As I wrote about my experience of the Sri Ramanasramam (in Tamil; Sri Ramana Ashram is the Sanskrit version), it occurred to me that some readers of this blog aren’t exactly sure what an ashram is. I’ve been to just a few, so my experience is pretty limited, but I’ll try to explain as best as I know how.
An ashram is usually dedicated to a guru and his or her teachings, and normally is created organically as people begin to hear of the guru and come to visit and receive their teachings. Eventually, the number of visitors becomes large enough that someone has to start organizing food, sleeping arrangements, time with the guru, pujas (worship ceremonies), and all the other activities of a spiritual community.
We didn’t plan it this way, but we are lucky enough to be here at the ashram during Navaratri. It is a nine-night festival of the goddess Durga, celebrating her in all her forms, and signs of celebration are everywhere. The ashram grounds are decorated with banana leaves and flowers, and so are homes and shops. Pale green pumpkins are split, their flesh dyed red, and these are placed at the entrances to gates, doors and shops. Fresh kolams appear every morning in front of every entrance – homes, shops, and the ashram itself.
After two full days in Chennai, arriving in Tiruvannamalai was a real refreshment. As the bus traveled through the countryside, it was wonderful to see so much green growth. We both remembered this part of Tamil Nadu as a dry, brown place with occasional patches of green, but it’s much more cultivated now, and the area has been carefully reforested.
We spent two weeks with my mother before leaving for India. I’ve always enjoyed staying in her house, located on the north side of the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains, just below Mulholland. This is where I grew up from age 13 onwards, and one of the things I loved most about living there was being able to walk up into the hills across from my parents’ house. From the ridge at the top, you can look across the San Fernando Valley to the San Gabriel mountains. On a clear day, it’s simply spectacular.