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Born in 1887 to an educated Brahmin family in Tamil Nadu, Swami Shivananda trained as a medical doctor and spent ten years working as a physician in Malaysia. Looking for spiritiual answers to the suffering and death he stopped his medical career, and returned to India. He then settled in the sacred valley of Rishikesh and initiated into sannyas. In 1932 he established the Sivananda Ashram in an abandoned cowshed on the banks of the river Ganges and he guided thousands of spiritual seekers, disciples and aspirants all over the world.
Today, his society boasts about ten thousand members with 300 branches in India and abroad. The ashram itself has grown to a community of several hundred monks, lay residents and short term guests, with a large library, Sivananda Eye Hospital and Sivananda Ayurvedic Pharmacy.
Since residency at the ashram is restricted, the easiest way to participate in ashram activities is to rent a room nearby and attend part or all of the daily program, whcich generally includes meditation, bhajans, a morning leccture or a question and answer session, evening satsang, and a variety of special services and ceremonies. The Ashram has no gates and makes no distinctions between caste. All are welcome at the special celebrations, which include all the major festivals of all the major faiths. On Christmas Eve, there is caroling and Bible reading; for Sivarathri, there is an eight hour puja; there are celebrations for Buddha's birthday and Guru Nanak Day.
With the approval of Chief, serious students may be given permiison to stay at the ashram for up to several months free of charge. Longer term residencyy must be negotiated on an individual babsi and is reportedly much more difficult to arrange for women than for men. Of the close to three hundred residents, only about twenty five are Westerners, and of those, only handful are women.
The Ashram buildings sprawl on both sides of the road to Lakshman jhula,just north of the Muni Ki Retri rickshaw stands. Inside the complex, there are Samadhi Hall, Vishwanath Mandir, Bhajan Hall and Music Hall. Facilities include a free medical clinic, an extensive library and book strone, and an ayurvedic dispensary. Meals and shared roosm with private baths are available for pre approved guests only.
Morning meditation begins at 5 am. A lecture or question and answer session with the chief is generally held around 10 or 10.30 am.