Little did Bharat Ratna Nanaji Deshmukh realise, way back in 1952, that the seeds sowed by him at Gorakhpur in the form of Saraswati Sishu Mandir schools would one day grow into the great banyan tree with its roots spread all across the country. That one day, while fighting all odds, these schools would strive to keep the legacy of ancient day gurukuls in the sacred land of Bharata.
So, when Roshan Kumar Purohit, a student of 10th standard from Saraswati Sishu Vidya Mandir (SSVM), Niladri Vihar, Bhubaneswar, Odisha, admit to doing ‘Kara-Agre Vasate Lakssmiih Kara-Madhye Sarasvatii | Kara-Muule Tu Govindah Prabhaate Kara-Darshanam ||’ every morning after getting up from bed, due to the insistence of his Sailendra Guruji, he is not just referring to a routine. Rather, Roshan provides a glimpse of what these schools have always stood for–keeping the tradition alive. A day for Roshan is incomplete without Ganesh Stuthi and Saraswati Vandana. Coming from a business family, Roshan, after standard 10th, is planning to study at Saraswati Gyana Mandir, the +2 Science wing. He aims to become an engineer. His parents are happy with their decision to send Rohan to this school. Apart from games such as volleyball, Kho-Kho, Roshan also names Mandal Kabaddi, Traffic, Hira Chori, and Bahu Chori as his favourite recreational activities at school.
This is the 10th year of Rajesh at SSVM, Niladri Vihar. And yet, in the past ten years, he has seen very little of Bhubaneswar. He is seldom allowed to leave the campus. The school’s policy of creating a self-sufficient campus for its inmates is a unique attempt to protect these innocent minds from the corrupting influence of a city. Discipline is a hallmark of these schools. Rajesh takes purely vegetarian hostel food. The yoga training received at evening Shakhas is, according to Rajesh, the best aspect of his education at the Vidya Mandir.
Smruti Narayan and Divyesh of SSVM, Bhuban, and Odisha take pride in their school for teaching them Vedic Maths, something no other school does. Using the formula Urdhva Tiryagbhyam, Smruti claims to solve complex multiplications with ease he never felt before. The subject reinforces his belief that his ancestors, well versed in Vedas, also knew mathematics much better than most mathematicians today. That Mathematics had its origin in India. In contrast to Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Odisha, Bhuban (now an NAC) once had the distinction of being the largest village in India. The penetration of SSVMs, from cities to suburbs and villages, is something that no one really talks about! Surprisingly, mainstream media maintains a stony silence about the achievements of these schools.
With a tuition fee of 1000 per month for the 10th standard, education at Vidya Mandir comes at less than one-tenth of the rates charged by some of the so-called elite schools in this world. And yet, no billboards are screaming Vidya Mandir to be the number 1 school in town. Gurus in these schools don’t charge a salary, and most of them render their services for a Dakshina–quite reminiscent of gurukul ways!
Vidya Bharati, the educational wing of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, runs one of the largest private networks of schools, namely the Saraswati Sishu Vidya Mandir. It runs approximately 30,000 educational institutes in India. The million lives club selected Vidya Bharati as an official member of the Vanguard cohort for its contribution to school education. With ‘Sa Vidya Ya Vimuktaye’ (Education which liberates), Vidya Bharati advocates ‘Indianisation, nationalisation and spiritualisation of education’. This seems to be a far cry from the present-day trend of creating commercial complexes where a commodity called education comes with a hefty price tag, where an annual budget is earmarked for advertising with an aim to persuade parents to buy their wards an expensive education. Needless to say, why does the media prefer to ignore this silent march of SSVMs towards ‘Indianisation, nationalisation and spiritualisation of education’.