300 Years of Serving Humanity
Since 2004 I have been a member of the Shree Satuwa Baba Ashram in Varanasi India. It is a traditional Indian ashram, offering simple but sufficient facilities, which has become like a second home to me. If you are ever in Varanasi, I hope you will visit the Ashram. Tell them Raghavanand sent you and you will be welcomed, whether you choose to just look around, enjoy a basic meal, meet the boys or stay longer.
Please also see my personal experiences in the article, Lessons from the Ashram
For the past 300 years the Sri Satuwa Baba Ashram has provided free food and lodging for whoever enters its doors. The Ashram also offers free medical services at its hospital in Palitana, Gujarat and free education at its schools in Varanasi and Palitana.
Tradition and Lineages
In the 18thcentury, a great saint, Shree Ranchor Dasji lived and performed intense spiritual practices on the banks of the Holy River Ganges at Manikarnika Ghat in Varanasi. Every day he would distribute food in the form of gram-flour to everyone who came for his Darshan (blessing). In Hindi this food is called Satuwa and soon Shree Ranchor Dasji became known as Satuwa Baba (the saint who gave gram-flour). To be better able to serve the needs of the growing numbers of people who came to see him, he established the first Shree Satuwa Baba Ashram at the Manikarnika Ghat, on the banks of the River Ganges, in Varanasi.
From Shree Ranchor Dasji the title and traditions have passed from teacher to disciple through six generations of great saints:
Shri 1008 Mahant Mohan Dasji Maharaj
Shri 1008 Nahant Bhola Dasji Maharaj
Shri 1008 Mahant Damodar Dasji Maharaj
Shri 1008 Mahant Narottam Dasji Maharaj
Shri 1008 Mahant Yamunacharya Maharaji
to the current, seventh, Satuwa Baba, Shri 1008 Mahant Santosh Dasji. Mahantji has lived at and served the Ashram since he was 12 years old. He was the administrator of the Ashram until his Guruji left his body in 2012 when the title of Satuwa Baba was conferred upon him. Likenesses of the saints of the Satuwa Baba lineage can be seen in the Ashram Darshan Hall.
In Hinduism there are four main lineages – Vaisnava, Shaiva, Shakti and Ganapati. While the Sri Satuwa Baba Ashram respects all lineages, its direct line has been maintained through the 2600 year old Vishnu Swami tradition. Mahantji, the current Satuwa Baba, is the 56thVishnuswami in the lineage. Members of the Ashram wear the ‘U’ shaped tilak (marking) on their foreheads representing this lineage. As a symbol of his greatness and power, the original Adi Satuwa Baba was gifted a blue sapphire ring by a queen, representing the love and blessings of Lord Krishna. This ring has been passed down through the Satuwa Baba lineage and is currently worn by Mahantji.
Locations and Activities
Since its original creation, the Sri Satuwa Baba Ashram has expanded at its current site and into other parts of India.
Varanasi. The main Ashram is located at the Manikarnika Ghat in Kashi (Varanasi), the City of Light. Manikarnika is the most important of all the Ghats, said to be the place of the earth’s creation and where Lord Shiva grants liberation to the departed souls. It is the most auspicious cremation place in India. The Ashram is home to an ancient Shiva temple and Radha Krishna shrine as well as a newer temple with shrines dedicated to Sri Rajarajeshwari, Radha Krishna and Lord Shiva in the form of a mercury lingam. Vedic chanting and offerings are made during the day and aarti (offering the light) is performed each morning and evening.
Three times a day the Ashram serves free nutritious meals to saints, sadhus, pilgrims and the poor. It provides free lodging to pilgrims and runs a Sanskrit school offering free education and full board to 70 boys aged 10-18 years, who are trained to become Vedic Pundits (priests).
Varanasi. On the opposite side of the River is the Satuwa Baba Gaushala, a farm where vegetables are grown and milk cows are kept to provide fresh food for the main Ashram’s use.
Gujarat, Palitana. The Shri Kashi Viswanath Satuwa Baba Trust Ashram is located on 16 acres of peaceful rural land. It includes a hospital offering free medical services to the local community, a day-school offering free general education to 1200 students, a Radha Krishna temple and small farm with cows.
Gujarat, Molita. This small, peaceful and secluded ashram on the banks of the sacred Narmada River provides food and shelter for pilgrims undertaking the Narmada Parikrama.
Allahabad. The Satuwa Baba Seva Ashram is located opposite the Sangam (confluence) of the Rivers Ganges, Jamuna and mythical Saraswati, where the Maha Kumbh Mela (great spiritual festival) takes place. This small ashram provides free lodging, meals and a meeting space to visiting saints and sadhus.
Vrindavan. The Sri Vrindavan Dham is a small ashram near the center of this holy city, providing free food and lodging for saints and sadhus.
The mission of the Sri Satuwa Baba Ashram and lineage is to alleviate suffering and serve humanity by:
- Teaching others to know their inner Self
- Teaching practices for spiritual growth and purification
- Teaching devotion to God
- Supporting the values and practices of the Path of Truth
- Preserving the purity of Vedic culture
- Providing free food for the hungry
- Providing free shelter and lodging for pilgrims
- Providing education for children
- Keeping and respecting cows
- Preserving the Sanskrit language
- Promoting and preserving the Sanatana Dharma
- Providing social services, welfare and medical support to those in need
All the programs of the Sri Satuwa Baba Ashram are offered freely with love, humility and devotion to Lord Krishna and the Higher Self.
The Sri Satuwa Baba Ashram never charges for any of its services, everything is offered freely by the Grace of God. The Satuwa Baba Ashram is a regular stop for many pilgrims who visit the holy city of Varanasi and is widely respected throughout India. Every day an average of 300 people are fed at the Ashram free of charge. Everyone who enters its doors is treated with the same unconditional love and respect. The world is our family and divinity is recognized in every individual. For 300 years, the Sri Satuwa Baba Ashram has been blessed to serve humanity in this manner.
Much has been accomplished and much more still remains to be done. We are extremely grateful to all the visitors and community members who continue to support this service with their generous donations.
Satuwa Baba Ashram School, Varanasi
The Satuwa Baba Ashram School was established approximately 250 years ago to provide a traditional Vedic education for boys aged 10-18 years. The boys are mostly from poor families, a few of them are orphans and they come from all over Northern India and Nepal. They are screened through an application process and must have basic reading, writing and math skills, before being accepted by the Ashram. The curriculum, exams, etc are set and overseen by the prestigious Sanskrit University, which is also located in Varanasi.
All education, room and board and clothing is provided free of charge by the Ashram. The boys return home for holidays twice a year. They can earn pocket money by helping with sponsored ceremonies at the Ashram and from gifts by donors.
After graduation, the students are qualified to work as Vedic priests, either through a temple or independently. Some choose to do this, others return home to marry and take regular jobs. The brighter students have the opportunity to go on to university to become scholars and teachers. Some students choose to stay with the Ashram to become part of its monastic community. The School has a very good reputation locally and each year, several of the graduates continue on with advanced studies at local universities.
Currently, there are 80 boys living in the Ashram and attending the School. 45 of the younger ones live in the actual School building, constructed through the support of the Pouroulis Foundation, the other boys are housed in other parts of the Ashram. Two of the four teachers also live in the School building. Approximately 15 new students are admitted to the School at the beginning of each school year.
The boys are well behaved, happy and for the most part, focused on their studies. They are responsible for keeping their own clothes and rooms clean and tidy. In addition to their Sanskrit studies, there are regular classes in English and several of the boys are quite proficient and enjoy practicing on westerners. They receive three meals a day. The food is basic, Indian style, nutritious and plentiful. The Ashram has a farm close by which provides some of the fresh food and milk. Additional supplies are purchased locally. All boys receive two sets of clothing and sandals, twice yearly as well as basic school supplies.
For the most part, the boys are healthy. New students are often malnourished when they arrive and are given a full medical checkup. Any boy with anything other than a minor complaint, is taken to a local doctor and, if necessary, to the hospital. The medical costs are borne by the School.
The Ashram School is located on land owned by the Ashram, to the rear of the main Ashram building and separated from it by a narrow lane. It is approximately 250 years old and the original building was determined to be unfit for use many years ago. This meant that the students had to live and study in the basement of the main Ashram building, in far from adequate conditions.
In July 2011, at the request of Shree Satuwa Baba Maharaji, we began raising funds to rebuild the School. Money was raised and work began before the end of that year. Due to the school’s location, it was a long and difficult construction. However, the school was inaugurated in January 2013, during the time of the Maha Kumbha Mela and the official grand opening was held in November 2013.
The new five story building has student and teacher bedrooms with attached bathrooms, meeting and study areas, an office and space for a library and computer room. The completion of the facility has meant that more students can be admitted to the school and accommodated in a secure, safe and healthy environment. Some students, including a few girls, continue to live at home as external students, coming into the School for classes or studying with teachers in their local areas. Being registered with the Satuwa Baba School allows them to attend these courses and take the government exams.
The Satuwa Baba Ashram School provides an educational opportunity for children who wouldn’t normally be able to afford one and the possibility for a future career. In doing so, it is also helping to preserve the century’s old traditions of India.
Shree Ranchor Dasji (the first Satuwa Baba)
There are several interesting stories surrounding the life of the first Satuwa Baba. He was born in the State of Gujurat, in western India and worked for the ruling Maharaja. After a falling out, he travelled to Varanasi, where he focused on his spiritual pursuits. As previously mentioned, he would sit near the River Ganges and distribute a nutritious mixture known as Satuwa and hence became known as the Satuwa Baba.
One day an old man came to receive the food, which then was in its whole grain form. The old man complained that as he had no teeth, he wouldn’t be able to chew it. Satuwa Baba apologized and immediately ground the grain into flour, which he gave to the man. The old man transformed himself into Lord Shiva and blessed Satuwa Baba, telling him that he would have an ashram at that place from which many people would be served for many years to come.
Not long after, his former employer, the Maharaja of Gujarat was on a pilgrimage to Varanasi. He came across Satuwa Baba sitting by the River and was so impressed with his actions and spiritual countenance that he donated some land and buildings, which became the Satuwa Baba Ashram.
Many people would (and still do), visit the Ashram for Satuwa Baba’s blessings. One day a young woman came. Satuwa Baba blessed her to have a long life and many children. The woman was dismayed, saying that she was bringing her dead husband there for cremation so how could she have any children. Satuwa Baba told the woman to have her husband’s body brought there. The man then apparently returned to life and he and his wife went on to have many children. One time, when I was at the Ashram, my Guru the sixth Satuwa Baba, called me to his room. I was introduced to a father and his son and told that they were direct descendants of the man who had been returned to life. They confirmed the story and said that it was part of their family’s history.
The Satuwa Baba Ashram is built on the side of a small hill, rising up from the River Ganges, so it is on several levels. The lowest level is home to an ancient Radhe Krishna shrine. Great saints usually know when it’s time for them to leave their physical body, in fact many will choose the moment. When he felt it was time, Satuwa Baba went into this shrine and sat to meditate in a small cave at the rear of the shrine. He then instructed his devotees to seal the entrance to the cave with a brick wall. To this day, the brick wall has remained sealed.
Sri Satuwa Baba Maharaji (my Guru)
On Wednesday November 28, 2012, Anant Shree Vibhusita Jagadguru Vishnuswami Sampradayacharya Shree Yamunacharyaji Maharaj Shree Satuwa Baba (Maharaji) of Varanasi, India, left his earthly body at the age of 99 years.
Maharaji was born in 1913 into a Brahmin family in the village of Sankarpur Uttar Pradesh, India. From early childhood, Maharaji was drawn to spiritual and religious pursuits and, at the age of 12 years old, he left his home without informing his family, and joined a group of wandering sadhus. After some time, he came to Varanasi and began his education at the Satuwa Baba Ashram. He was a gifted student and became proficient in the Vedic texts and the practice of hatha yoga.
By 1945, Maharaji had become a great spiritual Master in his own right. In 1954 he left the Ashram and journeyed to the Gangorti area of the Himalayas to begin intense spiritual practices and austerities. For ten years he performed his austerities and yoga, often living only on milk and water. He remained secluded in the Himalayan caves for three of these years, even during the winter months. Returning from the Himalayas, he spent some time in Rishikesh at the Ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who invited him to be the yoga instructor there. However, respecting his Guru’s wishes, he returned to the Satuwa Baba Ashram in Varanasi, where he became chief administrator. In 1972, just before taking Samadhi, his Guru handed over his lineage and tradition to Maharaji. By the Grace of his Guru, Maharaji received the title of the Sixth Satuwa Baba. In due time, the Vishnuswami society honored him as leader and he became the Vishnuswami Sampradayacharya. The Saint and Sadhu society also conferred the title of Jagadguru on him.
As the sixth Satuwa Baba, Maharaji offered uncountable services for the benefit of human beings and for the welfare of society. Under his leadership, the Satuwa Baba Ashram has been greatly expanded and extended.
I was fortunate to spend his 99th birthday with Maharaji. Although he didn’t say it directly, he hinted that he wouldn’t be with us physically for much longer. Maharaji left his physical body during a visit to Gujurat, where he was essentially saying goodbye to his devotees. His body was returned to Varanasi, where it was placed in a concrete coffin. As is the tradition for Enlightened Saints, who have completed their karmic cycle, the body was immersed in the middle of the River Ganges opposite the Ashram.
Maharaji always focused his efforts on preserving the purity of Vedic culture. He visited sacred sites throughout India and also visited Europe and the United States of America. He is greatly missed by his devotees throughout India and the world.
As Maharaji would always say to people when he travelled, “Come to Kashi” and visit our Ashram.
Jai Shree Krishna