Although the ancient technique of Vipassana meditation was practiced by Lord Buddha in India, it isn't only popular with Indians. Many travelers take time out to study Vipassana in India. This style of meditation is derived from Theravada Buddhism, although the course is free of religious teachings.
Vipassana was reintroduced into India in the 1970s by S.N.Goenka, a retired industrialist who was born in Myanmar but had Indian heritage. The Vipassana meditation course is a 10-day silent residential program that focuses on observing the breath and bodily sensations. Days begin at 4.30 a.m., so it's not for the faint of heart. However, the course, food and accommodations are all free of charge.
Do note that the course structure is identical at all centers, as the same instructional audio and video is used. There's no variation in routine. It's only the environment and facilities, such as hot water and shared rooms, that differ. The bigger centers also have pagodas with individual meditation cells, in addition to a meditation hall for everyone. They are also better equipped for foreigners. The 10-day courses are generally conducted twice a month throughout the year.
The Dhamma Pattana Vipassana meditation center is part of the magnificent Global Pagoda complex that opened in 2009 near the beach-side Gorai, in the outer norther suburbs of Mumbai. The building is modern, and all rooms are equipped with western facilities and air conditioning. The distinctive feature of the 10-day course taught here is that it's specifically geared towards business executives and professionals. The technique is the same but the course contains additional talks related to using Vipassana principles for dealing with stresses of the business world. The courses fill up very fast and must be booked well in advance.
The world's largest Vipassana meditation center, known as Dhamma Giri, is located at the Vipassana Research Institute at Igatpuri in Maharashtra. It's around three hours from Mumbai and is accessible by train. The center offered its first course to the public in 1976, and now tens of thousands study there every year. The 10-day courses are always in high demand. Despite the center's substantial size, there's a pervasive feeling of peace all around. Over 400 cells are available for individual meditation, which is appealing for those who want to undertake intensive practice in solitude away from other people. The accommodations range from dormitory rooms to single occupancy rooms.
Dhamma Thali has the largest capacity after Dhamma Giri in Igatpuri and can accommodate 200 students. This center is also one of the oldest ones in India. Its sprawling campus was built in 1977, amid hills on the outskirts of Jaipur near the Galta Monkey Temple. Students appreciate the center's serene location, and the fact that it's frequented by peacocks and friendly monkeys. About 20% of students are foreigners. The center has a rustic appeal with stone walkways running through it, four meditation halls (two large and two small), and a pagoda with 200 meditation cells. There are single and shared accommodations of varying standards. The newer rooms have western toilets and showers, while you can expect buckets and squat toilets in the others. Make sure you arrive early to increase your chances of getting a good room.
If you fancy meditating at the place where Lord Buddha became enlightened, head to Dhamma Bodhi Vipassana meditation center in Bodh Gaya, Bihar. The recently expanded compound is set on 18 acres of grounds to the west of town, surrounded by agricultural fields near Magadha University. 10-day courses generally start on the first and 16th of every month. There's space for around 80 students at a time. November to February are the busiest months, with foreigners from all over the world attending. Accommodations are provided in single or double cottages with attached bathrooms. The beneficial thing about studying Vipassana meditation in Bodh Gaya is that courses in Buddhist philosophy are also provided by other local organizations. This is convenient for those with an interest in Buddhism.
If the thought of meditating in the mountains, with fresh air and towering pine trees, appeals to you then try Sikhara Dhamma Vipassana meditation center near Dharamasala in Himachal Pradesh. Nestled into three acres of forested land, it's one of the most picturesque centers in India. The center conducted its first 10-day course in 1994 and is popular with foreigners due to its proximity to McLeod Ganj. About 70% of the 90 or so students are non-Indian. There are a few drawbacks to keep in mind though. Facilities are quite minimal, and there's no pagoda. Most students will get a private room to themselves but toilets and showers are shared. The weather is consistently cold and damp, and lack of ventilation in the buildings leads to mold growth. In addition, monkeys are often a menace. 10-day courses take place fortnightly from April to November. The center is closed from December to March.
Meaning "Cheerfulness of Truth", Dhamma Paphulla is situated on 10 acres of land in Alur village, on the northwest outskirts of Bangalore. The location is calm yet convenient, as buses from Bangalore go right to the center's gate every hour. The center was founded in 2004 but construction took place over a number of subsequent years. The main meditation hall was built in 2008, followed by new accommodations (single and double occupancy rooms with attached bathrooms and hot water). There's space for 100 students in the main hall, plus 30 students in each of the smaller halls. Future plans include a pagoda with individual meditation cells.
Situated amid paddy fields and farmland on the outskirts of Chennai in south India, Dhamma Setu is a harmonious tropical haven. The center's lush land was previously used for rice cultivation. It's another relatively new center, with 10-day courses commencing in 2005. The impressive golden pagoda has 150 individual meditation cells for students, and the main meditation hall has space for around 120 students. There are three smaller halls as well. The accommodations consist of double occupancy rooms, with attached bathrooms and solar-heated hot water. Children's courses are also offered.
Dhamma Arunachala is an outstanding new Vipassana meditation center at one of the most spiritual places in India. Tiruvannamalai, about 4 hours from Chennai in Tamil Nadu, is renowned for the powerful energy of its holy Mount Arunachala. The visibility of the mountain from the center and adds to the experience. Dhamma Arunachala conducted its first course in 2015 and is being developed in an eco-friendly manner on nearly 7 acres of land. Bricks made from the clay soil on the property have been used in construction. The center can accommodate 100 students and has its own pagoda with individual meditation cells. Do note that the weather in Tiruvannamalai gets very hot and humid. Hence, it's best to visit in winter, when it's coolest.
Dhamma Sota's refreshing campus of whitewashed buildings is situated just over an hour south of Delhi, in the Sohna district of Haryana. It was established in 2000 on about 16 acres of farmland close to the Aravali Hills. The center accommodates up to 130 students in single rooms with attached bathrooms. Be aware that there may not be any hot water though. It also has a pagoda with 108 meditation cells. In terms of weather, March is an ideal time to visit this center.
Dhamma Salila is an alternative to Dhamma Sikhara for those who'd prefer a mountain setting, especially during summer. It's nestled into the Doon Valley of the Himalayas not far from Dehradun in Uttarakhand, and has a soothing riverside location. This center was established in 1995, and is relatively small. It can accommodate about 40 students in double rooms with communal bathrooms. However, it has a pagoda with separate meditation cells. 10-day courses are held twice a month throughout the year, except in January. If you don't like the cold, avoid going there from November to March.
Situated close to the Arabian Sea in the village of Bada, not far from the historic port city of Mandvi in the Kutch region of Gujarat, Dhamma Sindhu is blessed with refreshing ocean breeze. The center was set up on 35 acres of land in 1991. It's an attractive property that has thousands of trees and flowering plants, and a pond that brings peacocks and other birds. In terms of size and facilities, it's one of the larger Vipassana meditation centers in India. And, it's continuously being developed. There are four meditation halls with a total capacity of 450 students, a pagoda with 184 individual meditation cells, a library, and both single and shared accommodations (many with western toilets) for 200 students. Water is solar heated.
Dhamma Pala isn't a big Vipassana meditation center but it does have the benefit of being located in Bhopal, in Madhya Pradesh, which is not far from the ancient Sanchi Stupa. Those who are interested in Buddhism will appreciate visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was built by Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC to honor Lord Buddha. The meditation center was established on 5 acres of land in 2009. It has two meditation halls, and accommodations for 70 students in single rooms with attached bathrooms. A pagoda with 116 meditation cells is being constructed. The center is a very active one. In addition to the 10-day course, it offers courses for children, teenagers, and introduction to Vipassana programs.
Dhamma Vipula is a popular alternative to Dhamma Pattana in Mumbai, It's located in Navi Mumbai (New Mumbai), a planned satellite township adjacent to the city. The center was established in 2005 and is easily reached by suburban local train. It can accommodate about 100 students, in single rooms with private bathrooms. People from all walks of life, including executives, attend this center. Hence, the infrastructure is decent. Never mind the gray buildings. Rooms, albeit spartan, have air conditioning and desks. There's also hot water for an hour in the mornings. Regular children's and teenager's courses are conducted, as well as the 10-day course. A pagoda with 130 meditation cells was recently constructed.
Dhamma Khetta was the first Vipassana meditation center to be formally established in India, just a few months before the main one at Igatpuri, in 1976. It was inaugurated with the planting of a holy bodhi tree sapling from Bodh Gaya. The center is located in a small village just outside Hyderabad, that's easily accessible by bus. Its old buildings are gradually being upgraded. Facilities now consist of accommodations, in single and double rooms, for about 200 students. There are five meditation halls plus a pagoda with about 125 meditation cells.
Dhamma Pushkar is a relatively new Vipassana meditation center that draws a fair number of foreigners due to its location near Pushkar, a popular destination for travelers in Rajasthan. The center is situated between Khadel and Rewat villages, against the backdrop of the Aravalli hills. It has been conducting 10-day courses since 2009, but facilities such as the pagoda were completed later in 2014. Further works have been undertaken as well. There's currently accommodations for about 50 students, and single rooms with private bathrooms are available.