KATHMANDU – One of the most important Hindu temples in Nepal’s capital city of Kathmandu houses a school where one of the world’s oldest languages is taught.
Located within Pashupatinath Temple and founded 34 years ago in 2040 BS (Nepali Year Calendar), the Shree Bhagwat Sanyash Ashram and Gurukul School and hostel teaches Sanskrit – the holy, millennia-old, spoken and written language of Hinduism.
“Sanskrit is getting popular in the West, but it’s getting diminished in Nepal. Though 80 percent of Nepal’s population is Hindu, there is no support from the government to preserve and promote Sanskrit schools and education,” according to Dr. Dhurba Shree, a senior teacher at the school.
The school is funded by donations from Hindu devotees and was established to practice, preserve and teach the Sanskrit Dharmashastras, a form of Hindu religious text that teaches rules on social behavior.
The students, mostly from the Brahmin community, are taught while residing with the temple’s gurus.
They learn to practice all the things that they have studied in class, according to Dr. Shree.
Every gurukul, or school, must consist of four things, Dr. Shree said, including a gaushala, a yagyashala, a pathshala, and a dharmashala.
The gaushala is a place to keep cows, which are considered sacred animals and whose milk, urine, and dung is used for medical and farming purposes.
The yagyashala is a place where Brahmins worship in front of a sacred fire while chanting mantras; the smoke is believed to purify the atmosphere.
The pathshala is a school, and the dharmashala is a sanctuary where social behavior is taught and studied.
There are currently about 70 students from across Nepal who are studying at the school, and the education and accommodation they receive are provided free of charge.
Besides learning to read and write Sanskrit, pupils also study math, social studies, English and Nepali. Brahmin boys also learn how to cook, clean and wash dishes and clothes during their stay, so that they are capable of sustaining independent lives.
Daily activities start at 4 am with bathing and freshening up, followed by praying and chanting mantras, milking cows, helping in the kitchen and then studying from 11 am to 4 pm. There is a one-hour break when students can play football or cricket.
Students are not allowed to use mobile phones, watch television or surf the internet. Instead, they can receive outside information by reading newspapers.
The school believes that there is both good and bad information available on the internet, but that the students are not mature enough to differentiate.
According to Hindu ritual, the students must shave their heads once a month, on the auspicious day of full moon, in order to be freed from their sins.
Safal Pokhrel, a student at the school, told epa that having his head shaved has become part of his life.
They also have to wear a sacred thread known as a janai so they can perform rituals, and a dhoti, a type of garment worn by male Hindus that does not require any stitches.
Classes are offered in grades 4-10, after which students leave for further study elsewhere.
Most alumni go on to become Sanskrit scholars, writing articles about Hinduism in newspapers, or Hindu priests.