Society

A serene sanctuary

Vasant Vihar

Vasant Vihar

There is something about Vasanta Vihar. A 500-metre path, guarded by thick bushes, calms me, and sets my thoughts on the task at hand. The draught of clean air gifted by cassia, banyan, gulmohar, mango and rain trees leaves me refreshed and ready. I reach the open lawn and stop. A lotus pond lies at my feet and the magnificent white building is inviting. The corner of my eye catches a smooth half-egg of a stone under a pretty tree. I think of the man who lived and talked here, and the extraordinary legacy he left behind.

Rewind to 1929, the year Jiddu Krishnamurti — “Krishnaji” to his admirers — dissolved the Order of the Star of the East and returned the estates to the original donors. Dr. Annie Besant and her friends felt he should have a home in Madras and bought Bishop's Garden in northern Adyar, and got renowned architect Surendranath Kar to design Vasanta Vihar. For 50 years, except during World War II and a brief time in the 70s, he visited Vasanta Vihar regularly to hold discussions — with scientists, sanyasis, scholars, writers, eminent people, as well as everyday people. He saw Vasanta Vihar as a place where “the teachings are the centre.” A resident recalled, “Once, in the middle of a serious conversation, he remarked, 'the world is in darkness' and Vasanta Vihar should act as a centre of light'.”

The December 1936 edition of the Star Camp-Ommen newsletter carried the story of Vasanta Vihar. “Just a year ago, this six-and-a-half-acre square plot was home to a stagnant pool, an open space overgrown with weeds and half-a-dozen shady trees,” it said. “The loving industry” of D. K. Telang helped build the simple and artistic bungalow, surrounded by a neatly-laid-out garden with flowering trees, a spacious lawn and a lotus pool. Trees from South America and casuarinas form the borders of the compound.

The main building has a couple of suites (not open to the public) upstairs, the report went on. People who walked in assembled in the 200-seater hall downstairs or peeped into the two office rooms. When Krishnaji gave his first public speech in Vasanta Vihar on December 6 and 13 (1936), an audience of 600 gathered to listen to him. He spoke on five more days, holding intimate meetings with people who came seeking answers to existential questions. “Krishnaji is developing a remarkable technique of presenting his teachings with forceful directness, free from vagueness,” said the report. His last public talk was on January 4, 1986, on the same grounds.

The master left clear directions on Vasanta Vihar's future. In a 1984 talk, he said, “It must last a thousand years, unpolluted, like a river that has the capacity to cleanse itself, which means no authority whatsoever for the inhabitants.”

No sense of nationality, no racial/religious belief or prejudice should touch the Vasanta Vihar air, he said. If one had a flash of enlightenment, while working in the garden or doing something, “he communicates and has a dialogue with the other inhabitants — to be questioned, doubted and to see the weight of [its] truth. “Vasanta Vihar would not be a place for one's own fulfilment, but for sustaining and nourishing one another in goodness. It would be a place for dialogue/exploration. And yes, it would be a place of great beauty — with trees, birds and quietness. But don't allow it to consume you when you plumb your inner depth for substance.

I talk to long-time residents, sitting where Krishnaji engaged people in conversation. Anecdotes tumble out.

“Once he came down the stairs to step into the garden,” said a woman. “In the lobby, he stopped, moved to one side. It took me a while to realise he was waiting for me to pass, and I was waiting for him to go first!” Another asked Krishnaji what he should do when someone stopped by. He said, 'Just give him a cup of tea.' To a troubled soul he remarked, “Take one right step, others will follow right.”A visitor, today, can spend time at the study, going through books, journals, bulletins, publications and audio/video recordings of the master's thoughts.

He can spend a weekend at Vasanta Vihar — from Friday evening to Sunday night. These unstructured retreats offer one a chance to read, reflect and interact with visitors of different persuasions.

If selected, students can stay up to three months on a scholarship — studying and working at the library, office, kitchen, archives or garden.

I just might take up the weekend offer, but purely to wander in the beautiful garden and listen to birdsong.


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Printable version | May 18, 2022 12:35:52 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/a-serene-sanctuary/article6478619.ece