Dhamma Giri, meaning ‘Hill of Dhamma’, is one of the world’s largest meditation centers and the main center of a rapidly growing global Vipassana organization. Situated in Igatpuri, a railway town three hours from Mumbai, Dhamma Giri fulfilled the cherished wish of Sayagyi U Ba Khin, the distinguished Vipassana teacher, to have a full-fledged Vipassana center in India. With the establishment of Dhamma Giri, the Ganges of Dhamma again began to flow, after millennia, from the country of its origin. From this once windy, barren plateau with a few ancient ruins and mango trees beneath a mountain-like hilltop, Dhamma Giri has become a unique university of the mind to which people from all over the world are welcomed to be established in the practice and theory of Vipassana. Dhamma Giri hosted its first ten-day course in October 1976. The most remote and quiet portion of the 23-acre land was named as the Shanti Pathar (Plateau of Peace). Construction began on the plateau in January 1978. In March 1979, the central core of the pagoda building was inaugurated, consisting of a central meditation cell for the Principal Teachers Goenkaji and Mataji, and surrounded by concentric rings of cells in which students could meditate individually.
A year later, an adjacent meditation hall to seat 300 was built. A larger hollow pagoda, within which the original pagoda remains intact, was later constructed. This superb Myanmar-style structure rising fifty-five feet – with 350 meditation cells – is a replica of the famous Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar, the country that carefully preserved the Buddha’s practical teaching long after it was lost to the rest of the world.
Dhamma Giri serves around 600 students in each 10-day course. Separate residential blocks are available for Dhamma servers, besides residences for Pali scholars and students of the Vipassana Research Institute. Since December 2004, Dhamma servers have been doing most of the maintenance, cleaning, gardening and housekeeping work that was earlier done by paid staff.
There are seven meditation halls in Dhamma Giri. Three meditation halls (Dhamma Halls) are used for each ten-day course, with two halls for male students and a separate one for female students. Discourses too are held in separate Dhamma Halls for males and females. Dhamma Halls I and II, which can comfortably seat 250 students each, have an overhead DVD projection system with a 100-inch screen for discourses and Dhamma documentaries.
At least eight assistant teachers, apart from trainee assistant teachers, serve each ten-day course, around 24 ten-day and shorter old students’ courses are annually held in Dhamma Giri.
In 2004 the Myanmar Gate was constructed, a grand edifice standing as a symbol of gratitude to Myanmar for preserving Vipassana and as a combined gateway for Dhamma Giri, Dhamma Tapovana-1, Dhamma Tapovana-2, Sayagyi U Ba Khin Village and the Vipassana Research Institute.
Adjacent to it, there is a visitor gallery where visitors can view video dhamma documentaries and also learn Mini Anapana meditation which is an introductory part of Vipassana meditation. It is accompanied by a beautiful art gallery which contains paintings depicting important events in the life of the Buddha. These paintings are painted by a team of painters from Myanmar under the guidance of Goenkaji and a world-renowned Indian artist.
Adjoining the gallery is the ‘Buddha Park’ – a beautiful park displaying sandblasted granite stone engravings depicting inspiring events from the Buddha’s life. These have been engraved by artisans from Thailand who dedicated a lot of time and energy to achieve this, after extensive experimentation. These engravings are surrounded by beautiful decorative plants and lush green lawns.
established for long courses. Presently, around 12 courses are being held annually, including 20-day, 30-day, 45-day, and the annual 60-day course.
The center has a total of 141 spacious cottages, with attached baths. Two smaller Dhamma halls are used for discourses. The Principal Teachers’ Residence for Goenkaji and Mataji is adjacent to the main Dhamma Hall.
adjacent to Dhamma Tapovan-1 is the 2nd Long Course center under construction. The new Pagoda, which is the same size as Dhammagiri, was inaugurated in February 2009. Tavana – 2 is an improved model of Tapovana – 1.
Besides its busy annual course schedule, Dhamma Giri also co-ordinates assistant teacher scheduling across India, prepares teaching material for Dhamma centres worldwide and hosts annual meetings for teachers and Dhamma servers from around the world.
Serving in Dhamma Giri becomes a beneficial and inspiring challenge to meet the increasing demand for Vipassana in the country of its origin.
The growing workload is being routed through greater use of technology. Info Centre was established to centralize the existing and future computer operations such as course registration, online scheduling for assistant teachers in India, and maintaining a nationwide student database. Two new recording studios with the latest equipment have been established in 2005, including one studio in the Principal Teachers’ residence.
As a constant reminder of their selfless Dhamma work to serve all beings, the wind chimes atop the golden pagoda seem to ring the message of service from this Hill of Dhamma: Bahujan-pitaya, Bahujan-sukhaya – for the good of many, for the benefit of many.