“Cows are looked after with great care” in India ashram where Julia Roberts will be shooting

Oscar winner Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman) will be shooting for “Eat, Pray, Love” in an ashram (hermitage) in India, starting September 20, which has a “gaushala” (cowshed) where “cows are looked after with great care”.

Roberts’ shooting venue Ashram Harimandir in Pataudi, about 60 kilometers from India’s capital Delhi, was founded in Kotjai (now in Pakistan) by ascetic Swami Amardev in 1920, which was moved to the current site in 1948. Coming from the same lineage, Swami Dharam Dev is the current head of the Ashram.

This Ashram, spread over 28 acres, has its own temple known as Hari Mandir which enshrines the consecrated statues of Hindu deities Laxmi-Narayan, Sita-Ram, Radhe-Shyam, Shiva, Hanuman, Durga, Saraswati, Annpurna, etc. Besides other things, Ashram offers “spiritual development” and runs a Sanskrit learning center.

A two-room house with 28 pillars, named Yoga and Meditation Sthal, where the shooting will be held, is being given final touches. Shooting, which will continue till October si x, will also be held at the local vegetable market. Joe Lipari (The City) will play Gurugita Yogi.

Hindus are concerned. Acclaimed Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, said that Hindus welcomed Hollywood to explore the spirituality and rich philosophical thought of Hinduism but taking it seriously and depicting it authentically. Refashioning it for mercantile greed or to fit the Hollywood machine created more confusion regarding already misunderstood religion and hurt the Hindu sentiments, Zed, who is president of Universal Society of Hinduism, added.

People of India will be anxious to see how perfectly Roberts does her job of cleaning ashram floors as a part of her devotional duty, trying to recite 182-verse Sanskrit chant, and going through grueling hours of meditation while being feasted on by mosquitoes.

Based on Pushcart Prize winner Elizabeth Gilbert’s spirituality/travel memoir “Eat, Pray, Love”, it will reportedly not be shot in the original ashram where Gilbert stayed for about four months few years back in India, trying to find her spirituality. Although Gilbert did not disclose the name of the guru or the ashram where she stayed in her book, but it is widely guessed that she stayed at Gurudev Siddha Peeth at Ganeshpuri (Thane district) in Maharashtra and her guru was Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, a Siddha guru and follower of Swami Muktananda (who passed away in 1982). The goal of the Siddha Yoga path which this ashram follows is: “Self-realization -- the unceasing experience of unity with God”. Swami Muktananda is quoted as: “Honor your Self, Worship your Self, Meditate on your self, God dwells within you as you.” The Siddha Yoga teachings spring from Kashmir Shaivism, Vedanta, and from the experience of Siddha masters.

Answering “Frequently Asked Questions” on her website, Gilbert says: “The Ashram where I studied is too small these days to accept new applicants…”. She defines God as: “The perfection that absorbs”. One of the great teachings Gilbert learned in India: “stillness”.

Gilbert’s bestseller memoir is about her self-discovery and soul-searching after her nasty divorce, exploring through India, Italy, and Indonesia. Welcoming Roberts to India, Rajan Zed urged her to explore Hinduism further. Deeper study of Hinduism would complement her interest in yoga and other things Indian, Zed added. In January last, Roberts sported a “bindi” (vermillion mark on forehead) during her trip to India when she also visited Taj Mahal with husband Danny Moder. She has a production company called “Red Om Films”, and “Om” in Hinduism is the mystical syllable containing the universe.

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