Swami Vivekananda (Swamiji) had always been attracted by the Himalayas, the land of tyaga (renunciation) and yoga, the domain of Lord Shiva. During his tour of the Swiss Alps the idea to found an Ashrama in similar conditions in India took shape. When Swamiji returned from the West in 1897,  he roused India by his tremendous personality and message through which comatose religion too was rejuvenated. In Almora, he inspired Captain Sevier and Mrs. Sevier along with Swami Swarupananda, his disciple, to commence looking for a place to house an Ashrama ‘dedicated to Advaita’. They found it in Mayavati, 6,400 ft. above sea level, surrounded by mountains on three sides, one side opening to a breathtaking view of the snow-capped Himalayan range. The Advaita Ashrama was inaugurated in March 1899. Belur Math, established earlier, approved of its objects and principles and recognized Advaita Ashrama as its branch. Swamiji paid the Ashrama a visit in January 1901 and stayed for a fortnight.

There have been hardships but when one has a great ideal to live by, hardships become insignificant. Advaita Ashrama had a press of its own and the first editions of Swami Vivekananda’s works, his life, etc. were published from Mayavati, besides Prabuddha Bharata, the monthly journal. Following the laws of inevitability, a good library stocked with excellent books naturally grew.

The objects of the Ashrama are to study, practise and preach the Advaita philosophy free from ritualistic settings, and also to train others in spreading it. The Ashrama in a short time became a melting pot, as it were, of the best minds of the East and the West. It helped spread the core Advaita doctrine, that of the Atman beyond body and mind, which it clothed in novel ways to suit different disciplines and temperaments. The other focus was a creation of a huge body of Vedantic, Ramakrishna—Holy Mother—Vivekananda literature in English—Sanskrit, English and Hindi. Thus it acted as a launching pad for the spiritual, philosophical, psychological and cultural awakening all over the world.

Himalayan range view from Mayavati Advaita Ashrama

Advaita Ashrama at Kolkata

To keep Advaita Ashrama, Mayavati, in its pristine and quiet condition, and yet meet the growing worldwide demand for its publications and journal Prabuddha Bharata, it was decided to shift the printing and despatch work to Kolkata. This would also ensure better quality of the books published and a much wider reach. A branch centre was, therefore, started on 1 May 1920, in a rented shop at 28,  College Street in Central Kolkata. Later, this was shifted to a larger place in the same area. 1925 saw the dedicated souls who were the inmates of the Ashrama at 180B, Muktaram Babu street in North Kolkata. As this place also became small for their lion hearts they shifted in 1931 to a building at 4, Wellington Lane.

The euphoria of pre-independence struggle was making constant demands for Ramakrishna-Vivekananda and Vedanta literature and the monks bravely met it. As the number of monastics grew along with the work, inversely did the Ashrama space seem to shrink. But with minds fixed on the great mission of spreading the leaven of Advaita, all troubles were borne with equanimity. With meager funds scraped over the years they could finally think of having a spacious Ashrama building. Providentially Sri U. N. Deb, a former classmate of Swamiji, donated land to Belur Math and Advaita Ashrama erected a building at 5, Dehi Entally Road. This was in 1960 and it continues to be the present domicile of Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata.

The feeling of finally having a spacious Ashrama lasted only a couple of decades. The warehouse soon began bursting with books, paper and unbound materials, etc. The despatch section began working overtime to clear orders from India and abroad. The Ashrama has also adopted the latest technology to speed up work. Today, humming computers tackle the large volume of orders gushing in.

But this electronic hum is not the only sound heard in the Ashrama. It also resounds with Vedic and Bhagavad Gita chanting. Following the Advaita Ashrama principles, no ritualistic worship is performed, individually or collectively. In every activity the monastic tries to make practical the philosophy of Advaita. The monks in the Ashrama can feel its growth and are also aware of its great potential. In addition to being busy with diligent research, proof-reading, composing, etc., the monastics also engage themselves in meditation and study of scriptures. Charitable activities, religious discourses for devotees and a spacious library complete the picture.

A piece of land, contiguous to the Ashrama was purchased in April 2000 with a view to erect a second permanent building to cater to the increased publication demands. However, paucity of funds and other difficulties meant that the space demand had to be met through temporary sheds for the past two decades. These sheds require constant repairs and they too are overflowing.

At present, preparations are underway for the construction of a new building for the Publication Department to meet the anticipated publication demands for the next several decades and to conduct Value Education programmes in the locality. The estimated cost is around Rupees 30 crores (USD 4 million).