February 2013, we first glimpsed this famed and fabled Ashram following our 15-hour flight from Newark to Mumbai, then a grueling nearly 3-hour bus ride through Mumbai rush hour, and finally onto the bumpy dusty road into Ganeshpuri, where we could see the Ashram’s high barbed-wire topped walls, stretching on seemingly forever. The grounds are very large and very private.
The mainstay of Ganeshpuri is Bhagavan Nityananda’s glorious MahaSamadhi Shrine, open and welcoming. Gurudev Siddha Peeth sits at the other end of the village; the entrance doors are closed and guards patrol the front area. I found this daunting and at odds with my expectations. The images I’ve seen of this Ashram are from Baba Muktananda’s early days – doors open wide and welcoming and dozens of people wandering in and out. The high walls and locked gates were not included in my vision.
Swami Nirmalananda explained to us that, while the majority of visitors to Nityananada’s temple are Indians, Gurudev Siddha Peeth has long been a destination point for many visitors from multiple countries. With the very real threat of terrorism towards Westerners, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda developed safety measures to protect the Ashram residents and visitors.
Helpful hints: The glorious bookstore across the road is open throughout the week. Visitors to the Ashram itself, allowed only on weekends, must sign in and check all bags with security across the way near the bookstore complex. If you visit in the wee morning weekend hours, don’t carry much besides your asana, shawl and chant book, or be prepared to check all other items with the guards. They will take excellent care of your personal belongings, but for the morning Guru Gita chant, you will find it easier to leave your belongs ‘at home.’
Once you’ve signed in, you’ll be directed to the hall for the chant. There you will see that men are on one side and women on the other. You choose whether to sit close to the leading chanters on the floor, or in a folding chair a bit further back. Either way, the sounds of the chanting voices, the opening mantras and Guru Gita sung by hundreds of devotees will open your heart.
When the chanting ends, all visitors are escorted out of the Ashram – yet not rushed. You’ll be able to return in the afternoon to visit Muktananda’s MahaSamadhi Shrine, where you may walk the perimeter of the room or sit on the marble floor where so many devotees steep in meditation.
Gurudev Siddha Peeth challenged me to look at my resistances and expectations. As the Guru is the mirror showing not only where I am but who I am, the Ashram is as well. It wasn’t until several months after returning home that I was able to see I had been caught up in my mind – not what is, but what I wanted. I realized that the guards were doing their job to protect everyone in the Ashram, myself included. The residents are doing their sadhana and their lives aren’t meant to be on display to hundreds of visitors. I recognize that Gurudev Siddha Peeth opened me up to see myself more clearly, helping me grow into recognition of my Self. When I return, it will be with love, wonder and excitement – to spend time with my Guru’s Guru – what could be sweeter?