Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Visiting a friend at Swami Dayananda Ashram in Coimbatore

Last February I finally had the opportunity to visit my dear friend Elouise at Swami Dayananda Ashram in Coimbatore (Arsha Vidya Gurukulam) where she is following the gurukulam program, a three years Vedanta course. Thanks to her I had an amazing time during this trip, she took very good care of me and made me feel very welcome. For about a year and half we had tried to arrange a get together but we never really managed to do it although we both had been in India all that time.

Taking a break at the Beach

Before traveling to Coimbatore I stayed for about 20 days at Palolem Beach. After four months at the Bihar School of Yoga in Munger I really needed a place to recover from all the mental and emotional purification (I still get the chills just by thinking about it). Palolem Beach was the perfect place, I have a very strong connection with the beach and the sea. It was also the perfect place to update my blog with all my recent experiences. I worked very hard at the beach updating my blog so I didn't enjoy the beach that much. Well, I can't complain, working on my blog right in front of the beach while listening to the waves and drinking sweet lassi is just awesome.

I had a very busy schedule at Palolem Beach. After a one hour morning meditation I would go for a 30 minutes run at the beach and then an hour hatha yoga practice. En excellent way to start the day. Then I would go for breakfast and work all day on my blog until sunset when I would take a break to just stop and meditate at the beach. As soon as I finished updating my blog I decided that it was time to move on so I bought a bus ticket for the next morning to Cochin to look for Sajee, a yoga teacher that my friend Marshall had insisted me again and again to visit.

A new adventure

I sent a FB message to my friend Elouise letting her know that I was going to Cochin and she replied right away asking me to pay her a visit since Coimbatore is not that far from Cochin. I liked that idea, I really wanted to meet her at last. So I asked her when I should come and she replied "tomorrow!". Her answer took me by surprise but I decided to go for it, Cochin could wait. She said that Pujya Swamiji (Swami Dayananda) was going to be there for just a few days and if I didn't come to the ashram at that time I wouldn't be able to see him until who knows when. I didn't want to miss that opportunity.

That's something that I really liked about this trip, it was all so spontaneous and I didn't have any expectations, always a good way to have a great experience. So the next morning I took the bus from Palolem Beach to Cochin. It was a long ride, about 20 hours and then when I arrived in Cochin I still had to go to the train station to catch a three hours train to Coimbatore. But I didn't feel fatigued or tired at all, I was so excited to visit my friend and about the new adventure that I was feeling full of energy.

Elouise received me with open arms at the train station in Coimbatore and for the next two days she became and excellent host.

Swami Dayananda Ashram in Coimbatore - Arsha Vidya Gurukulam

After spending some time catching up with Elouise she gave me a short tour around the ashram. There are a lots of trees and fortunately not many mosquitoes. She also introduced me to her "ashram pets", a cow and its very cute calf.

The main stop during the "tour" was the dinning hall :-) I love the food at this ashram although she is not such a big fan of it. Well, after almost a month in Palolem Beach eating restaurant food it was a real joy to once more enjoy ashram food which I have gotten very use to by now, and specially since it was south Indian style, hmmm, idilis!

I joined two of the Vedanta classes at the gurukulam. I was very excited cause Vedanta has always been a very interesting subject for me but since I didn't follow the course from the beginning I hardly understood a thing. But that was not such a big problem, I felt already content just to be in the present of Swami Dayananda.

Video of Swami Dayananda chanting the opening prayer for the Vedanta class

My friend also took me to the office of one of the main swami teachers at the ashram so I could meet him and ask him some questions. It was a great opportunity to finally been able to talk about Advaita Vedanta, about what is real and what is unreal with a true Vedanta teacher.

Ashram Contact information:

Arsha Vidya Gurukulam
Anaikatti P.O., Coimbatore
Tamil Nadu 641 108, India.
Phone: +91-422-2657001, +91-944-2646701 (Reception)
Manager: +91-944-2646702 (Sri Sairam - Manager)

You can find more information about the ashram in their website: Arsha Vidya Gurukulam

At the feet of the Guru

Swami Dayananda
Elouise knows how fortunate is to be in the present of a master like Swami Dayananda so as soon as the opportunity presented itself she took me to Swami Dayananda's visitors room so I could meet him. It was a very short meeting, he is a very busy swami and many people wants to meet him all the time. After prostrating at his feet as it is part of the local tradition to show respect and to receive the blessings of the guru he gave me an orange as prasad (offering) and we exchanged just a few words... my name and where I came from.

No Karma Yoga, really?

Every ashram in India is so different so it is quite difficult to say what an ashram is like. There are not many rules at this ashram, as my friend told me Swami Dayananda wants to make sure that all students feel very comfortable so they can focus on their studies. They even have WiFi connection in the campus.

I was surprised to see that there was no karma yoga on the daily schedule, except for once a month or something like that. In most ashrams that I have visited in India it is very common to have at least one hour a day dedicated to karma yoga or selfless service which can include things like cutting vegetables or cleaning toilets. But the real reason why I was so surprised was because I had recently being at the Bihar School of Yoga (BSY) for four months where most of the day we spent doing karma yoga and where we had very strict rules.

Not surprisingly when I saw the bathroom from my room I thought "hmmm, not so clean". Of course it was clean, but it was not as impeccable as it would have been at the BSY, since that was what we basically did all day long over there. And during an event that I was invited I notice that all the plastic chairs placed for the public were not "perfectly" aligned and with the "right" space in between. I thought to myself "that would never happen at BSY!".

Road Trip!

I was planning to stay until Sunday, only for two days because on Monday there was an event outside the ashram for the inauguration of a school founded by Swami Dayananda through his NGO AIM for Seva. But on Sunday Elouise asked me "why don't you stay one more day so you can join the event?". "Why not?" I replied, another adventure!

Next morning we left the ashram in a huge private bus along with probably 30 other gurukulam students. Road trip! I thought to myself. It was a really nice and fun ride and I had the opportunity to meet some of Elouise's classmates. I was pleased to find out that she is studying together with so many nice people. They are all from very different backgrounds and ages but their all share one thing in common, the love for learning Vedanta. They were all very friendly and warm towards me.

After about an hour and half we made a stop for lunch at a house of a devotee of Swami Dayananda. It was actually more like a mansion, it was so big that you could easily get lost. The house owners received us with an amazing south Indian vegetarian lunch buffet which was absolutely delicious.

After lunch we got back on the bus to continue towards our destination but in India it's almost impossible to continue the day without chai (milk tea) after lunch so we made another stop at a second devotee's house where we were received with a nice warm chai, lemon juice and cookies. The house owner gave a special puja for Swamiji which is considered as a blessing and a great opportunity for a householder.

School inauguration
Finally we arrived at the place for the inauguration of the school but I must say this was not so entertaining, specially since all the speeches were given in the local language. After such a nice lunch the speeches in the foreign language became like a bed song so I couldn't avoid to take a long and deep nap right on the chair were I was sitting. But I must say that I do feel very inspired by the efforts that Swami Dayananda is actively doing to create a better world through the NGO that he founded.
"We provide the children with a clean living environment, nutritious food, uniforms, schooling needs, value based education, extra-curricular activities and much more to every child who needs it. Our objective is to help today’s children become responsible citizens of tomorrow and contribute to their family, society and country." (AIM for Seva NGO)
After a few hours it was time to go back to the ashram. By then we were all thinking about dinner and guess where we stopped for dinner.... at the same first house where we had had lunch earlier. Once more we had a another delicious south Indian vegetarian buffet.... unbelievable.

My whole trip to Coimbatore was like a culinary experience. Lunch and dinner during the road trip were fantastic, the food at the ashram was delicious and on Sunday Elouise took me to a popular restaurant in town where we enjoyed a delicious south Indian thali (traditional Indian meal), my favorite kind of thali.

Finding a path

I feel very happy and proud for my friend. We met a couple of years ago during the Sivananda Teachers Training Course (TTC). At the end of the course she asked me for some advice and I just said "follow your heart". After the TTC she had to go back home but a few months later she returned to India to find her path and next time we talk she said "I'm going to study Vedanta for three years in Coimbatore at Swami Dayananda's Ashram". I was happily surprised, couldn't believe that she managed to take such a big decision so quickly and with so much certainty. She visited Swami Dayananda ashram only once and that was enough for her to make a decision. Her dedication, determination and her devotion to Swami Dayananda's teachings are really inspiring. Every time that I read one of her blog posts at I can tell how much she is learning, not only because of her dedication but also because of her faith in the teachings of her guru.

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  1. nice read!! have fun

  2. Such a nice write up.
    Visiting Anaikatti ashram in the 2nd week of February.
    Will relate to all this.

    1. Thank you, enjoy your stay at the ashram and learn as much as you can :-) Namaste

  3. Please let me know if Miss L.Vaidyanathan is staying in this ashram.She was my Maths and Physics teacher in Kolkata in 1976..Smita Pradhan Karnik