Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Classes, Schedule, and People

I am told that when classes go slowly initially, the student is not intimidated; after a solid start, even if the teacher picks up the speed tenfold, it doesn’t matter. The student learns faster and is more comfortable in the class. This is the way classes were always taught in the Gurukulam system of India, and it is therefore no wonder the students were able to learn so much in such a short amount of time. When things changed eventually, due to imperial influences, school became a chore because even when the student did not understand the basics the teacher kept chugging on. Without a solid start, it becomes impossible for a student to fully grasp the material of a subject if the class moves too fast. Yet this is the method of teaching that the entire world has adopted based on the influence of the British style of education during the time of their global empire. Luckily, that influence has not reached the remote corners of India where the ancient method of teaching still survives. This is the way I am being taught here, and I could not be happier with the system. I have never been so comfortable learning new material before; I feel like I have a grasp of whatever I am currently being taught before the next topic arrives.


Now, my classes are in full swing. We started off slowly, I became comfortable with my subjects, and then we took off! Rarely am I seen not immersed in a book or not studying something (I have honestly never wanted to study this much before – except for maybe last time I came to India). This is the purpose for which I came, and I’m in the right place. I have been informed by several independent sources that Sringeri is indeed presently the best location for Sanskrit and Shaastra (which translates to “scripture,” although the word scripture is not quite correct because it gives the Shaastras a religious overtone which is totally not true, but let’s say “ancient science” for now) studies at the university and graduate level [officially; I’m sure unofficial studies at this level and with this method take place in several other locations, but doing work within established institutions has its benefits in the long run].


My classes are as follows, and though I don’t have a thoroughly defined schedule as yet, I will try to put them into a comprehensible frame for reference. I do not have the same schedule every day – this may seem like an obvious statement, but it’s worth noting because my schedule literally changes every day. So the classes are: 1) Vyaakarana Shastra, which is the science of Sanskrit grammar; 2) Nyaaya Shastra, which is Vedic epistemology (I will explain this one later); 3) Uttararaamacaritam (pronounced UT-tuh-ruh-RAA-muh-chuh-ri-tum, and literally means, “Later, Ram’s Character”), which is a Sanskrit play from the 14th century by the playwright Bhavabhooti about Ram’s actions and character after defeating the evil king Ravana in Lanka; 4) Raghuvamsham, which is a mahaakaavyam (epic poem) in Sanskrit by Kalidas, one of the greatest Indian poets of all time, about the Raghu Dynasty, the dynasty in which Ram was; and 5) Bhagavad Gita, a 15-minute class where the teacher does a lead-and-follow read-through of one chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, with the purpose of memorization in mind, and with explanation of the meaning of the chapter as a whole – we do one chapter at a time for two weeks, and then we move on to the next chapter, and every two weeks I am supposed to have a new chapter memorized, so after nine months I should know the Bhagavad Gita by heart (there are 18 chapters).


As for the schedule of these classes, I generally have Vyaakarana and Uttararaamacaritam daily (when I say daily, I mean every day, including Saturday and Sunday), though the time is not fixed. I have Nyaaya on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. The time is not totally fixed for Nyaaya either, though it could be at 10:00 AM or 4:00 PM. It depends on what time I have fixed with the teacher the previous day. Raghuvamsham is supposed to be on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 5:00 PM, but the teacher has been so busy that we have only had three classes so far, and we won’t be having more class until at least the ninth of September because the teacher is leaving in a few days for an exposition of one of the school plays in another city, as he is one of the directors, so he and all the students in the play will be gone until the ninth. My Bhagavad Gita class is supposed to start on the 1st of September. I am really excited for this class, because I have always wanted to memorize the Gita, and here is my opportunity to do so in class format! I am told that it will happen without any effort on my part, such is the ancient method of memorization. Nervousness. Can I do it? We will see…


My daily routine is pretty simple. I wake up at 3:00 AM, perform my daily morning rituals (brush teeth, heat up and drink about a liter of water, go to the bathroom, shower) and by the time they are over it is usually around 4:15 or so. At 4:30 I go to do Yoga in the main school building, where the Yoga teacher (who is one of my friends, and I will write about him later) holds a daily Yoga class in one of the conference halls. The Yoga sessions include a physical work out, breathing exercises, postures, and meditation. Yoga ends at around 6. I use the next two hours to study or read, then at 8:00 two of my friends come to my room (one of them is the Yoga teacher) to make breakfast with me. We make breakfast and eat it by about 9:30 or so, followed by clean-up, then the school day begins at 10:00. At 1:00 PM I go to eat lunch at a home nearby, where a lady hosts a few students for meals daily. The students eat there in the form of paying guests, and it works out nicely. At around 6:30 or 7:00 PM my two meal buddies come over again to make dinner with me, we make dinner, eat it, and clean up by around 8:45 or 9:00. For the next hour or so I do my own work and then sleep. Usually I am completely exhausted by 10:00 PM, and since I have to start again at 3:00 AM, I try to make it a point to sleep by or before 10:00.


I have met some amazing people so far. This includes the headmaster, teachers, and fellow students of the Vidyapeeth, the Shankaracharya of Sringeri, and many random people. I will only write in detail about a few of them in this blog, but it can be safely understood that everyone I have met is absolutely amazing. Everyone here knows more than me about almost everything (except for English and computers, I suppose). I am not exaggerating. And I am not just talking about academics: I am talking about life. Most people here sing exceptionally well, so I have been picking up tips here and there from everyone, and I have noticed that my singing has improved since I came, more towards the Indian classical side (finally). Everyone I interact with knows more Sanskrit than me, so I feel like I am constantly in class. They are always teaching me new things, and since I am eager to learn, I find teachers everywhere. I am picking up bits of Kannada here and there too, since there are people in Menase who know no language other than Kannada. I am forced to learn some, and hopefully this will turn into a working knowledge of the language during the time I am here. My friends teach me life lessons just by their actions, but they are sure to teach me in words too if the situation ever arises. I never thought I would be doing Yoga but here I do Yoga daily at 4:30 AM. In general I feel like I have placed myself into an environment where everyone has different qualities that I would like to inculcate, and therefore it is my job while I’m here to pull myself up to their level. They are selflessly providing a helping hand as well, and I feel honored to be in the constant presence of such amazing individuals.


Skittles said...

Thank you for these posts, Varun. Your surroundings, natural as well as the company you are surround by, sound stunning and I am so happy you have so much around you that is so positive. I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around the 3:00 wake-up, but it sounds awesome! Good for you.

I hope all of your studies and explorations continue to bring you what you seek and good company and opportunities. It truly sounds like you are on a wonderful adventure. Looking forward to reading more!

With Smiles,

Anonymous said...


Your days seem simply inspirational. Kudos for all your hard work and following something you really believe in. Follow your endeavors and I hope to see more adventures you encounter. Good luck in your studies and have fun!! :)

Venkata Vedam's Mortgage Blogg said...

Varun, Good job documenting you experiences/thoughts.

I just got a news article from a friend. A school in heart of Great Britain has made it mandatory to learn Sanskrit. I can forward the article to you if you give me your email.

Venkata Vedam
(PS: I was the one who talked to you at Chinmaya Mission during lunch time. I live in BHU for 19 years.

Varun Khanna said...

Hey Venkata Uncle,

I am glad you got to my blog! My email is, you are welcome to contact me there!

Hari Om