Apart from being a headquarter for Indian IT companies, Bangalore also happens to be a hotspot for spiritual organizations, as a few of them are headquartered here. I happened to visit the Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Ashram and Sai Baba’s Whitefield Ashram last month – two prominent spiritual ashrams in Bangalore.
Art of Living Ashram is a sprawling 70 acre campus located about 12 Kms away from the city limits on Kanakpura road. Though it is located right on the main road, you have to take a detour of about 3 kms to enter the campus if you are going by your own vehicle, and when you park you almost get the feeling of being in a remote hilly village, with unleveled space being marked as parking for visitors. The most noticeable building on campus is Vishalakshi Manatapa, which is multi storied, the first level is a shop which sells almost everything under the sun that you need for your day to day living including clothes. The next level is a meditation center and a place which is probably used for discourses. The next level is not open to visitors and is used for conducting the ‘Art of living’ courses. The building is good, specially the circular terrace around the building on level 2, from where you can see the hills surrounding the campus and a lake. You also get to see the huge hostels that exist in the campus, I tried to do a rough calculation and there should at least 500 rooms there if not more. The art work inside the meditation hall is very loud and basic, with the kind of money and influence at their disposal I guess they could have had better art work there. The colors used are also too loud, and am sure can be a potential distraction for the people who are new to meditation. After we came out this we reached reception, which is also supposed to be the information center, but I did not find any additional or useful information. Behind the reception is a open an amphitheater, which is very inviting. In a typical Bangalore weather, the place is ideal to sit and converse, watch play or listen to a music that resonates with the surrounding or the elements. There is a canteen where you can pay and eat and this is a beautiful place, very rustic design with complimenting colors and synchronous furniture. Canteen had my favorite rustic red colored floor and walls with rural paintings which to me sounded like Warli paintings, but I am not sure. The food is also decent, simple and palatable. There is a travel desk which helps you do all the travel arrangements. There is a huge book shop and what they call Divine shop. All this obviously sell the Ashram books and merchandise only. I found the books, stationary and handicrafts very costly, looks like they are targeted at NRIs and foreigner only, they would be out of reach for most Indians. Although they claimed that people living in Ashram make those handicrafts, but I have seen the similar stuff in the usual markets in Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai.
Next Ashram I visited is Sai Baba’s ashram is Whitefield. Now this is not headquarter for Sai Baba, but this is like his city office. The Ashram is very similar to the one in Puttaparthi, again very loud colors and very loud artwork. This is a simpler Ashram compared to the earlier one. A huge open hall where the discourses happen and a small temple. It houses a hostel for students, not sure how big or small as visitors are not allowed to go inside. There is also a shop and a book shop in the premises. The most intriguing part of this Ashram is a huge Bungalow, where Sai Baba lives when he is in Bangalore. The bungalow has a huge iron gate with a security guard and you can see the place only from about 50 meters. Even to enter the Ashram you have to keep your cameras, cell phone etc outside and go through a security check. I wonder a guy who calls himself Bhagwaan (GOD), why does he need protection and so much security and from whom. If he is so divine, and if he is capable of doing so many miracles, why can’t he help himself with simple protection. Why does his residence need to be such a protected place ? Is it only for security reasons? How does he manage to hypnotize so many people, who do not even put these simple questions to him?
There is Chinmaya Mission on CMH road, but I visited them years ago, need to visit them again sometime. Of all the spiritual organizations that I have seen Chinmaya Mission remains my favorite for being non-preachy, for being punctual and disciplined and for respecting each and everyone who comes there, unlike most other places that end up putting hierarchies. I also admire their educational approach rather than preaching approach that most other organizations follow. Any other prominent Ashrams in Bangalore…let me know.