Kurisumala Ashramam or Our Lady of Kurisumala Abbey is a Cistercian Monastery of Syro-Malankara Catholic Church at Wagamon. A community of monks who practice austerity and live a strict monastic life.
It was a memorable experience for me to spend time at the monastery for a week in silence and prayers. No mobile phone, no internet, no television. Your Creator and you, all alone. It is prayers, love for Nature and hard work keeps the monastery going on. A day at the monastery starts by 03:45 am with night vigil and ends by 21:00 after Satsang and night blessing. And this timing is strictly followed with prayers every 3 hours. Even the guests staying at the ashramam are instructed to follow these discipline without fail. Breaks in between are provided for studies, personal prayers & reflections, Bible study, knowledge reading in the library (amazingly rich with old and new texts from around the world), work for food (food work) and rest. In between the monks AKA Sanyasis find time to talk with visitors who take effort to reach up to the abbey for prayers and advises. Such way monastery is a blessing for the locals as well as those needy who travel from far off places. Even there a cat at the Abbey to meditate you.
Indian style of Holy Mass or Bharaytheeya Pooja is a memorable experience. The sacrifice is practiced every day at morning 6 am. And the Eucharist is fresh baked hot wheat roti.
Even with all these happenings, there is pin drop silence in and around the abbey. There is no option for counseling or there are no seminars or classes. But if required, you will get guidance by monks (priests and brothers). Once in, you require permission to go out and if you wish to stay over night or for more days, you need to meet the Ashramadhipan or the monk in charge. If you wish to visit the near by Kurisumala, a beautiful and scenic mountain where Way of the Cross conducted every now and then. Even if you can find some concrete buildings outside the abbey, the location is still beautiful.
The climate is chilling throughout the day. I could see the trees and surroundings only on the second day. You are free to walk around except in the cattle farm – requires prior permission. Even if you are staying as a family for a retreat, you will be accommodated in a small single room with bed, table,chair, mosquitoe net (if required),coir mat and with crucifix in every room. There is window in every room facing the Nature. Men and women are accommodated in single rooms on both sides of the abbey and there is no permission for men to visit women accommodation area and vice versa. Separate accommodation for men is provided for international travellers with European bowl facility. It is great to find famous people and some ministers visiting the monastery to sit and meditate in silence for new visions and reflections.
The food is organic and from the ashramam’s own farm. 100% vegetarian. Fresh milk is available all the daytime and you can drink it from the kitchen when ever you feel like. Food is served in small quantities with varieties. But this will fill your stomach. Even you require more, the monks are happy to serve you. As soon as you sit on the mat for meal, they will pass by with basins with food. You can either put a portion of the served food back or take more if you require more.
Breakfast is most time brown bed, baked in own owen. Served with brown Chickpeas curry. You will have 2 or 3 bananas and a steel glass of coffee. If there is a feast, sure a traditional sweet. For lunch, boiled brown rice, vegetable thoran, sambar or any vegetable curry, a huge share of yogurt, rice soup and a fresh banana. This repeats for dinner with different vegetables but with no yogurt. Cooking is mostly in fire wood and it gives the taste to max. The kitchen with is spacious, airy but dark due to firewood smoke reminded me of the movie Miracle of Marcelino.
Cemetery which was located on the hills is now brought down near the road which makes it convenient for the monk relatives to pay homage at feast days.
Fr. Francis Mahieu, a Cistercian monk from the Scourmont Abbey, in Belgium (later known as Francis Acharya) came to Kerala to start the ashram. In the course of time, Bede Griffiths joined him. On 1 December 1956, two of them started the new foundation at Tiruvalla in the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church. They successful in obtaining 88 acres (360,000 m2) of land and on 20 March 1958, the eve of St Benedict’s day, Fr. Francis, and Fr. Bede, and two seminarians traveled sixty miles to the site, high up on the holy mountain of Kurisumala.
Well contented with their hilltop, they spent the next few months in a hut made of bamboo and plaited palm leaves with no facilities, no furniture, and a floor covered simply with cow dung. While the center of their lives was the prayer of the Church and celebration of its feasts and mysteries, they had to find a way of supporting themselves, so they soon started a dairy farm with cattle imported from Jersey. The farm is still functioning and it provides pure unadulterated cow milk to the surrounding areas and to other milk suppliers like Malanadu.
The Ashram is approx 3 hours drive from Cochin International airport.