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Sanskrit Gurukul 

Photographer: Narendra Shrestha

 

A temple in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu is home to one of the world’s oldest Sanskrit schools.

Located within Pashupati Temple and founded in 2040 BS (Nepali Year Calendar), 34 years ago, Shree Bhagwat Sanyash Ashram and Gurukul School and hostel is funded by the donations of Hindu followers. “Sanskrit is getting popular in West but its getting diminished in Nepal. Though 80 percent of Nepal’s population is Hindu, there is no support from government to preserve and promote Sanskrit school and education,” according to Dr. Dhurba Shree, a senior teacher at the school. The school was established to practice and preserve the Sanskrit Dharma-shastra.

Sanskrit is the main holy language in Hinduism and Dharma-shastras are Hindu scriptures teaching the rules of social behavior. The students, mostly from the Brahmin community, are educated in shastras and behavior while residing with gurus. It is here where they learn to practice all the things that they have studied in class, according to Dr. Shree. Every gurukul, or school, must consist of four things, Dr. Shree said, including a gaushala, a pathshala, a yagyashala and a dharmashala. The gaushala is a place to keep cows, which are considered sacred animals and their milk, urine, and dung is used for medical and farming purposes. The yagyashala is a place where Brahmins worship in front of a sacred fire while chanting mantras; the smoke is believed to purify the atmosphere. The pathshala is a school, and the dharmashala is a sanctuary in which to learn about social behavior. There are some 70 students currently admitted to the school from different parts of Nepal.

The education they receive and accommodation are free of cost. Besides Sanskrit, pupils study other subjects, like math, social studies, English and Nepali. Classes range from grades 4 to 10, after which students leave for further study elsewhere. Besides academic subjects, Brahmin boys also learn how to cook, clean, and wash dishes and clothes during their stay, so that they are capable of sustaining an independent life. Daily activities start from 4 am with bathing and freshening up, followed by praying and chanting mantras, milking cows, helping in the kitchen and then studying from 11 am to 4 pm. There is a one-hour break during which time students might play football or cricket. Students are not allowed to use mobile phones, watch television or surf the internet. The only means of getting outside information is by reading a newspaper.

The school believes that there is both good and bad information available on the internet and that the students are not mature enough to differentiate. According to Sanskrit ritual, the students must shave their heads in order to be freed from their sins. They also have to wear sacred thread called a janai in order to perform rituals and a dhoti, a type of garment worn by male Hindus that does not require any stitches.