Fruit of one hundred years: Statue of founder Swami Shraddhanand; student assembly including girls from Kanya Gurukul—the boys in yellow vestments live separately and are studying to be pandits.
BY TIRTHO BANERJEE
SWAMI SHRADDHANAND (1856–1926) was one of India’s great Hindu renaissance leaders. Originally known as Mahatma Munshiram, he was a lawyer, a prolific journalist, a tireless Arya Samaj missionary of Hindu causes, an independence fighter and a force for the Hindu Shuddhi movement, the reconversion of Hindus back to Hinduism.
Social reform through Hindu education was at the top of his agenda. In 1902 he established a gurukul near Haridwar which evolved to become today’s Gurukul Kangri University. In 1912 he established another gurukul on 35 acres on the west edge of the ancient city of Kurukshetra. Munishram’s wife died at the early age of thirty-five, and in 1917 he took sannyas to become Swami Shraddhanand. Late in life he put all his energy into the reconversion of Hindus from Islam, which eventually led to his assassination.
The Kurukshetra Gurukul he founded is an all-boys school; girls study at the Kanya Gurukul nine miles outside Kurukshetra (see kanyagurukul.com). A century back, about 100 students attended Kurukshetra Gurukul. Acharya Dr. Dev Vrat, the present principal, says, “We had 275 students in 1981, when I joined it. By next year we expect to cross the 1,500 mark.” The school is remarkable, perhaps even unique, in that it is totally self-supported. Unlike most of India’s religious institutions, it does not take government funds even to pay teachers.
Students live in three hostels—Swami Shraddhanand Hostel, Guru Virjanand Hostel and Swami Dyanand Hostel. This revival of the old guru-shishya tradition, which has been teetering on the brink of oblivion, gives hope for a more enlightened future.
Former gurukul student Rahul Arya, now pursuing his masters in sociology at the nearby university, reflects, “I see the gurukul as a temple of learning. Before entering the gurukul, I studied in a village without proper facilities. In the gurukul I found an environment conducive to my particular interests. Because of its impression on my character, I now respect my elders and am a more enlightened person. I learned social compatibility. Wherever I go, I try to leave a positive impression on the minds of the people. I am thankful to my alma mater. I am especially grateful to my principal, Dr. Dev Vrat, who helped me communicate properly.”
The usual day starts at 4 am. Students practice pranayama (breathing exercises) and hatha yoga. The daily yagna (Vedic fire ceremony) starts at 6 am followed by a discourse. Sanskrit shlokas reverberate throughout the campus, as students chant in seamless unison with total ease. Next comes breakfast and then the children head for their classes at 8:00 am, touching the feet of their gurus before each lesson starts.
The gurukul serves as a platform where students discover themselves. The gurus look into the personalities of individual students and hone each child’s unique talents and skills, so that nothing is forced on him. From Sanskrit and ashtanga yoga, to math, science, English and music, this education offers a unique, unconventional mix of traditional cultural subjects side by side with science, computer labs and sports, amalgamating a religious Hindu cultural ethos with the other needs of contemporary children.
Gaurav Arya, another graduate, now pursuing his PhD in psychology, testifies, “The gurukul has been a guiding force in my life. I was shy and timid. But after joining in 1992, I became confident and self-dependent. It has proved a boon for me. Whatever I am today is the result of the grooming I received in the gurukul.”
The school is an amazingly diverse operation, with about 55 teachers and a support staff of 40. Besides the three hostels, the campus comprises an acupressure and physiotherapy hall, an ayurvedic pharmacy, a classroom building for grades 1-12, a biogas plant, residential quarters for the staff, a medicinal plant garden, cow sheds and sprawling sports fields that include an equestrian ring and a shooting range. The campus is WiFi enabled and under CCTV surveillance.
Self-sufficiency is a key principle. Cattle are tended in air-conditioned sheds, and the herd produces 600 liters of milk daily for school consumption. A huge vermiculture operation turns the manure into chemical-free compost, which is used in the 4-5 acre organic garden that provides healthy organic vegetables for the students’ diet. A $17,000 chappati-making machine churns out 6,000 rotis an hour. A biogas plant and solar water-heating systems help generate power and curtail the use of fossil fuels. The staff at the ayurvedic clinic, Dhanvantari Ayushdhalaya, constantly monitor the students’ health. The gurukul also includes a fully equipped naturopathy hospital that provides services to the needy outside the school from every stratum of society.
Lessons go beyond the classroom walls. Dilawara Singh, a member of the gurukul’s management committee, explains how students learn social service: “Every Sunday the students go out to the nearby villages. There they act like crusaders, urging the villagers to rethink unwise practices. They appeal to them to break away from alcoholism and stop female foeticide.” The rural folk are also invited to the gurukul and given training to deal with their problems. This training has been an eye-opener for a number of villagers. The gurukul residents are proud to have brought about a paradigm shift in the villagers’ lives.
Abhishek Arya, a grade 12 student, confides, “This is a loving and caring institute. The teachers and wardens treat us like our parents. At home I was not doing well, but now my life has drastically changed. I get up early in the morning at 4:00, perform yogic exercises followed by havan, which is a cleansing activity. Principal Acharya Dev Vrat ji’s motivation and guidance has been invaluable to me.”
Prashish Arya, also in grade 12, tells us, “I am 1,600 km from home. Gurukul is like a tree under which I have taken shelter for almost five years now. Studying here is like a pilgrimage for me. The teachers have shaped my character and personality. They have stood by me whenever I have faced a problem.”
With a philosophy of simple living and high thinking, the gurukul inculcates sacred thoughts. “Only an education well steeped in culture is capable of developing the noble qualities of religion, good conduct, self-control, love of nation, discipline and social compatibility,” avers Acharya Dr. Dev Vrat. He believes that a disciplined and controlled life not only ensures knowledge of the self but also helps in an integrated development of individual and society.
ALL PHOTOS: TIRTHO BANERJEE