Quaint Himalayan towns have always been favourite of writers, thinkers, leaders. Nature has proved inspirational to them. They have also been source of many movements and ideas. Among the big names, Gandhi and Vivekanand were frequent visitors to hills to focus on their thoughts and also to connect with large cross-section of people. Kumaon region of Uttarakhand was one of the most liked places by one and all for its natural beauty, serene environment and close proximity to Himalayas.
There are many places in Kumaon which are known only because of their association with Gandhi or Vivekanand. One prominent among them is Advaita Ashram, Mayavati, near Lohaghat. The same Lohaghat, which is also close to Abbott Mount, known for Abbey Mansion popular as one of the most haunted place in India.
Located at an altitude of 6400 feet, the place and surroundings of Advaita Ashram charm you instantly. Far (at least 4 kms) from nearest village or town, on a ridge close to hill top, surrounded by dense forest of deodars and silver oaks, and occasional pines is this ashram. As, you reach here, a century old building in the middle of an amazingly colourful garden will hook you immediately. It is such a fascinating setting that you will most certainly forget everything else, will feel relaxed and never like to leave. What else! This place also has some magnificent panoramic views of snow-capped Kumaon Himalayas. No wonder, that big minds use to look for such places to rejuvenate and re-motivate.
Now one of the most serene places in Kumaon was once a tea estate warehouse built in 1850. This place was called as Maipet (माईपेट) because of a goddess temple nearby. It was renamed Mayavati Ashram after it was taken over by Paramahans Mission.
It is said that Vivekanand was always attracted by beauty, sublimity and solitude of the Himalayas. On his way back from historic USA visit, he stayed in London for a while. Some of his devotees planned a holiday for him in Switzerland. Upon sighting the beauty of Swiss Alps, he conceived the idea of establishing an ashram in India in similar conditions. Inspired by his ideas, two of his disciples- Captain James Henry Sevier and his wife Charlotte Sevier came to India to found an ashram. They reached this place, found this tea estate warehouse and purchased it. Then these two along with Swami Swarupananda, who was also a disciple of Vivekanand, founded Advaita Ashram on 19th March 1899. This advait (अद्वैत ) ashram later became one of the most important centres of Ramakrishna Math, Belur. For, Swami Vivekanand, this was also a place fit for congenial interchange of spiritual ideas.
Vivekanand came here on 3rd January 1901 and stayed here for a fortnight in the same building, a week on the first floor and later a week in sitting room of ground floor, as it had a large fireplace, since it was very cold. It was a historic stay which prompted Ramakrishna Mission to make this as its base in the region. Later, many other disciples of Ramakrishna Paramahans including Sister Nivedita and also eminent scientist Prof Jagdish Chandra Bose also visited this place. Slowly, this turned into a sacred place, a centre of pilgrimage.
Main purpose of the ashram was to study, practice and preach Advaita, the philosophy of non-dualism. And, as wished by Vivekanand himself, there is neither a shrine here, nor any external worship of any God is performed here.
Ashram later on became a main publishing centre of Ramakrishna Order. Many books on Ramakrishna, Vivekananda and philosophy of Vedanta were published from here. Swami Vivekanand had already started publishing an English monthly journal Prabuddha Bharata (प्रभुद्ध भारत) in July 1896. It is not only the oldest running journal of the mission, but also referred to as India’s oldest English monthly magazine. Its main editorial office was also later on shifted to Advaita Ashram.
Ashrama also had a printing press to print the books and journals. This press was purchased by Sevier couple in 1898 in Calcutta and then sent to Almora for printing of Prabuddha Bharata. Initially used at Almora’s Thompson House, it was brought to Mayavati in 1899. It is also said that, during his stay at ashram in 1901, Vivekanand himself would have handled the press. This press was sold in 1930s to Late Pandit Hari Dutt Punetha’s family of Forti village. Punetha family gifted it back to the ashram as a memorabilia in 1994.
There is no more printing done here, but the editorial work for the journal is still done here and then files are transmitted to Kolkata office for printing. From there, it is then circulated to all mission offices. Ashram also runs a charity hospital. It was started in 1903 and it continues to service even after 117 years.
Vivekanand also mediated here: Nature, myth and history of Syahi Devi temple
Even a short visit to this place is fit enough to up your mood. The beautiful nursery here makes you feel like taking away some of the Himalayan colours with you. We purchased a few saplings for us to take back to our homes, as if it was a part of the peace spread here that we were taking with us back to our lives of chaos.
Have you ever been to Advaita Ashram, Mayavati? How was the experience? Share with us in the comments section below.
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