NIZHNY NOVGOROD, RUSSIA, April 30, 2013 (Indrus.in): Golden domed temples and tastefully landscaped lawns have replaced dilapidated wooden houses in the riverside region of Nizhny Novgorod (about 200 miles east of Moscow, on the Volga River). A picturesque monastery complex now exists where there used to be an abandoned village. About a decade ago, a handful of Russian Hindu monks led by Swami Vishnudevanand laid the foundation of Divya Loka Ashram. They sought to expand the reach of Sanatana Dharma and to lead a life guided by the Vedas.
'Veda' in Sanskrit means 'knowledge.' The Vedas are ancient Indian scriptures which form the basis of Hinduism. When Vishnudevanand, still a young boy, didn't find an explanation for his spiritual questions in the works of great philosophers such as Berdyaev, Solovyov, Schopenhauer, and Voltaire, he turned to the ancient wisdom of Hindu literatures. He found a confirmation for his internal divine surge in the Gita, the Bhagwat Purana, and philosophical texts of Sri Sankracharya, who was the principal exponent of Advaita Vedanta school of Hinduism.
In 2010, during the Kumbh mela in Haridwar he was conferred the title of a mahamandaleshwar of Juna Akhara, which is one of the major sects of sages in India. A mahamandaleshwar is a high ranking monk of an akhara who is granted special authority and responsibility for the propagation of Hinduism. "This title is a blessing from the saints. It's an honour which has opened many new possibilities. It enables me to serve Sanatana Dharma in Russia, to support and protect it," the swami describes what being the first ever Russian mahamandaleshwar means to him. Following Swami Vishnudevanand's footsteps, his disciple Anandlila Giri became the first Russian woman to be ordained such at the Maha Kumbh in Allahabad earlier this year.
Considering an enhanced interest in spirituality in Russia, this academy works as a catalyst for promoting Indian values. Ilya Kurylenko, a disciple of Vishnudevanand, suggests that Russians are especially interested in yoga and Vedic practices. "Many people read the books of Adavaita teachers such as Sri Ramana Maharishi, his disciple Papaji, Ramesh Balsekar, and Sri Nisargadatta," he says. The academy reports that their recent Congress of Advaita Vedanta hosted in Moscow was attended by about five thousand people. The Vedic film festival held in St. Petersburg and Vedic literature festival celebrated in Yekaterinburg were also heavily attended.