When the decision to send 11-year-old Akshay Joshi to a modern-day gurukul to take Veda lessons was made two years ago, the only question he had on his mind was whether he would be able to manage without his parents for the 12 years.
Two years have passed and Joshi is enjoying his stay at Vedbhavan in Pune.
The establishment is based on the traditional Indian system of schooling in which children stay with the teacher. It gives the children a feeling of being at home, with chores to be done and cricket to be played during free time.
Even in an age when international schools are mushrooming in many cities, Vedbhavan and a few more like it in Pune occupy a niche and have many takers.
Vedbhavan was founded by Vedmurti Vinayak Bhatt Ghaisas in 1945.
It shifted to its present location of a picturesque hill on Paud Road only recently from the old town area. Step in and the resonating
chant of mantras being uttered in the assembly hall greets you. Students between 10 and 20 years of age are busy taking lessons.
“Vedbhavan was built a few years ago. We have come a long way from our humble start in a chawl at Perugate in Sadashivpeth,” Vedmurti Moreshwar Bhatt Ghaisas says. “That was when my father used to run the Vedpathshala.”
Children at the gurukul, along with learning the wisdom of the ancients, also spend their time playing cricket and other games. “It’s not at all a school. It is a home away from home,” Joshi says.
He has two friends, Akshay Dixit (12) and Dhananjay Bhide (11), with whom he spends his free time. “We have planned a cricket match on Sunday,” Dixit, who has come all the way from Bidar in Karnataka, says.
Vedbhavan does not accept any fees. “We run on donations,” Ghaisas says. “And admissions are on the basis of the child’s ability to stay away from parents.”
Teenagers with tonsured heads, smeared foreheads and wearing traditional dhotis spend their days for almost 12 years learning the Rigveda alone and doing chores.
It is a similar way of life at the other two Vedpathshalas in the city. The 60-year-old Patwardhan Vedpathshala is in Budhwarpeth while Pune Vedpathshala, at 125 years the oldest Veda teaching institution in the state, is in Shaniwar Peth.
In keeping with the times, children are allowed a short summer vacation with parents in all three institutes. Of the four Vedas (Rigveda, Yajurveda, Saamveda and Atharvaveda) the complex Rigveda is taught, as it takes 12 years to learn. The other three Vedas can be learnt in four to five years.