Our ideal of a Gurukul, formulated by ancient Art beheld in paintings, murals and other canvases, resides in our imaginations as differently positioned Banyan trees, thatched huts and roofs, sage-like Gurus mentoring keen Shishyas rapt in attention and wild and designed arenas where different arts, interests and subjects are striven for.
That ideal is beautiful, dreamy, transporting and traditional. And some traditions just don’t need updating. For a start, what it does deserve is a sincere appreciation of the ideals it stood for and furthered, the very evolved process of teaching and learning it engendered, the austere but versatile pathway of study and exploration it established and the thorough education it therefore made possible and accessible to its disciples.
Aeons ago, the learned met young learners and reared them in faraway, raw yet functional surroundings that allowed the latter space from the material comforts of home and therefore, the focus to master multiple disciplines.
An invaluable, unsaid and unfathomable bond developed between Guru and Shishya, Sage and Disciple, Teacher and Student. This eternal bond was characterized by an exchange of respect for deference. The Guru knows, shows the way, tells you what to look for but never what to see. The Shishya listens, follows and then, discovers for herself. Somewhere in the process of the Guru giving and the disciple receiving, a thread of trust, faith, loyalty, love, devotion and surrender is woven. The Guru gives, wholeheartedly, rightfully, respectfully. And the Shishya receives with passion and vigilance, fully submitting to the direction, wisdom and keener sense of the Guru. And even in this equation of unequal knowledge, age and experience, there exists mutual respect and enormous consideration, care and concern for one another.
Gurus gave unreservedly of themselves from the many different realms they had inhabited and imbibed –
The Arts – Classical, Martial, Performing, Fine, Sports, The Sciences – Life and Social, Philosophy, Mathematics, Yoga and other physical and spiritual practices and of course, Academia – ancient texts, treatises, rituals, studies and the literature we know today as “Classical”.
Classes were conversations. They were often tests of tolerance, endurance and capabilities, on either side. Talents were unveiled, encouraged and refined. Discipline was ingrained, second to no organ of body or mind. Confidence was built, shaken, rebuilt and secured, once and for all. Shishyas competed healthily, outdid one another, constantly raising the bar, but more importantly, outdoing themselves. An emotional intelligence was further cultivated in those whom it was perceived and every attempt was made in making every Shishya perceptive, receptive and sensitive. Paired with their dexterity in plentiful pursuits, a Shishya of a Gurukul was quite simply beyond compare. Gifted, enormously grateful and very aware of their identity, purpose and what they’d like to give back to the world, these Shishyas were dynamic, necessary and ever-evolving additions to the world.
As the shishya journeyed along this path laid down by the Guru – embedded in the very establishment that is a Gurukul, she had an immersive learning experience across the spectrum; in seemingly unrelated areas even, if she chose to. She could be an athlete, an artiste, an academician, all rolled into one. She could see the physics of dance or the emotion in the natural sciences or intrigued by the history and theories of mathematics or the geometry in painting and sculpture or the rhythmic patterns and melodic structures of music and definitely, the beauty, artistry and versatility of all things in nature.
A Shishya’s definition of beauty was broad, all-encompassing, inclusive and most significantly, subjective. This flexibility allowed her to be rational, compassionate and keen, all at once. To know more, to be more, to see more, to feel more and to do more.
She found happiness and inspiration in a cooling breeze, in fresh fruit often stolen from swaying or still trees, in the gallop of a horse and the gait of a gazelle, in dreaming of the dances of Sati and Shiva, in believing that every raga she heard came straight from the Gandharvas, in a mama beast putting her cub to sleep, in swimming in open waters and the marine life encountered, in the colours of an evening sky, in the sound of rain and the delight of sunshine.
There was something in the air back then: A likely medley of curiosity, respect, joy in the little things (that we know, ultimately, amount to the big things) and an innocence that drove one to wonder and wander. When coupled with the aroma and smoke of incense, the Guru’s exhale of wisdom and a Shishya’s inhale of knowledge, seated across from one another in a grove with an oak or an elm or a willow for a backdrop, the setting was not only conducive to the give and take of a strong and sublime education that instilled a sense of responsibility but a paradise that enabled growth, empathy, mastery, clarity, courage, ambition and agency.
When the smoke clears, it brings us back to today. And yet, in our most heightened state of pragmatism, nothing above seems unattainable.
The Gurukul – as a concept, an institution and an ideology – was built to stay.
Will we go deep within? Or will we keep ourselves from the most evolved system of education that kept us rooted and gave us wings to fly.
We just have to journey back.
The path is laid.
To the beginning. To the progressive.
And then, forward, forward, forward.
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