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Swami Dayananda Gurukulam, Coimbatore, Nov 2012

Being in India is always valuable and memorable. This year was no exception: our 27-strong party had the privilege of joining the eighty or so students on the third year of the three-year residential Vedanta course being conducted at the Anaikatti Gurukulam. This proved to be a challenge for all of us, especially those with little or no Sanskrit knowledge!

Nevertheless, being in the presence of Pujya Sri Swami Dayananda Saraswati, the world's greatest teacher of Vedanta—who in spite of poor health and a heavy schedule conducted three classes and a satsang a day—more than offset those difficulties. What he had to say on the Mandukya Upanishad and Gita and in his evening satasangs was worth travelling thousands of miles to hear.

Remarkably, Pujya Swamiji generously acceded to our group's wish to have a private meeting with him by giving not just one, but one a day! He spoke on the Kaivalya Upanishad, and in spite of nightly kidney dialysis, blindness in his left eye, not to mention the many vicissitudes of old age, had the energy and brilliance to shed much light on this valuable text.

However, it wasn't all study! Swamini Atmaprakashanandaji ensured that our understanding and appreciation of India's rich culture was not neglected: she arranged several temple visits, visits to two classical concerts (one of dance, one of music) plus a long-promised visit to a Veda Patashala, a school where boys are taught the Vedas, in Coimbatore.

The gurukulam also provided much cultural richness: it too gave a splendid concert of its own one evening (drawing on the rich resources of the three-year course students) plus another two concerts from visiting musicians and singers on other evenings, including Sri Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman, a famous mridangam player. There was also the heart-warming sight and sound of two young schoolboys who one evening gave us a tableau from the Gita, spoken entirely in Sanskrit, with each boy charmingly dressed for the part in home-made outfits.

On another two evenings we were reduced almost to tears at the wit of a most learned, visiting Ayurvedic doctor and astonishingly prolific author, Dr L. Mahadevan BAMS MD. He clearly will never be short of employment, either in medicine or on the stage!

Tears of laughter were displaced by gasps of delight on another occcasion when the beauty of the annual Kartika Dipya ceremony brought dozens of local children flooding into the gurukulam, lighting up the ashram with their laughter, their singing and hundreds of small oil lamps, before ending the day with a story from Swamiji and a puja in the temple.

Was there more in our two-week trip? Certainly! The early part of our stay co-incided with the formal ceremony, led by Pujya Swamiji, marking the handover of the local Aim for Seva hospital to its new owners, a ceremony witnessed not only by the staff but by the many local tribespeople for whom the hospital was principally conceived. There was also a visit to the famous Trimurti Hills, with its nearby waterfall, to see the three deities formed naturally in rock—we received the most wonderful hospitality there! Another day saw a visit to a beautiful temple in the centre of Coimbatore, dedicated to Bhagavan as a doctor, in which some enjoyed the privilege of meeting the Padma Shree-awarded ayurvedic doctor, Dr Krishnakumar Warrier. And on another temple visit in Coimbatore, 100 ladies, many of whom were formerly taught by Swaminiji, had gathered to hold an annual puja. On seeing her, they engulfed her with love—there is no other word for it! Their joy at seeing her again was poured upon her. It was both humbling and a privilege to witness.

Some availed the services of an astrologer, others the services of the saree shops, some even found time for a massage at the local ayurvedic college, whilst others found delight in Sri Ramanji's herb garden and his astonishing knowledge of its curative contents!

Hospitality was, as ever, an impressive feature of the trip with the homes of Swaminiji's friends and students generously opened to us.

All of this and more was warmly and untiringly provided by many hands and minds, much of it under the watchful eye of Swami Sakshatkritananda, and all of it by the grace of our Swamini Atmaprakashananda to whom we already owe an incalculable debt for the teaching and care she so unstintingly provides.

Whatever the scene, whatever the moment, it was a richly enjoyable and valuable time; one that will long live in our memories.

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