I was invited to experience a gurukulam in Sabarmati, Gujarat, hometown of the great Mahatma Gandhi. It was an all-boys school called the Sabarmati Gurukulam. But a similar school for girls also exists nearby. What an experience it was to observe youngsters learning varied skills and acquiring knowledge from their teachers (gurus) in very small classes in a stress free environment. Parents from nearby and far-away places send their children to this residential environment because they feel their kids obtain a more well-rounded education than in a mainstream setting.
The Gurukulam is an ancient Indian learning using Vedic methods of mastering the arts and sciences. Students engage in what is considered to be a more in depth study of a subject from an expert in the field whether it is history, or science, or arts, or metallurgy, or space science, or astrology, or yoga, etc. Gurukulam, a traditional ancient learning institution, imparts a holistic education rather than a specific subject matter as in a modern educational system. A Gurukulam does not follow the pedagogy of a modern mainstream school as in the US with desks for dozens of students and a teacher with a board to lecture. Rather, a small number of students (maximum of ten) sit on the floor and are engaged in close discussion and interaction with the guru. And it does not offer a diploma or a degree. Its skills and knowledge, however, are worth more than any degree.
In a gurukulam, youngsters learn varied subjects and become a specialist in one or more fields, but they acquire their expertise in a very small setting rather than in large lecture halls with many students in the modern system. The guru (teacher or master) has more time guide a student and imparts knowledge in a one to one setting rather than what takes place in a large lecture hall in which dozens of students are lectured upon without opportunities for serious querying. The fields of learning are not restricted in a gurukulam. Students can specialize in current subjects including technology, engineering, law, computer science, music, horoscope, astrology, etc. But most important, there is character building.
Almost every aspect of life at the gurukulam is traditional with ancient practices. The gurukulam physical structure is a concrete building with stone floors and walls. But they are whitewashed with lime stone and plastered with cow dung to maintain anti-radiation properties. These materials also help to keep the building warm during the winter months and cool during the baking summer months. The cow dung itself is obtained from a large herd of cattle that are reared right at a barn in the gurukulam compound. Milk is produced from dozens of cows, and the milk is used for varied dairy products including butter, ghee and dahee, Food is organically grown and prepared for the students and staff. Food is cooked from traditional stoves (chulas) and copper pots using firewood and or dried cow dung cakes. Ash from the fire is used as detergent for cleaning dishes. Electricity is about the only modern aspect of life though learning occurs mostly in daylight hours. There is a rigorous curriculum. Students spend long hours learning various skills – physical, mental, and daily living in additional to modern skills. Their day begins around 4 Am and continues late into the evening. Education is imparted in Sanskrit, Hindi and Gujarati, the main language of the state. No fee is charged from students. The school is run on donations. Students come voluntarily and they reside on the compound. They come from far locations. The students are trained and are required to perform assigned chores. They are served food – breakfast, lunch, dinner – in a group with the students themselves doing the serving to their fellow pupils. And the students do get breaks in the course of the day for physical sporting activities like gymnastics, cricket, and other entertainment. The students learn to ride horses and to perform acrobatics and they are masters in that field. At the gurukulam, there are annual holidays (in the hot summer of May/June) and breaks like almost every month. There is no school leaving exams or certification from any school board. The student’s education is complete and well rounded or holistic.
The management of the school claims that students at the gurukulam are way ahead of students in mainstream schools. Management says gurukul students have competed and outperformed counterparts in mainstream schools in any subject including maths and science, and that the gurukulam students also enjoy an advantage in life-skills and certain physical activities. Indeed, students of this gurukulam outperformed their peers from schools around the globe at an exam competition last year in Delhi. While I was on my visit, one student was quizzed in multiplication of large numbers and he correctly performed the calculation in his head in seconds. Another student was able to figure out the actual birth day of the week of several people when given the birth date. It was a most pleasant and learning experience, and one recommended for visitors to learn the ancient method of schooling in India.
I wish to thank all who arranged for my visit and who showed me around the building and compound. Bapu-ji, as he is fondly called, Uttam Bhai Shah was most graceful and generous with his time. Thank you Bapu-ji and my appreciation to Shri Devendra Panwar-ji.
website is gurukulamshiksha,org