Whisking yourself away from the daily grind to a getaway that not only has the amenities to guide you into a state of relaxation and re-energize your mind, body, and spirit, but a place that could also offer a little something for everyone, from young children to senior citizens, is a dream most of us have every now and then.
“Devasya,” a 500-plus acre serene retreat located in Virginia, which seeks to bring generations of families together to enjoy a wide variety of spiritual, cultural and social experiences, could be that perfect spot.
An ambitious project initiated by the International Swaminarayan Satsang Organization, more commonly known as ISSO, Devasya, which is expected to open in the summer of 2019, is designed to spur health and personal transformation.
By offering all the modern facilities and amenities to satsangis/followers and other visitors, including serene lodges, ‘saatvik’ or vegetarian food, several leisure and recreational activities – intended to attract families – as well as health, fitness and wellness services, the center aims to engage people from all backgrounds.
Indian American Dev Keray, who is the president of the Los Angeles ISSO Temple — which is one among 20 in the U.S. — and the treasurer of the U.S.-based ISSO temples, told India-West that the idea of this retreat germinated a few years ago.
“Our organization has yearly summer camps for our youth and it’s usually held at different locations every year,” Keray said. “We thought it would be nice to have a facility for our youth where they can come on a regular basis, a place that they can call it their own as opposed to renting facilities every year.”
Apart from year-round pleasant weather in Virginia, the organization zeroed in on this location since most of their congregations are scheduled on the East Coast.
“We came across this 500-acre plus property that spans two different counties and came with a private lake and decided this was it,” said Keray.
Recalling a year’s worth of work, Keray told India-West: “We had to go through the zoning process. We had town hall meetings, community meetings with the neighbors, site appraisal, an environmental feasibility study, land survey, building inspections, architectural drawings… and other meetings with the county board supervisors. We got the approval in September. We finally closed on the property in October 2017.”
Keray stated that having made the full payment for the property – under $5 million – the organization is now the sole owner of Devasya.
Talking about how the funds were secured, Keray explained that all the money came in the form of donations from the followers of the religion. They did not receive any kind of government subsidy, he added.
“We are a worldwide organization so all the money came from the U.S., Africa, England, Australia and India,” he explained. “We fall under the Swaminarayan religion but under Nar Narayan Dev Gadi from Kalupur, Ahmedabad.”
The property once housed an eating disorder treatment center and a therapeutic boarding school called Remuda Ranch, but had been lying vacant for the last three to four years, Keray told India-West, adding that they are going to use much of the existing infrastructure.
“They put in almost $18 million in this property before they had to abandon it,” he said. “It is ready to accommodate 100 people on the spot as of now. Our goal is to build a temple and around 30-40 individual cabins and recreation ground for cricket, soccer, indoor arcade, picnic pavilion, etc. It already has a commercial kitchen in place.”
As Keray elaborated, phase one of the retreat’s development will see the construction of a sacred shrine – spread across 5,000-6,000 square feet – housing over 175-year-old idols of Shree Radhikaji and Shree Hari Krsna Maharaj. The deities will be invoked daily and devotees will get a chance to participate in daily prayers and special offerings like Annakut and Mahapooja.
The structure will become a fully consecrated temple once the idols – currently in India – are installed.
“The idols were installed over 175 years ago in a temple that is currently under our organization in Karachi, Pakistan, but the murtis were brought back to India after the Partition,” Keray told India-West. “They are currently in a temple in Khan Village in Mount Abu, Rajasthan. They are made up of ‘prasadi’ or metal items. When they were made, the Acharya at the time requested all the fellow swamis or sadhus or any other followers if they had any of the prasadi items or metal items, and these murtis were made by melting those metal items.”
“All the cut-outs and engraving of the work for the temple will be done in India and will be shipped to the U.S.,” added Keray.
Surrounding the main shrine will be several smaller “deras” or temples of Lord Shiva, Lord Ganesha, Lord Hanuman and other Hindu deities. The temples will be open to all.
In line with the overall ethos of the brand, the retreat will also have protective shelters for cows, or ‘Gau Shalas’, where patrons can either provide for them or adopt them.
A vegetarian restaurant on site will provide Indian and western fare for the visitors and will also offer catering services.
Currently, the property also boasts of a sprawling equestrian estate. Several scenic trails, a yoga and fitness center – featuring a fully equipped gym – spa center, naturopathy and Ayurvedic herbal treatment options, indoor pool, a mini gold course, and kids’ center are among many indoor and outdoor activities planned for the next phase.
And if you are not able to soak up all that Devasya has to offer in your daylong trip, very soon you will be able to unwind in one of its vacation homes. Nestled amidst beautiful greenery and views, the modern residential lodges will be suitable for couples, families or large groups.
Reiterating that this facility will not only serve to bring families together, but will also help awaken visitors’ inner Zen, Keray said: “People can come and be one with nature. The lake is a mile-long. It is a completely isolated area devoid of phone connectivity. You are completely out of touch with what’s going on outside, but you are completely in touch with your local surroundings as far as nature and temple and everything is concerned.”
There is no entry fee to visit the retreat, but one will have to pay to avail of any services.
Devasya, with its tranquility and serenity coupled with modern facilities, could also serve as the perfect venue should you choose to celebrate special occasions of your life here, like weddings.
As a vibrant spiritual retreat, Devasya, which is a 45-minute ride away from Richmond, Virginia, will celebrate all major Hindu festivals along with hosting cultural programs and activities such as music concerts and music courses.
Keray explained that though they have arranged the bulk of the funds, Devasya being such a humongous project, they still require more funds. But community involvement is what they really value.
“Funding is an ongoing process,” he said. “We hold fundraisers and fund drives. There are options on how to donate on our website. We are also doing $101-a-month program so that people don’t feel the pain. We are not looking at big donors. We are looking at donors from small to big but we are looking for more involvement from the greater community.”
Devasya, said Keray, has community at its heart.
“We are doing this for the next generation. For them, the temple is not going to be the main attraction. We are thinking 10-15 years from now what will it take to get your teenager or your toddler to come and start going to your local temple, but there needs to be a different attraction before that,” Keray told India-West. “The main goal is to get the youth involved here and then go back to their local temples and stay involved. Our goal is to bring three generations of families together under one roof.”
For more information, visit: www.devasya.org.