Ananda Kutir Ashrama is a significant institution in the spiritual community of Cape Town. It has its roots in the vision and philosophy of Swami Sivananda Maharaj, founder of the Divine Life Society in Rishikesh, India. One of his most devoted disciples, Swami Venkatesananda, inspired and guided Mother Yogeshwari and Swami Parvathiananda to start a yoga centre in Cape Town.
Mother Yogeshwari has taught yoga in a renovated garage behind her home in Alma Road, Rosebank since 1967. This is also where Swami Venkatesananda stayed and delivered inspiring talks to his numerous followers in Cape Town.
The dream of extending this yoga centre into something larger, a special place that belonged to everyone, was finally realised when a piece of land at 24 Sprigg Road, Rondebosch East, was purchased. The Ananda Kutir Ashrama was formally established on 4 December, 1982, two days after Swami Venkatesananda passed away.
Prior to 1982 one of the venues used for spiritual lectures by Swamijis, including Swami Venkatesananda, was the Mitra Hall in Mowbray. The Mitra Hall was used for yoga, films, yajnas and kirtans (group singing and chanting), and community gatherings. At the time people had scant exposure to the Hindu and Yoga/Vedanta scriptures. With regular visits from Swami Venkatesananda people from across all religious faiths congregated to hear Swamiji’s talks on the Bhagavad Gita, the Srimad Bhagavatham, Valmiki’s Ramayana, Yoga Sutras and other topics of Yoga and Vedanta. His charismatic presence helped not only to bring people together, but more importantly, to revive an abiding interest in the Hindu and Yoga/Vedanta scriptures. These scriptures were carefully translated and interpreted by Swami Venkatesananda, and published by the Chiltern Yoga Trust (Elgin) in the form of daily readings so that people could absorb the universal teachings consistently.
During the Apartheid years the Ashrama was not accepted as a spiritual organisation by the authorities because it welcomed everybody, regardless of racial categories. It was viewed as a gym and accepted at that level. With segregation as the political landscape Mother Yogeshwari and Swami Parvathiananda were determined to reach the masses because they knew the value of the yoga teachings in empowering people.
In this context service projects were started in order to help disadvantaged people who lived in the squatter camps and informal settlements. They helped people who were suffering with asthma and other breathing problems, handicapped people, TB patients and later HIV patients.
The centre became a hive of activity with yoga classes, weekend retreats, satsangs, meditation, study groups and video lectures. Building extensions throughout the years are indicative of the growth of the Ashrama. The existence of an Ashrama attracted Swamis from India and other parts, thereby sharing universal knowledge and wisdom.
Today it is a dynamic centre which runs yoga classes, meditation classes, sandwich making sessions, workshops, lectures, satsangs, thereby implementing the philosophy of Integral yoga. The Ashrama observes important dates in the religious calendars of all major faiths and continues to publish Swamiji’s teachings on Yoga and Vedanta thus making Ananda Kutir Ashrama an invaluable asset to the community.