Krishna once rested in these jungles, they’d been told. The fleet of Tata Sumos driven by an intrepid bunch of explorers — a few diviners and astrologers, the venerable Swami Dayanand Saraswati, and one-time MP and minister Dr Shrikant Jichkar — had come looking for the site, cutting their way through the dense forest with the help of battery-operated saws imported from the United States, and hooks and ropes to pull out the trees fallen on the dirt track. They wanted to start a gurukul where Krishna’s feet had touched.
It was slow going, but when the group came upon a pond, they knew this was it. But first they had to be sure the location wasn’t cursed.
So Unnikrishnan Panniker, considered India’s finest diviner (also famous as J. Jayalalithaa’s jyotishi), was brought in from Parapanangadi village near Cochin. Panniker went to work using the ancient ashtamangalam prashnam method which involves drawing an astrological chart on the ground and using cowries (ancient coins) to read the writing on the, well, ground.
He tossed and flung eight cowries on the chart several times and came up with an answer no one had expected to hear. Far from being cursed, the place was actually blessed — by Lord Krishna’s footsteps. “This land belongs to Lord Krishna. I can see his pada-sparsha (touch of footsteps) all over. He probably rested here before the Rukmini haran.”
The reference here is to an incident documented in the Mahabharata where Krishna had dashed from his palace in Dwarka to Kaundinyapur, the capital of ancient Vidarbha kingdom, in response to a distress call from its princess Rukmini. She was being married off to Shishupal, a political alliance, and had written to Krishna professing her love for him and asking for help.
There could be something in Panniker’s contention. That Kundipur, only 50 kilometres as the crow flies from the site the explorers had fallen in love with, is ancient Kaundinyapur, is well established. So it must stand to reason that Krishna had passed by the area on his way to Vidarbha.
Today, six years later, a gurukul stands on the site — the Dr Shrikant Jichkar Memorial Arsha Vijnana Gurukulam, named after Jichkar, who died days before the opening. It’s the only institution in India to offer structured courses in Vedas.
The place is called Vedpuri now and students come here from all over the world to study the Vedanta— currently there are some from Russia, Japan and Malaysia. There are also NRIs, BPO workers, graphic designers and mechanical engineers, as also retired professionals searching for a sense of self.
The teacher here is Swamini Brahmaprakashananda, 55, nee Geeta Iyer, who gave up a thriving practice as a gynaecologist in Mumbai to pursue a lifetime of teaching the scriptures and Panini grammar.
There’s also a temple here, the Sri Dakshinamurti Sri Krishna temple, which was built in 128 days, strictly according to the agama sastra (traditional temple building texts) by craftsmen from south India. The gopurams they built bring a distinct flavour of the south to this remote rural setting in Maharashtra.
The gurukul offers a 12-year course in the Vedas (Rig and Yajur) for young boys, who also run goshalas (cow sheds) and live without modern amenities just as students in ancient times did, besides shorter Vedanta courses of six-month and three-year duration for older students. And it’s free; the gurukul runs entirely on donations. But the gurukul gets by, with Krishna’s blessings.