Usually, when I visit an ashram, I do so either as part of a yoga training or because I accompany my guests during their trip to an ashram.
Both are quite intense.
The Navatri Festival
This time I went all by myself for 9 days during the Navatri Festival, without any training, but just as a spiritual retreat for myself.
Navatri is a religious festival lasting several days for the Hindu goddess Mother Durga. The various forms of the goddess are worshiped over nine nights. On the 10th day Dussehra takes place, which marks the end of Navatri. Almost everywhere in India, Ravan statues are burned in great fires, symbolizing the victory of good over evil (Rama wins against Ravan), or it is celebrated that the goddess Durga defeated the demon Mahishadura.
It is celebrated four times a year during the seasons transitions. The most important Navatri takes place in autumn.
For a long time I had wanted to go to an ashram during the nine-day festival in order to intensify my yoga practice and to purify myself physically, mentally and spiritually. The regular everyday life in an ashram, with intensive rituals, ceremonies, meditations and yoga lessons, as well as sattvik meals, is particularly good.
The Parmath Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh offers a Navatri Retreat twice a year.
Since my participation did not work due to the second Corona wave in April, I had registered for the retreat from October 7th to 14th.
Rishikesh literally means “place of the holy men”. And indeed, as soon as you cross the holy river Ganges on the Ram Jhula Bridge, you can feel how energetic the place is.
Rishikesh is considered the yoga capital of the world and is an important pilgrimage site for Hindus. Here where the Ganges leaves the Himalayas, a bath in the Ganges is considered to be particularly cleansing.
The Ashram Parmath Niketan
The Parmath Niketan Ashram is one of the oldest and the largest ashram with over 1000 beds. It is directed by Pujya Swamiji and is located right on the banks of the Ganges. Although Rishikesh itself is quite hectic, with pilgrims from all over India and the world, the large ashram complex is a quiet oasis with a lot of green nature, temples, a school for future priests, yoga halls, a dining room and of course over a hundred rooms.
The ashram is famous for its daily light ceremony on the Ganges at sunset.
My yoga retreat
I immediately felt at home in the ashram, although at first I was a bit surprised that the meals were not included in the “ashram package”, but were simply bought in the cafeteria. But with so many out-of-home visitors and guests coming and going, that’s the only way to keep an overview. In addition, I was able to decide which meals I wanted to participate in. Eating warm three times was too much for me during my retreat.
By the way, the meals were very cheap and tasty for about one euro.
Part of my retreat names 9 more Indians. Due to Corona, the Ashram is currently being visited in large numbers by Indian pilgrims, otherwise the western guests are probably very numerous here.
I really enjoyed being in the ashram among Indians, for whom the rituals and ceremonies are so natural.
The daily routine
In addition to the retreat program, I also did my own practice. In the ashram itself there is a lot of meditation, chanting, pranayama and ceremonies. With my own yoga practice in the afternoon, I made some exercise. In the morning I always go to the Ganges at 5:30 am to meditate.
Our teacher Indu did her doctorate in yoga philosophy and it was a great enrichment for me to be able to take part in her lessons, which were very simple in form, but very intensive in practice.
5:00 wake up and morning routine
5:30 am meditation on the Ganges
6:30 yoga class
8:00 fire ceremony
Free time for self-study, walks and swimming in the Ganges, lunch, rest
3:45 p.m. Mantra chanting
5:00 p.m. Yoga practice
18:00 Arti ceremony on the Ganges
19:00 Satsang with Swami ji
Without training or work, this ashram stay was very relaxed. Getting up early was probably the hardest part, but I also went to bed relatively early.
Now I am sitting in a café with a view of the Ganges in Rishikesh and after my retreat I feel very clear, purified and at peace within myself. I hope that I can take at least part of this intensive practice back to Shimla with me in my everyday life.
Have a listen to the last Chalo India Podcast episode , because I’ll tell you a little more about Indian ashrams and give you a few tips and hints.