Deva Veena recollects her path to sannyas and years staying at Osho’s ashram in India. Published in Travel Awaits, December 8, 2021.
I still have a friend from my travels to India 40 years ago. We spoke recently. He’s in Germany; I’m in New York. We spoke about how “derring-do” it was to travel to India and sit at the feet of a holy man, a guru, all those years ago. Our chat left me reminiscing on how amazing and how special that travel experience was and how much I learned.
The adventure started in leafy North London, where I’m originally from. One night I was walking when I saw a large Victorian house with a sign outside. “Quaesitor,” it read, and underneath, it explained that the term meant searcher.
Courses, meditation, massage: everyone welcome
I went inside to discover people dressed all in orange wearing brown beads around their necks. At the bottom of the beads was a picture of an Indian man with grey hair and beard. I found out later this was the guru, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, now known as Osho. These were his disciples, and everyone in attendance intended to head to India, soon to sit at his feet and learn how to surrender.
I like to join in, so I started attending these meetings. The meditations were led by Poonam, an older English woman, robed in orange.
I met new people, learned new things, and then one day, Poonam asked me if I would take her 10-year-old daughter Soma to see her father, Teertha, at the ashram in Pune, India.
“Yes, of course,” I said.
“Well, you’d better get something orange to wear.”
This is how my India journey began. I was to become a sannyasin, a follower of the guru.
I set out on this trip with joy and slight trepidation, but not fear. I decided to leave my fear behind and grasp the adventure of going to an ashram to meditate and discover myself.
Making my way to India
Soma and I traveled to Bombay as it was then called. The journey was long and not uneventful. She screamed through the airport; no one blinked. It was long before the days when not even a bottle of water was allowed through the airport. So a screaming child, screaming for her mother, caused not a ripple.
This was the longest trip I had ever undertaken, and I knew no one in India. It was and still is a 10-hour journey with a significant time difference: 5 hours ahead of London, 10 hours ahead of New York. Should you choose to go to India today, there are far more travel choices than there were when I visited in the ’70s. My advice: Be comfortable. It’s a long flight.
I recommend Etihad and Air India. We flew Singapore Airlines and enjoyed good service and attentive flight staff, but that was a long time ago.
We arrived to the heat. I had packed light with my one orange dress — it was not even a color I liked, but never mind.
The ashram experience (and beyond)
On arrival at the ashram, Soma ran into her father’s arms and I was alone in India. They had arranged accommodation for me, so I laid my weary head down, ready for Guru Purnima, a day when Indians would arrive from across the whole country to fete their guru.
India was panoramic and spectacular and hot. Drinking water constantly was a must.
Me? I did the full ashram experience. I took on work in the ashram and was given cleaning to do. Bhagwan gave his followers Indian names: I became Ma Deva Veena — divine musical instrument of the master. Little by little, I confided in my new best friend at the ashram.
“Damn, Vasudha! I don’t do cleaning at home in England.”
“Yes, but it’s not cleaning they’re interested in here. Treat it like a meditation. Look inside while you’re doing it. It’s something to do while you’re cleaning your mind.”
I thought, “Thank you, Vasudha. Sounds very wise.”
Vasudha is Italian, feisty, and creative. I was invited to her house on the river, and we took a boat and sailed down the river before dinner.
“Vasudha, what are these black fruit on the trees?”
“Veena, they’re bats.” I shuddered. This was so far from my old life. I loved it.
I love people. I’m curious and questioning, and so are the Indian people I met. One time, on a train going to Goa, where I ventured to experience the beautiful beaches, I told some fellow passengers I was English. They asked, “Do you know my cousin in Birmingham?” As if!
Different culture, different people, so many new traditions. Many were poor yet happy to greet us.
Funnily enough, although Indian food is very popular in the UK, the food in India is far less spicy. Once you’ve eaten Indian food in India, nothing will ever taste as good again.
A message from the guru
All those years ago, I sat at the guru’s feet and asked him why could I not meet “the one, my soulmate?”
Rajneesh said that unconsciously I did not really want to fall in love, so I chose people with whom my love could never be fulfilled. If they became available, I would drop the idea of pursuing them.
Something about this resonated, so I stayed around the ashram doing his meditations. Some involved dancing nataraj, chaotic breathing, and dynamic meditation. These are all explained online. If you’re curious, just Google Osho Meditations.
‘A miracle is a change in perception from fear to love’
I like to travel with a purpose: In this case, it was to achieve and learn something. I found like-minded people also came to seek out inner peace and understanding. This was exciting and exhilarating whilst also strange, new, and unknown. It turned out to have a life-long effect. My trip to India began my journey of self-love.
Adele, the singer, declared the other day that her new relationship is the first in her life built from self-love as its foundation. This is magnificent and not always easy.
Interestingly, 40 years ago, the guru told me to take this road whilst surrendering. In the late ’70s, I sat at his feet and looked into his eyes, which were full of love. Rajneesh died in 1990, but his words, his teachings, and his wisdom live on at the OSHO International Meditation Resort in Pune. It’s not the same as in the days when I sat at his feet, but these kinds of journeys and experiences are nevertheless worthwhile. Today, there is a guesthouse, robes for rent, a pool, beautiful gardens, and meditation offerings.
There are Osho meditation centers worldwide from London, my place of birth, to New York, where I have now lived for 12+ years. There’s also the Emmy Award-winning Netflix series Wild Wild Country, which explores the guru’s “utopia gon awry” in Oregon.
If you want to go to India
In addition to investing in a comfortable route on a good airline, know that vaccinations are necessary and beware of the drinking water. (I got hepatitis A. Thankfully, I recovered completely taking ayurvedic medication and following a special fat-free diet for my liver.) Do your homework first, and it will be a wonderful trip.
All photo credits Elizabeth Green