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Thursday, June 1, 2023

Arsha Vidya Tirtha – Interview with Swami Brahmaparananda Saraswati

There are many Hindu organisations working on the ground for upliftment of the underprivileged and to bring awareness about Hindu Dharma in an interesting manner. They are working for the betterment of society by imparting formal education to children from underprivileged families along with Vaidik knowledge, and encouraging families to retain their Hindu identity in a convenient and educative manner. One such organisation is Arsha Vidya Tirtha.

Located in Jaipur, Rajasthan, this ashram is a branch of an organisation started by Swami Dayanand Saraswati. The main ashram is in Rishikesh by the name Swami Dayanand Ashram, in Coimbatore by the name Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, and in Nagpur by the name Arsha Vidya Vijnana.

The Jaipur ashram i.e. Arsha Vidya Tirtha is looked after by Swami Brahmaparananda Saraswati. The ashram runs two Chattralayas (free student hostels) – one in Jaipur and the other in Udaipur – for children from underprivileged/vanvasi families.

Here are the excerpts in English from the telephonic interview with Swami Brahmaparananda Saraswati (Swamiji):

Question: Tell us about Arsha Vidya Tirtha.

Answer: Arsha Vidya Tirtha, Jaipur was established in the year 2000. Its aim is to promote Arsha- Rishi, Vidya- Knowledge, i.e., to promote and impart the knowledge started by ancient rishis. Arsha Vidya Tirtha is a Tirtha, where people come and get knowledge of the scripture of the great heritage of Hindu Dharma (Vedas, Bhagvada Gita, Prakarana granthas, Tattvabodha, Panchadasi, Upanishads along with the Shankara Bhashyam). Swami Dayanand Saraswati ji chose his disciples to promote this valuable knowledge, that has been accumulated since ancient times, among the people. Thus, we run such programs for both children as well as adults.

These days kids have been attracted towards western ideology and culture. They have lost the connect with their own Hindu culture. Thus, we try to reconnect such young boys and girls, in some or the other way, to their roots and culture.

Along with this, in the year 2000 itself, Swami Dayanand ji started a program called AIM for Seva. Under this program, we get such kids who are poor and belong to underprivileged background from far off remote villages and who cannot afford proper education. We make them stay in Chhatralaya (hostel). They are provided with all facilities such of stay, food, study etc. in the hostel itself. We accommodate around 50 to 55 children in such hostels. One of the hostels is located in Sitapura area of Jaipur, Rajasthan. We make these kids self reliant.

When they grow up, they find some job, get into Industrial Training Institues (ITIs) or start earning some livelihood to support their families. That is our main aim- to make them self reliant. They get formal education in schools along with knowledge of mantras, scriptures etc. so that they don’t find themselves away from the real world.

Q: How many such hostels are there in total?

A: There are 2 such hostels in Rajasthan, one in Jaipur and another one in Udaipur. There are around 100 such hostels all over Bharat. So there are roughly 5000 children from poor and underprivileged background staying in our hostels. All expenses are borne by our organisation. Able people also help us financially from time to time.

(An insight into Jaipur Chhatralya:)

Q: What is the average expense for the whole year of one child in the hostel?

A: An average of Rs 30,000 per child is the expense. This amount includes everything from their uniform, books, food, school fees, stay etc.

(For sponsoring a child’s education or any other kind of donation, visit here.)

Q: Is the education curriculum strictly based on Gurukulam system or otherwise?

A: The curriculum is the formal school education that is prevalent across the country to make the children feel themselves a part of society. But along with that we inculcate in them certain features of Gurukulam way of life and culture.  Their day begins with daily chores and doing daily puja and worship. Then they attend their regular school. We have hired a bus for them that takes them to school and drops them back at hostel. After school time is spent in completing homework and studies. In the evening, they play sports, do yoga. Later, they all attend evening prayers in the temple. They are taught how to recite Gita Shlokas and other scriptures. This is how we incorporate our aims of Seva and Vidya of the needy people.

These kids are so self reliant that when they visit their families during vacations, we ask them to teach their parents and neighbours about these scriptures. They are well aware of performing small puja, all by themselves.

Q: These days people are slipping away from Hindu Dharma and becoming unaware about our culture, knowledge, scriptures etc. What, according to you, are the possible reasons for the same? What can be done to bring the society back to Hindu Dharma?

A: We notice that there is a certain fashion among parents to make their kids earn huge ‘packages.’ They are willing to donate lakhs to the best schools and colleges just to get a seat in such institutions, but they pay little attention to the fact whether their child is actually becoming worthy as a human or not. Sometimes, the institutions are such wherein they are taught nothing about Hindu Dharma, and instead are taught Hindu Dharma in a very bad light and negative manner. Parents’ whole concern is to make their child earn huge sum of money once he grows up. But money is not everything. Even if a child becomes worthy of earning lakhs of rupees, the family will suffer if the child goes away from the path of Dharma and culture.

Such children stay away from parents. The parents don’t get the happiness to be with their child and to nurture him with their love and values of Dharma. The concept of joint families is fading away, wherein, a child might have got a chance to grow up among his grandparents. His whole focus has shifted towards earning a huge ‘package.’

For instance, on the occasion of birthday, instead of teaching their child to perform a small puja, taking blessings from parents and elders, kids are being taught to blow a candle, cut a cake and party. So it is the parents who are responsible to take their children away from the path of Dharma. If a child runs away from Hindu culture, it because the parents haven’t set the path right for him/her. The impact is such that now it has become a fashion to mock those who read or know Mahabharata, Ramayana. As this trend continues, society suffers. Parents realise this when it is too late.

Q: Every Christian school promotes their religion. Even educated, upper middle class Muslim families make sure their children reads Quran right from childhood. So do Christian families who take their children to Church every Sunday, and send them to Bible classes. But why is this trend among Hindus to not promote Hindu Dharma among their kids?

A: Again, I would blame the parents. The so-called Hindus who themselves are unaware of the culture and ethos of Hindu Dharma. They have lost pride in their Hindu culture. The missionary school where they might have studied in has brainwashed them and filled up their minds against Hindu Dharma. Now, their whole aim is to see their child earn more and more. They send their kids to such missionary schools which don’t even allow kids to apply tilak on their forehead, kids are taught to hate murtis (mockingly called ‘idols’) of Bhagwan but they promote their own symbols such as cross. Now this is what these ‘so called’ Hindus don’t understand. No matter where their kids study but they should be inculcated with the ethos of Hindu Dharma. But Hindu parents are becoming more and more materialistic.

Q: Is there any program run for adults in Arsha Vidya Tirtha?

A: Yes. We run certain programs for the adults as well. In our Ashram in C-Scheme area of Jaipur, we have a small temple. Those adults who are in jobs or doing business and are interested in keeping touch with the Hindu culture are asked to visit ashram in the morning or evening as per their convenience, where they can recite and chant mantras.

We have the birthdays and anniversaries dates of all members of such families who are associated with the ashram. On their special occasions, we ask them to compulsorily perform a small puja at the ashram temple and begin the celebration from such note. No matter how they celebrate the rest of the day but they must begin the day with performing puja at the temple.

Then, I also conduct classes on recitation of Bhagwat Gita twice a week. We conduct special puja on Pradosh twice a month i.e. on every thirteenth tithi. A beautiful puja of Bhagwan Shiva that goes for 2-3 hours helps a person to heal his emotions, find mental peace and gain strength to face the day-today hardships.

On every festival, we invite all the associated families to participate in the celebrations. For instance, before Gita Jayanti, we conduct special classes on reciting the Shlokas of Gita. On Gita Jayanti, around 250 people from all age groups come together to chant Gita in a mass.

Every festival in Hindu Dharma holds certain significance. We have a book called ‘Puja Stuti Ratnam’ wherein the significance of every festival, rituals to be followed and Gods associated with that festival are mentioned. We have released a CD on how to chant Bhagwat Gita so this can be done at home.

We also conduct a spiritual camp in our ashram in Rishikesh every summer and in Coimbatore during winter. Separate classes are conducted for children and adults. They stay there for a week, participate in rituals, perform puja and enjoy the peace in such environment.

Q: We generally don’t see Pujaris in temples impart such knowledge and tell people about the significance and history behind rituals and festivals. Are they not qualified, or do not possess the required knowledge?

A: We really can’t tell if the pujaris themselves have learned the rituals properly. They may or may not guide the families properly. To solve this problem, we have come up with a program called Purna Vidya wherein the kids are taught about Hindu scriptures and history right from a young age of 4-5 years in a play-way method. They are taught about all Hindu festivals and importance of rituals in the form of stories and activities. We have also released ‘Gita Home Study’, a translation of Bhagwat Gita by Swami Dayanand Saraswati ji. One can learn Gita at home.

Q: What small changes can we make in our daily routine to get re-connected to Hindu Dharma?

A: Be it children or adults, they all are busy in their daily lives. Parents keep forcing their children to study for whole day. Instead they should ask them to relax for sometime and do prarthana for sometime. For instance, on Mondays the child can sing a Stotra like Shiva Panchakshara Stotram for Mahadev, on Fridays, he can recite a Devi Mantra or Stotra. This can help him relax and concentrate more efficiently on his studies. This way he can learn Hindu stotras and stay connected with the culture.

But it is the parents who have to inspire their children. Parents themselves only think of earning and entertainment that they forget that they have certain other responsibilities as well. A small puja should be done on every festival and important tithis should be observed. If they find certain classes where Hindu Shlokas, Stotras, Gita chanting etc. are taught then they must visit such centers along with their children at least once a week. This way, slowly and steadily, they can divert themselves towards Hindu Dharma again. Self inspiration is required utmost.

Thank you Swamiji for your valuable time.

Swamiji: Thank you. I will be happy to help you in any way. Hari Om!

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