|Atmasantulana Village / Ayurveda • Reading|
|“A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.”
During the 60s and 70s, India became the destination of all kinds of travellers, hippies and spiritual seekers. For my generation, the Beatles played a significant role in putting that mysterious continent on the esoteric map when they spent some time contemplating their navels with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in his Rishikesh Ashram.
But I don’t really know when my desire to go to India first manifested itself – at some point it seemed to be the next logical stage of my travels.
So, the early summer of 1976 found me crossing the border from Pakistan into Kashmir, as fate would have it on the first train to make that crossing in 11 years! There were free refreshments, flower garlands as well as press and radio reporters pushing microphones into any face which crossed their path. But the most exciting moment for me was when we reached the border proper – out of nowhere, military riders in dress uniforms and vibrantly coloured turbans, sabres strapped at their sides, appeared on each side of the train and galloped beside us as an escort until we reached the bustling main station at Amritsar.
Namaste! What a welcome!
The 8 months I spent on busses and trains traversing India, most of it travelling alone, is a story too detailed to go into here. But it was like a homecoming for me – India felt familiar and, although at times I found myself in strange situations, I always felt safe.
I travelled from the Tibetan border in the North to Tamil Nadu in the South, stopping when the fancy took me, following “must see” tips from fellow travellers or meeting up with old friends. I stayed in Ladakh for a month, visiting isolated Buddhist temples and getting caught up in the excitement of a visit from the Dalai Lama. There was a houseboat on Dal Lake, Kashmir, a mountain hut in the Himalayan foothills, an Ashram on the Ganges at Rishikesh, a Dak Bungalow in Rajasthan and a straw hut on a palm-shaded beach in Goa.
At some point I found myself in Rameswaram, just across the Straits from Sri Lanka and thought “well, why not”. For a month I hitch-hiked around the island with Jeff, an Australian travelling buddy, carefully budgeting my dwindling funds and vaguely wondering how I was going to get back to Europe (or travel further).
But the Fates smiled on me once again: one hot April day I was standing on a street in Hikkaduwa, chatting to a girlfriend when we were approached by two smart looking young guys. They were, as it turned out, crew members on a yacht (Trimaran) at anchor in Galle Harbour on a desperate mission to find a couple of likely lasses willing to work their passage as ship’s cooks for the imminent trip back to Europe.
Well, I love to cook (I wasn’t sure about the sailing part, though), so I made the trip to Galle Harbour with Jeff to check the situation out. After we’d discussed the pros and cons of the offer (and decided that the captain and crew didn’t look that dangerous!) I decided to hire on as Galley Slave.
The 3-month trip took us across the Indian Ocean to Djibouti and through the Red Sea in a 10 Force Gale. I remember the yacht bobbing like a cork while I braced myself against a cupboard, cooking with one hand and catching falling pots, pans and kitchen supplies with the other. There was quite a bit of damage to the hull and the engine, so we stopped over in Port Suez in Egypt for some very necessary repairs before sailing up the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean at last. By the time we’d reached Crete, I’d had enough of the yachting life, so I packed my rucksack and took off, thumb in the air, back to Europe.
But I was homesick for India and it wasn’t long before I went back, this time for a year in the busy Maharastrian city of Pune where I met my spiritual teacher, Dr. Shri Balaji També in 1981.
Although I’ve now made my home in Munich, I’ve been back to my “second home”, India many times since then, usually to spend some time in Atmasantulana Village.
Atmasantulana Village is a spiritual community and Ayurvedic healing center, halfway between Mumbai and Pune in the western Indian state of Maharastra. Shri Balaji is its inspiration and creative force.
When I first met Shri Balaji, he had a flourishing Ayurvedic practice and regular meditation meetings in a room behind his house in Pune. On my travels, I had only briefly encountered Ayurveda, a five thousand year old “Art of Living” healing system which incorporates all aspects of daily life, including Diet, Meditation, Yoga, Aromatherapy, Music, Health care, Astrology, and management of space (Vastu Shastra). It all seemed very exotic and mysterious, but from the beginning, I was fascinated by the humane aspect of this philosophy, its innate understanding of the human condition and its compassion with our frailties as human beings.
All of which doesn’t change its fundamental tenet that the main responsibility for our personal well-being lies with ourselves. If we understand our own basic constitution, our strengths and weakness and try to live accordingly, we should be able stay healthy. In today’s fast-paced world, it remains a relevant and valuable system of healing and disease prevention.
With increasing interest in Shri Balaji’s work and a growing group around him it became evident at some point that the project needed room to grow.
In 1982, a piece of land was found along the Indryani River, near the busy little town of Lonavala, a popular “Hill Station” resort. The land also bordered a Government Holiday Resort which conveniently provided housing for group members during construction of the village.
I remember the first time I saw the site in 1983. Construction was underway on the first building, “Nadabrahma”, the temple & meditation hall, but other than that, there wasn’t much else to be seen but rocks, brush, dust and the occasional inquisitive scorpion!
It was hard to imagine what the centre would eventually look like, but Shri Balaji had a vision and very gradually its form began to become clear to us as well.
Over the years, small saplings nourished by the monsoon rains and the loving hands of many willing gardeners have grown into huge shade trees and the first makeshift buildings have been replaced by comfortable housing for residents, patients and guests. A new Temple was built a few years ago to accommodate the growing number of meditators and Nadabrahma now houses a recording studio and offices.
There are therapy rooms, a lush herbal garden, and a bustling pharmacy where ayurvedic oils, medicines and nutritional supplements are produced under the vigilant eyes of Shri Balaji and his trained assistants.
In the beginning, we had a one-room cooking space and a circular “eating tent”: now there is a huge kitchen and dining area providing, under the careful supervision of Smt. Veena, three delicious meals a day, including a special diet plan for those undergoing the Ayurvedic purification therapy “Panchakarma”.
To read more about Atmasantulana Village and Ayurveda, inquire here about the village’s monthly newspaper the “Atmasantulana Echo”.
For those interested in learning more about Ayurveda, its philosophy and practical day to day application, I can also recommend the following books:
From time to time, I’ll update this page with articles about Ayurveda and events in the Village. I may even tell a few little anecdotes of my own about those long gone days when I was a rucksack traveller at large in India … let’s see!
If you have any specific questions, don’t hesitate to contact me or one of the Ayurvedic/Meditation links on my Links page.
Aum Shri Sat Gurave Namaha