Alan Jacobs, President Ramana Maharshi Foundation UK
Gurukulam will undoubtedly be appraised as one of the Great Spiritual films of the modern cinema. Nowadays, the cinema industry is pouring out a miscellany of films mainly concerned with shock, horror, drama, sex, crime, and fantasy. At last we can hail a film which is unashamedly Spiritual in the finest sense of that word. Not since the memorable Great Silence has there been such a film which records the dedication of those engaged in the spiritual life to such a degree that their sincerity and dedication permeates the sensibilities of the viewer. He or she can experience their emotions which can leave an influence that will remain permanent if subsequentially nurtured.
While The Great Silence was about Christian Monasticism, this film is about the highest Hindu Teaching of Advaita Vedanta or Non Dualism. Originally formulated by the Great Adi Shankara (and recently taught by Sri Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi), this fine documentary film exemplifies teachings through its central figure - the Jnani Sage, Sri Swami Dayananda, the foremost revered Vedic Authority in India today.
What does Gurukulam actually mean? This Sanskrit word literally means 'the Family of the Teacher' but modern usage would say it means a 'Traditional Place of Study'. This beautiful documentary film painstakingly and carefully records life in a contemporary Gurukulam located in Anakatai, a scenically beautiful part of Tamil Nadu. The film often captures the strikingly picturesque landscapes of this part of India with its mountain ranges, streams, forests, farms and fields, all of which serve as the incidental background to this modern building of a contemporary Gurukulam.
This wonderful and moving film opens with a lively interview with a young student who has come to discover the Ultimate Truth of the 'All'. Fine camera work shows us a group of residents musically chanting the great fifteenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, a lyrical poem whose subject is The Aswattha, the Banyan Tree. Who knows the Aswattha also knows Vedanta and all. This melody is a fitting opening sequence because it shows us the high dedication of the Guukulam, where students of all ages come to learn these once deep secret teaching of Advaita Vedanta.
We see them reverentially engaged in the monastic activities of the Gurukalam and then listen to Sri Swami Dayananda, between careful recording of his daily life. Between several instructive incidents with students, the film returns to discourses by Swami-ji and much perennial wisdom is taught about enlightenment with humour and profundity. His words will undoubtedly assist those members of the audience engaged on their own spiritual quest and inform those new to this Great Teaching.
We See Swami-ji visit an architecturally magnificent Hindu Temple, where he encounters the traditional Temple Elephant who blesses him with his trunk in exchange for bananas. This film continuously conveys a silent teaching, perhaps the Highest Teaching, where members go about their duties with deep attention and dedication. This undoubtedly will prove to be contagious to the receptive viewer.
We are constantly moved by this film which allow us all to become members of this sacred Gurukulam community, while we are taken on a journey through the marvel of the fine photographic work of the camera. I will not quote extracts from the Swami's Discourses or observations by Gurukulam members because this should be a wonder initially experienced by those who have the God-given opportunity to see this great cinematic masterpiece.