We have been doing the "Rama Navami" theme for this past week. This is one of the things I love about HSing. Festivals and Holy days can be celebrated grandly instead of the usual " get things done fast " style. We celebrate every festival in a child-friendly way. Thats the best way to get their interest. I used to always find it funny that the elders in the family would do their own little puja and include the kids only for the prasad part. In our house the kids are part of every aspect of the celebration. This is where Divinity based education gets deeply ingrained in. Where festivals are not simply for eating prasad but for reliving the characters and learning from them.
We have had wonderful HSing runs of Janmashtami, Ganpati, Navraatri , Ram Navami, Pongal, Republic Day , Diwali to name a few. The Ram Navami theme has included amongst others the following over the past few years:
1. Dress-up as Ram, Laxman, Sita
2. Reading a lot of the Ramayana
3. Listening to Ram's bhajans
4. Enacting various parts of the Ramayana. Sita being captured, Hanuman giving Sita the ring, building the Sethu while singing " Sethum vande Sethum vande Sethum vande Re O Rama", Bharat refusing the throne and worshiping Rama's sandals as the King, conversation between Laxman and Rama before leaving Lanka ( "Janani janmabhoomishcha..."), Jatayu saving Sita, Sita dropping her jewels while being captured by Ravan etc...
5. Drawing of Rama , Laxman and Sita and coloring . This year Chellu took the picture and copied it herself over the black board. She also drew Ravan.
6. Making a cut-out of Ravan and hitting him .
We have had our share of funny moments. While Sita ( my niece ) was captured by Ravan ( myself), Shreedhari ( Laxman) started to cry! "Laxman" after drawing the Laxman Rekha chose to hop over it and stay with "Sita" instead of running for the rescue of " Ram" ( Shruthkirti). While "Bharat" ( Kunju) was asked by Kaikeyi ( myself) to take the throne she readily agrees to it jumping and saying " Yes yes I will be the Raja!!" ;))..The sisters constantly kept arguing over sticking with Sita since Sita is their favorite cousin sister!! Much to the chargin of " Ram" ( Shruthkirti) who kept telling that it is Ram who loves Sita and not Laxman!!
Last Ram Navami Chellu ( Shruthkirti) mastered the art of bow and arrow. She would practice for days and finally could shoot the arrow exactly wherever she wanted to.
During Janmashtami celebrations this past year we had tried to inculcate Lord Krishna's virtues through daily activities. After enacting the " stealing of butter" scene we did a small drama where two kids weren't given butter while Chellu was. She then proceeded to share it with them. After enacting the Kalika destruction we tried to do a huge A to Z puzzle to learn what it takes a little kid to do something much harder than her capability. We dressed as gopikas and danced, we acted like as though I was Yashodha and the kids Krishna and Balram for days ..It was like we were reliving the days of Gokul......
During Ganpati we talked about what it is to have God Himself as guest in our house, did plenty of lovely art and crafts on Ganpati, watched the movie on Ganpati, by-hearted two shloks and a bhajan ( and sing it till date during morning prayers), did an elaborate theme on the elephant as a sequel to Ganpati week , talked about the significance of the elephant's head, made play-doh modaks. Wow that was such a fun week..Ditto for Navratri.
During Republic Day celebrations we have practiced march-past, enacted the freedom struggle with shouts of " Karo ya maro", listened and watched "Vande Mataram" and "Mile Sur Mera tumhara", studied the India map and learned to locate England , talked a LOT over love for country and culture, the pain of the freedom fighters etc.
I love this aspect of HSing and can see how much my children enjoy it. A western oriented school education does very little for cultural education. And by cultural education I mean education that throws light on " Way of thinking, Way of living and Way of worship" ( Source: Pandurang Shastri Athavele) . And one of the best ways to inculcate such an education is to celebrate festivals in a deep and meaningful way. Children in general love stories. They love to hear stories from the past, stories about their Gods but we pitifully neglect this aspect in our zest to teach the alphabets , the rhymes ( and that too ONLY British rhymes- the British have left this country long ago but we still sing the rhymes they taught us completely forgetting ours which are far more beautiful. I mean have you ever heard " Rock a bye baby " ?- its cruelty at its best) , the numbers and other academic stuff. Ofcourse how can we forget discipline, grooming and all that general nonsense which little kids are least interested in anywayz? School is so boring in a sense ..it excludes the daily happenings of the real world and puts education in a two-dimensional frame inside the four walls of a classroom. The British have changed their education system but we haven't yet!! We haven't learned to live it. It dosen't matter anymore that it is the birth of the greatest kings and human being who ever lived ( RamaNavami) but we think its more important that our children attend school and learn whatever the syllabus demands for that day.
Of course school also very successfully imbibes a strong sense of " I don't care" attitude for anything cultural or divine. After independence did those who carved out syllabuses really think about making it unique? Unique to India ,unique to our culture? Is patriotism even " thought " about? Do we learn anything beyond the British aspect of our history? Do we examine our kings , our rishis, our avatars, our architecture, our systems ( administrative, political, social) ? Do we know anything about them? And thus care to really know about ourselves? If the original greatness of our culture or for that matter any culture is not taught to its children how will they ever be proud of themselves? How will their self-identity shape? It will only result in the present "whoever is economically progressed is the better culture / better country? "..Thus the school system successfully imbibes the notion of the white-skin being better than us.
And what about Sanskrit? It is shameful to say the least that its declared as a dead language. We cannot really lament on the brain drain of our country. Cause our education system imbibes neither love for culture nor love for country. Cultural education is not considered " education" at all. The school thinks that its the job of the family and the parents think that if something is not taught at school then obviously it does not merit any value in their child's life. Gone are the days pf the joint family system when grandmas not hooked to TV serials passed on stories of moral values and of our past to their grand-children. Cartoons have replaced grandmas and with it an extremely valuable systems of knowledge management has gone down the drain.
My children are different from others. I can say that very proudly. My children play "Sita, Sita" instead of "Cindrella, Cindrella" or other cartoon characters. They beg to hear about Ramayana and love the Amar Chitra Katha. They can rattle off names of characters from Ramanyana, Mahabharat.Some time back when we went to watch ISCON's broadway like show on the Life of Lord Krishna , I was amazed at how Chellu could recognize most of the characters and could follow most of the story even though the show was in marathi . She knew characters like Jarasand and Rukmi who are hardly heard of. My children will pick up photos of Gods and copy them and color them. They find books like Great Women of India fascinating. They start their HSing day with prayers and Saraswati Vandana, with slogans of " Karenge karenge HSing saath mein Krishna ki bakthi haath mein".. They will name each other " Janaki", " Yashodha", " Kaushalya", " Shree" and such other names during their doll-doll plays. They will fight constantly with each other to be Sita and have finally concluded that both of them can be Sita.
Shruthkirti will look at a beautiful flower and exclaim " Wow amma look how beautifully God has made this." Chellu at the age of 3.6 yrs chose to stay alone at home for more than an hour while we visited the doctor nearby within Magarpatta city. She said she never got scared since God resides within her anywayz. " Don't we say that everyday before starting to HS?" she asked ..she was referring to the auto-suggestion we do.
Divinity based education which puts the Divine or God in the center of everything is our goal of HSing. Infact it is one of the strong reasons to HS. Our children have to have the curiosity and the love for their culture..They need to examine their history thread bare and not just skimp over history that happened just in the past 150 years. And what a way to learn ! To understand the systems , the environment, the thinking that shapes our collective Indian culture. I can't wait for those days to start when we shall pour over Chankaya Neethi for days together till our curiosity is quenched...when we shall dissect chronologically the happenings of the Mahabharat and the Ramayana and study the architecture & the political systems in place , when we shall hunt and hunt for any piece of information that can be available to us about our golden past...This is the way to learn ourselves, this is the way to learn history and this is the way to blaze a new path for the future. A future that stems from an EXTREMELY proud past. A future that stems from the thought of " I belong to a mind-blowing culture/country that lived the thought of "Aham Brahma Asmi".
And we owe everything we know , we aspire for to our teacher Pandurang Shastri Athavle or Dadaji. He is the one who infused us with patriotism, with the courage to go against the system. He is the one who made us think about divinity based education, to think logically , to think WITHOUT fear and believe that we can make the efforts and thus our dreams come true. He gave us a new way of looking at life and thus a fresh lease of life . And most importantly the courage to go after it.
"Dadaji a million thanks to you for everything"..we can only hope that our lives will justify the inspiration you have provided!