Advaita Ashrama, Mayavati, is a branch of the Ramakrishna Math, founded on 19 March 1899 at the behest of Vivekananda, by his disciples James Henry Sevier, and Charlotte Sevier. Today it publishes the original writings of Vivekananda. As an ashram dedicated to the study and practice of Advaita Vedanta, no images or idols are worshipped there, not even of Ramakrishna; and no images were kept in the premises according to the Ashram ideals set by Vivekananda.
Also referred to as the Mayawati Ashram, it is located at an altitude of 1940 meters, 22 km from Champawat in Champawat district, Uttarakhand, and 9 km from the town of Lohaghat. The ashram is a major publication centre of the Ramakrishna Order for books in English and Hindi, mainly through its branch in Kolkata. It also maintains a charitable hospital at Mayavati. Among its important publications are The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda in English and as well as a Hindi translation, The Life of Swami Vivekananda, and English translations of important Hindu scriptures.
Some of the old manuscripts of the ashram have now been microfilmed and preserved at Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) in Delhi.
The Advaita Ashram has its origins in 1896, when Vivekananda was travelling through the Alps recuperating, and expressed the desire to have a similar place in India, for retreat and study of Vedas.
Earlier, in 1895, James Henry Sevier who had served as a captain in the British Indian Army for five years, and his wife Charlotte Elizabeth Sevier, met Vivekananda in England. Later in 1896, for nearly nine months, they travelled with him through Switzerland, Germany, and Italy. It was in the Alps that Vivekananda, while travelling with the couple that he expressed his desire to have a similar retreat for the monks in the Himalayas. In December 1896, the couple moved to India, with Vivekananda on board a steamer from Naples, Italy, with an objective to find a place near Almora, and set up an Ashram, and arriving at Madras in February 1897. Soon just as Vivekananda left for Calcutta, the couple left for Almora, where they rented a bungalow and this became the residence of Vivekananda and the Seviers for next two years.
Later when he left for Kashmir, the Sevier couple along with Swami Swarupananda, a monastic disciple of Vivekananda, started travelling to the interior area looking a suitable place, which was eventually found in July 1898, set amidst dense deodar, pine and oak forests; the land which was until then a tea estate was promptly purchased, and decided upon for the new Ashram. Finally, with the help of Swami Swarupananda, the Ashram was set up, along with a small dwelling for the monks, ashramites and the couple themselves, around the same time as the Belur Math was being established near Kolkata, when they moved in on 19 March 1899, which happened to be the birth anniversary of Ramakrishna (Hindu calendar) that year.
After the sudden death of its first editor, 24-year-old B. R. Rajam Iyer at Chennai, the publication of the English Journal Prabuddha Bharata was discontinued for a few months in May 1898. Meanwhile, in Almora, Vivekananda asked the Sevier couple to revive the magazine, and the editorship was given to Swami Swarupananda, who not only became the first head of the Ashram upon its opening on 19 March 1899, but also remained its editor, at its new base hence forth; and the held the position until his death in 1906.
Upon its foundation, Vivekananda sent the following letter, in March 1899, entailing the prospectus of the Ashram:
“…To give this One Truth a freer and fuller scope in elevating the lives of individuals and leavening the mass of mankind, we start this Advaita Ashrama on the Himalayan heights, the land of its first expiration.
Here it is hoped to keep Advaita free from all superstitions and weakening contaminations. Here will be taught and practised nothing but the Doctrine of Unity, pure and simple; and though in entire sympathy with all other systems, this Ashrama is dedicated to Advaita and Advaita alone.”
James Sevier died on 28 October 1900, and was cremated by the nearby Sarada River, according to Hindu traditions as he had wished. Vivekananda visited the Ashram from 3–18 January 1901, primarily to console her, and his place of residence has now been turned into a library. Charlotte Sevier continued to stay at the Ashram for several years.
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