I live in Mumbai, and though I love the city, sometimes its intense crowds, noisy traffic and even nosier festivals, get to me; and I feel an intense longing for some peace, calm and solitude – to re-center myself, and spend time rejuvenating mentally and spiritually.
Now for most Mumbaikars like me, the only option available is to leave the confines of the city and seek refuge at a quieter location along the beautiful Western Ghats, or to join a spiritual retreat. But for this, one needs to carve out at least a weekend and that is not always possible.
So is there a quicker solution? Luckily there is! And it involves visiting the Ramakrishna Math & Mission in Mumbai, for just a few hours.
The Math which occupies an entire city block is located in the quiet, leafy suburb of Khar (West). The moment one turns into its lane, one can immediately sense the hustle and bustle of Mumbai recede and an intense peace and calm descend.
For any seeker the first stop in the Math’s premises, is the Universal Temple dedicated to Sri Ramakrishna, an incarnation of divinity and guru to India’s most famous teacher of Vedanta Philosophy, Swami Vivekananda.
The beautifully constructed temple, stands at 75 years old and is modeled after the original at Belur, Kolkata. It consists of an immense meditation hall, at the end of which is a lovely shrine dedicated to the worship of Sri Ramakrishna.
The Universal Temple is so called because it welcomes seekers of all faiths, to come sit in its confines, immersed in inner contemplation. The walls of the temple are beautifully adorned with murals from the various religions of the world such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism; reflecting Sri Ramakrishna’s profound teaching, that all religions are true and all lead to the same ocean of consciousness called God.
The temple is open from 5am to 12 noon, after which it closes; and then reopens again for evening service from 4 to 9pm. Thus far, I have visited the Universal Temple only in the mornings and I have immensely enjoyed the experience, because during this time, the place is very quiet with only 4-5 other persons engrossed in meditation.
Sitting in the vast temple hall, absorbing the spiritual vibrations (prana) that fill the place; I am reminded of a beautiful saying by Shriram Sharma Acharya, another great guru of India: “Loneliness is necessary to realize the greater reality that lies beyond the cocoon of daily existence (job, family and friends); to establish our spiritual identity and to be one with the all-pervading spirit.”
The second place to visit within the Math’s premises is the Holy Mother’s Temple, dedicated to Sri Ramakrishna’s divine wife, Sarada Ma.
Located on the first floor of an adjacent building, cradled among lush green tree tops, and reverberating with years of continuous worship, this temple’s verandah makes for another wonderful place to meditate!
Now lest I leave you with the impression that the Ramakrishna Math is only for solitary meditation, I would like to list the third and my most favorite spot on the premises; and that is an amazing bookstore filled with hundreds of spiritual books for all age groups!
This bookstore is located right across the street from the Mother’s Temple and its hours of operation mirror those of the Universal Temple. From wonderful translations of the age-old Upanishads, to the immense works of Swami Vivekananda and other disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, this store is bursting with practical wisdom on how to lead a purposeful and fulfilling life.
Also available is a particularly large selection of children’s books. Both Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda were very fond of telling tales from Vedic literature, using them as an effective prop to drive home moral and spiritual truths.
Keeping up with this tradition, the bookstore has an entire table laden with beautifully illustrated story books for children (see picture below), written in several different languages. So if you have children between the ages of 7 to 15 in your household, then this is a great place to bring them to, so as to cultivate within them a strong and lasting spiritual foundation.
In conclusion, the Ramakrishna Math is like a secret garden of peace nestled amidst the hurried and chaotic life of Mumbai. What’s more, this oasis of calm is found not just in Mumbai, but is present in other major cities of India and abroad, wherever the Ramakrishna Mission has its branches (Maths).
So if you are looking for some quiet spiritual rejuvenation, and have a few hours to spare over the weekend then consider giving your local Math a visit. You will not be disappointed!
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