Saturday, April 21, 2001

A school where
students learn to give
By Sunita Pradhan

IMAGINE a school in which students are taught Indian music, dance and yoga till the age of 12, the uniform is either salwar-kameez or kurta-pyjama and upon passing out, you get an International Baccalaureate degree from Switzerland!

Welcome to International Sahaja Public School in Dharamsala.

Nestled in the Dhauladhar range of the Himalayas, this unique educational institution boasts of 136 students from 18 countries. These students devote their formative years to the learning of the basic principles of Sahaja Yoga (from the Upanishads) and the tenets of Hinduism as interpreted by the school’s chief patron, Nirmala Devi.

"Some of the students are Christians and Muslims," informs H.N. Kaul, the 60-year-old director and headmaster of the school. "But when they are with us, they transcend the barriers of religion and respect the Hindu traditions."


The celebration of traditional festivals also constitutes an important part of the school curriculum. For instance, during Dasehra, Ramlila is staged for 10 days, culminating in the burning of the effigy of the demon king, Ravana.

On Bhai Dooj, girls in colourful costumes perform aarti for their male classmates in a symbolic affirmation of their sisterly bond. And on Janamashtami, a child is decked up as Krishna and is made to play with children. He finally clambers on their shoulders to break a pitcher of butter.

Yet another important part of the curriculum is the periodic visits to Hindu pilgrim spots — particularly the 11 sites of Lord Shiva’s swayamvars and the neighbouring shrines of the local deities in Kangra district.

"Children are brought up in an environment that speaks of India’s rich culture", enthuses a London-based mother of three daughters, Radha, Lakshmi, and Saraswati. "The school system in England is very rough. I feel the girls are very protected here."

Adds a 34-year-old computer engineer from Perth: "In Australian schools, we have a lot of problems with drugs and morals. The West is clean on the outside, but dirty inside."

For 40-year-old Brazilian physicist Bruno, children get a "head start" on life at the Sahaja school. "If you see their eyes, you will notice they are bright and shining." he points out. "There’s great joy in learning. They are peaceful, not frenetic and learn to give rather than be receiving all the time."

Children here are certainly "different". Their dormitories are austere, even monastic in appearance without the stickers or posters of pop stars associated with students elsewhere. They watch only video cassettes on Sahaja Yoga and "suitable" film classics on television.

The school’s cavernous meditation hall, however, offers a study in contrast with its ornate ceilings and walls, garish red chandeliers and a gold-plated altar with framed photographs of Mata Nirmala Devi. Then there is the cloying fragrance and smoke from the burning joss sticks.

It is here that the students begin their day at six in the morning with the chanting of hymns, followed by a meditation session. The day also ends here, with the students paying obeisance to Mata before returning to bed by ten at night.

It is also mandatory for students to place their hands over food before eating, to purge it of "any bad vibration". Says a student": "You can never fall ill if you eat food that has been purified by positive vibrations. In fact, you can heal others with positive vibrations."

A resident of Dharamsala informs how a small girl from the Sahaja school had accurately diagnosed his illness — a stomach upset — merely by placing her hands on his forehead. She had mastered the art of touch therapy by activating the various chakras of her body.

Explains Kaul: "We believe in vibratory existence. There are two kinds of vibrations —those that are free and those that are bottled up. As far as possible, we ensure that outsiders do not pollute the positive vibrations generated here. We even ask parents not to visit us."

But isn’t that a tall order, considering that the students get a three-month break every winter? But, Kaul says, even during that period, the students are expected to perform certain rituals, including silent meditation sessions twice a day and repeated recitations of the Gayatri Mantra.

"I have developed a different perspective towards life upon joining this place," says 16-year-old Meenakshi (earlier Pierce) from Sydney. "I used to be short-tempered and impatient about everything I did. Now I never lose my temper. I am always relaxed and do not feel stressed out." (MF)