A Shloka Teacher For Kids
“It takes a big heart to appreciate someone and a small mind to laugh at someone. You can choose to either have a big heart or a small mind” says an expert in economics.
She has already achieved her dream of starting a shloka school (which has students across the world), and becoming a ‘Shlokapreneur’. Her story and dream are interesting because of the following quote by her – “Bangalore is not short of music schools, dance schools, art schools or yoga schools. That’s when I felt, why not a shloka school which aims at keeping traditional roots in place? And Gurukulam was born on 20th Oct 2014.”
Her idea and story were so fascinating, every famous Indian online publication wrote about her. A school for kids in Bangalore that teaches shlokas in Sanskrit. The idea caught their attention because even though the language was introduced by our own ancestors, a majority of Indians don’t know it or speak… But that’s besides the point (which FYI, is that we talked to someone famous). If you don’t already know who she is, just Google Divyaa Doraiswamy.
Her journey as a shloka teacher began during a rough phase of her life, “I tried everything, yoga, meditation, Sudarshan Kriya and just anything to get me out of my difficult situation – My state of mind” and she finally found solace in chanting shlokas – the prayers that are a part of her home even today.
She explains, “Prayers were and are a part of my household even today. But only when I went through a nasty divorce, I started believing in the power of shlokas.”
“So people have options like yoga, meditation and just everything else” and her way of finding inner peace was through chanting shlokas, so why not share this method with everyone else?
A product of Gokuldham High School (Mumbai), Divyaa shifted her classes to different online mediums because of two words, ‘Bangalore Traffic’. She adds, “we wanted to go global. Till about late 2016, we used to offer services at different apartments, pre-schools, dance schools, yoga centers, studios, and services to children with special needs. In 2016, we decided to go global and hence shifted all classes to Skype and WhatsApp videos to reach out to a larger audience in countries like USA, UK, Australia, Ireland, UAE and many more.”
Divyaa says, “I am a strong believer in God but never ever imagined that I would start a shloka school someday. A school that aims at keeping traditional roots in place.”
She chose the option of teaching only children first because, “dealing with innocent minds is easy and teaching can be fun with kids.”
Her syllabus and teaching methods have helped her students deal with issues like anxiety, violent behaviour, anger, restlessness and a lot more.
She explains, “I found a lot of my anxiety coming down after chanting.”
“I teach kids and parents tell me that their behaviour has changed post chanting. Their anger levels, violent behavior has changed and it has improved speech for kids with special needs. Chanting helps in calming our nerves down.”
Divyaa also explains that this can only be achieved with regular chanting.
“Hare Krishna Mahamantra is known to cure high degree anxiety and Depression.”
Divyaa uses the analogy of sound and energy to explain why her classes work, “Chanting is directly associated with energy. The reason for this is, every single piece of sound has its own frequency and wavelength which doesn’t match with other sounds.”
She adds, “It’s only for this reason that more importance is given to chanting the mantras rather than understanding their meaning, though my classes focus on understanding the meaning too.”
In many stories, she has spoken about her classes. She says, “Gurukulam has nothing to do with religion or spiritualism.”
She adds, “Gurukulam was started to keep our children abreast of our culture and traditions. I do not know chants from any other religion and our curriculum consists of Sanskrit Shlokas with their meanings.”
The word shloka means ‘song’ in Sanskrit. These songs are an integral part of our Hindu mythology and history. Both Mahabharata and Ramayana were originally written in shlokas.
On the topic of chants from different religion, our conversation with her explained the focus of her classes, “The idea is to keep our kids abreast of our tradition. We have enquiries from people who follow other religions.”
“But my learning is limited to shlokas only so extending knowledge from other religions is practically impossible. Since I have people enquiring for classes – If anyone from any other belief wants to learn Gita, I am open to teaching them. So we are not tied down by language or religion. If kids from other religions want to learn shlokas for best reasons known to them I am willing to teach.”
Is she planning to teach chants from other religious beliefs or hire teachers who are well versed in them? Divyaa says, “No. Teaching in Gurukulam is about shlokas only.
Our curriculum is formed and it won’t change.”
There are important life lessons embedded in different shlokas. Since they are a part of our rich mythology and history, one can hear stories in those songs; stories that teach us something that we may not learn in other subjects in school. This point asks if shlokas should be given equal importance as subjects like math or physics. Should the students be taught shlokas like they learn other important subjects in school?
Divyaa says, “If it’s only shlokas becoming a part of our curriculum then it becomes a religious subject in school, and we have kids and teachers from different communities in every school. Just the shlokas cannot be extended to kids.”
“But having said that, A few schools have made shlokas a part of their regular curriculum.” She believes it’s done so that kids can be helped in dealing with different behavioral problems.
Even if schools have subjects like ‘moral science’, in reality students will prefer giving their time and attention to other subjects. Understanding morals and ethics may not help students in school but they will play a huge role in what that student becomes in the real world. So, should our children or teenagers study moral science like they study science?
She claims, “No. It can’t be given the importance of math or physics, because shlokas are more to do with behaviour, mental and physical health, just like yoga and meditation.”
“Math and physics help you find a job, shlokas don’t. They just help you become a better individual.”
These shlokas can be easily translated to English or any other language. So why does she go the extra mile to teach them in Sanskrit only?
The teacher explains, “Sanskrit has a huge influence on one’s brain activity. Chanting verses from the different Sahastranaamams, Gita or other Vedic verses create a kind of vibration in the air, especially if they are chanted in groups.”
She says, “It’s very relaxing and brings peace; The positive energy in the air is refreshing.”
She mentioned the impact of her classes on the behaviour patterns of young children.
“It is also said that our memory is so advanced that we can learn the shlokas by just listening to them a few times. The study of Sanskrit shlokas sure have a positive impact on the brain.”
While we are on the subject of Sanskrit…
The percentage of people in India who converse in Sanskrit is less than 1 %. Being a country where the language was first spoken, should we give more attention to the language? “Yes, Sanskrit should be given a lot more attention in our country.” says Divyaa.
Our youngsters or teenagers may not be interested in learning the language, “and that’s why reaching out to a larger crowd is very difficult. If I post an ad I might get 100 enquiries but just 3-4 would register.”
Our population may not be interested in learning Sanskrit, most of them won’t even be interested in learning different regional languages of India. But they are interested in learning all kinds of western languages. Why does that happen?
According to her, “They prefer languages like Spanish or French because that helps with their admission process into schools in UK, USA or Canada.”
In simple terms, we want to go out and study. “When bright students look around India for a place to study for an advanced degree, they find few top-quality programmes. In social sciences and humanities, there are a small number of respectable institutes, but absolutely none that are considered by international experts as top class in academic programmes. In the hard sciences, biotechnology, and related fields, the situation is more favourable with a few institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology, the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, despite limited acknowledgement from abroad.”
She adds, “if an Indian student wants to study for a doctorate or even a master’s degree at a top department or university in most fields, he or she is forced to study overseas. Further, a degree from a top foreign university tends to be valued more in the Indian job market than a local degree” and “That’s the sad truth.”
“So Sanskrit is not something people want to learn. But because it’s shlokas people don’t have a choice but to learn Sanskrit.”
Coming back to the topic of language, does learning another language help us in any way? (apart from academics)
“Languages help express our feelings, desires, and queries to the world around us. Learning another language is very good for the brain i.e your brain can be structurally changed for the better within a short span of time. Further it improves one’s memory. Kids with bilingual knowledge have faster, accurate and more robust mental capacities. So starting young is surely a key to success.”
Most of us may not realise it but Hindu prayers are also shlokas and they are recited everyday in different homes that follow the religion. But just how people don’t know Sanskrit or understand the meaning of shlokas, they may not know the meaning of their prayers.
To this, Divyaa says, “People chant or say shlokas during very trying times – health issues, family problems, child’s poor health or mental development, financial woes and for many other reasons. I too have said shlokas without knowing meanings during my hard times and cling to God only when in need and that’s how most of us are.”
This habit of chanting a prayer without knowing the meaning or doing something without knowing the reason, creates a mentality where a generation is supposed to follow all the rules without asking any questions. You can only know the meaning once you ask for it. But are we groomed to ask questions?
“When people say a prayer, they are following something that was directed to them by their elders at home or probably an expert who advises the family.”
So, do we question the elders or experts in our family?
She reponds to that statement, “It’s perfectly ok to question our elders. But I am not sure if they would always have an answer.”
“Certain things are just blindly followed. In times of crisis we sure don’t ask why something was done. But it’s done to get us out of a hard situation and sadly people pray only when they are made to face the worst.”
She says, “Prayers were and are a part of my household even today. But only when I went through a nasty divorce, I started believing in the power of shlokas.”
“I personally feel it’s ok to chant a shloka without knowing the meaning but over time, as I started teaching kids, I realised that knowing the meaning of what we are chanting is very important. All kids at Gurukulam are taught shlokas only with meanings today.”
On the issue of our prayers, she believes, “During good times do we really think about God? We call out to him only when we need help. When we feel helpless or things are not in our control, we call God.”
Since the prayers or chants are only Sanskrit shlokas here, we can say that the songs taught in her class are praising our Gods. But since the mission of this exercise is to better ourselves in every way possible, should our chants be meaningful with words that inspire us or should the intent be praising our Gods?
Divyaa believes that when we are inculcating values, this seems more important than depth. “All shlokas are sung in praise of the lord. Gurukulam aims at telling the kids why a particular shloka is chanted and the importance of chanting a shloka.”
She says, “I think shloka classes are more about values, good qualities and building good character besides the fact that they help in healing as well.”
In the end, “shlokas help different people differently.”
There are several reasons why she chose shlokas for her school.
“Regular chanting will cause profound changes in the mind-body physiology and psychology, thereby bringing out more focus on a particular task and increasing concentration…
Letting go is a very powerful technique, but it’s very difficult to expect kids to let go of anger and frustration, so there are a few shlokas that help children. Regular practice of these shlokas will bring the desired change in kids. You’ll see the difference once they start.
Prayer for peace and healing for all beings. Prayer time should be a period of joy, devotion and piety and never of boredom or force. This they will develop over time.”
Gurukulam has also helped children with special needs ever since Divyaa began her classes.
“Differently abled children are a part of Gurukulam and they are amazing learners. I teach kids with autism, ADHD and a few other difficulties. When parents try speech therapy, yoga or meditation, I often ask ‘why not shloka education?'”
She says, “I ran a batch with about five kids with such kind of difficulties and I realised that within a span of six months they saw improvement in their emotional well being, concentration, reading skills and speech. This just goes to prove that shloka education has miracles to offer.”
Divyaa explains how different shlokas helped her students, “Shlokas like the Saraswathi or Hayagriva shloka help kids with speech.”
“Goddess Saraswathi is the giver of knowledge or speech, so regular chanting has helped in improving their condition from bad to being better”
In cases of children with special needs, “the possibility of getting angry in a situation is quite high – I mean Patience is a big word for them, so children with ADHD and Autism are taught to chant the Narasimha Shlokas which help deal with restlessness, violence and other problems. These shlokas have helped them change their behavior to a great extent.”
“My kids are mostly between 4-10 years though I have kids around 12 and 14 too” claims the shloka teacher.
Teaching shlokas in Sanskrit can be a little challenging. How does she manage to make this learning process easy and entertaining for her students?
“I am an extremely friendly person who doesn’t keep the classes just fixed on learning shlokas. There are a lot of facts involved or books with pictures; kids really want to learn how Lord Narasimha or Lord Hayagriva or Dhanvantri look.” That’s why pictures are necessary in the books she uses.
“I teach kids who are as little as four, so we follow a uniform curriculum for kids across the globe. We actually use books for shlokas and technology for recordings. E-books are not used at Gurukulam today.”
“I am a fun person to be with and can easily make a class interesting with required information. I give kids information about the God they learn, about why they chant a particular mantra, meaning of the mantra and relevant pictures of the God.”
She also sends audio recordings to the parents after each class and “today all my classes are one-on-one, and I give personal attention to each kid. Every single child in my school knows that they are a very important part of my class. This automatically keeps kids encouraged to come back to the next class.”
Divyaa Doraiswamy started Gurukulam back in October 2014, taught a few kids in her apartment building and grew from there. “I found out that a lot of parents were keen on sending their children for such classes.”
She has conducted classes in different apartments, pre-schools, dance-schools and apartments. Thanks to skype and good internet connections, she has also found students abroad.
She says, “Gurukulam presently teaches fifty kids and plans to reach out to another fifty by the end of 2019. Now that we have gone global with kids learning from different parts of the world, I don’t think we need to expand just in Bangalore.”
“Going forward I plan to take shloka education to kids in blind schools and government schools more, as a service activity.”
Those were our 10 Points with the founder and teacher at Gurukulam. These long ten points are here to give you an insight into what she does and why she does it. If you are interested in learning more about her or joining her online class, checkout her page here or here.