of yoga, pranayama, and meditation). Morning and evening meditation, prayers, and service are all part of the ashram life.
Accommodation: The ashram has a large block for accommodating visitors and charges a very nominal fee. Rooms are usually available but pre-booking is recommended during ashram festivals.
Sri Ramana Maharshi Ashram
If you want the quintessential Indian ashram experience, the quaint Sri Ramana Maharshi Ashram has it all. Built next to a river, it has an old world charm with thatched roof buildings alongside the more recently-built stone carved shrine of Sri Ramana Maharshi.
Location: Tiruvannamalai, 200 kilometers southwest of Chennai, in Tamil Nadu.
Courses: The ashram has a daily schedule of activities which include puja, Vedic chanting, and group readings.
Accommodation: Free accommodation and food are provided to devotees who wish to practice his teachings at the ashram.
Sri Aurobindo Ashram
The Aurobindo ashram in Pondicherry is definitely one of the most popular ashrams on the list.
Over the years, the place has grown into a diversified community with thousands of members. It has no obligatory practices, no rituals, no compulsory meditations and people are free to engage in any spiritual practice they like.
Sounds too good to be true, right?
Location: Pondicherry, 160 kilometers south of Chennai, in Tamil Nadu.
Courses: There are no compulsory activities, however, visitors can take part in collective meditation sessions that are held at the ashram.
Accommodation: A limited number of rooms are available in guest houses for visitors coming for a short visit to Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Since accommodation is limited, it is better to make reservations in advance.