Just switch on devotional channels on your television and one would see a plethora of religious and spiritual leaders of all shades and hues preaching and promising everything – relief from pain to instant Nirvana. Some teach Yoga, some seek funds for charity, some sing Bhajans, some teach meditation techniques, many preach about values, others explain the scriptures and few dole out instant remedies, predict the future, suggest astrological and Vaastu solutions and dish out recipes for success in health, career and marriage.
The increased number of such channels is indeed a reflection of the growing popularity of the new age spiritual Gurus in an era of ever growing stress and insecurities. What’s more, apart from reaching out to the doorsteps of such spiritual seekers through cross country camps, the disciples of such Gurus are buying prime time, even on mainstream news channels, to telecast their sermons and propagate their views.
Gujarat, in that sense, m
ay be called the capital of new age spirituality with many high profile Gurus making it their home and holding massive prayer meetings, ‘Kathas’, Samagams etc. for the devotees.
However, come December, every year, thousands of students and youth from across the state and the country head to a sprawling rural retreat in the remote Pransla village in Upleta Taluk of Rajkot district, just 60 kms from Porbandar, the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi.
The Rashtra Katha Shibir, where nothing but pure, undiluted patriotism is inculcated among the participating youth, not only attracts personnel from the armed forces such as Border Security Force but also distinguished leaders from all walks of life.
Former President A P J Abdul Kalam has visited the camp thrice in the last 12 years since its inception. Other visitors to the camp over the years include eminent scientist Yashpal, former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Justice R C Lahoti, supercop K P S Gill, 1971 war hero Late Gen Jagjeet Singh Aurora, film director Muzaffar Hussain, environmental activist Vandana Shiva, actor Nana Patekar and the ever popular Anna Hazare.
A highlight of these camps has been the effort by the organizers to inculcate scientific temperament among the youth. Some of the country’s leading scientists have been interacting with the 15,000 odd youngsters who attend the camp annually. The leading scientists include Prof M S Swaminathan, Dr K Kasturirangan, Prof J V Narlikar and Dr N K Mondal.
And where there is a crowd, there are politicians and so the camp has been visited among others by State Governor Kamla Beniwal to Kapil Sibal, Farooq Abdullah, Jaswant Singh, Anand Sharma and even Narendra Modi.
A brain child of Swami Dharambandhu, who originally hails from Tamil Nadu and heads the Shri Vedic Mission Trust, the camp aims to inculcate patriotic spirit and spread the rich Indian culture among the country’s youth and other citizens. “We wish to highlight India’s contribution to world civilization in the context of scientific and technological advances and connect every Indian to the country’s s glorious heritage and culture and to motivate them to remain committed to India’s progress in all fields,” says the young Swami, a Yoga practitioner, who shuns all kinds of publicity, does not wear saffron robes and often moves around in track suits.
The week-long camps enable the youngsters, mostly from rural background, to interact with the leading minds of the country in diverse sectors as also collectively practice Yoga, martial arts, horse trading, shooting and meditation.
The topics covered during the camp include national integration, communal and social harmony, disaster management, spiritualism, patriotism, culture and civilization, personality development, health, environment and computer training.
Dharambandhu’s camp offers a combination of intellectual and physical skills inspired as he is by Swami Vivekananda’s clarion call for preparing youth with nerves of steel and muscles of iron. In revolutionary words, Swami Vivekananda had also once stated that one can reach nearer to heaven by playing football rather than reading the Gita.
Enthused by the success of the camp, Dharambandhu is now organizing similar camps to train teachers from across the country. He is also being invited by leading institutions across the country to address and interact with the students and youth.
In the aftermath of the Gujarat quake, Dharambandhu had set up several villages, dug wells, built cow shelters and hostels for boys and girls, which the people of Kutch gratefully remember.
May the tribe of such Gurus increase by the day.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)