‘If God can look after every living being on the planet, look after the animals and plants, then why would God not look after us.’ Such is the strong belief that Sri Gnanananda ashram, in Visakhapatnam, operates with, and seeing for a fact that they have been sustaining since 1955, makes one believe that faith in the powers above is possible.
It all started in 1955 when Swami Gynananada Bharati set up an ashram in Visakhapatnam. A gift deed granted them nine acres of land in 1958 and allowed them to have temple services that promoted the sadhu-guru shishya tradition. With not many governmental regulations at that point in time, it was easier to start operations and the ashram devoted their energies not only to Hanuman- the lord of courage but also to children who needed support. Initially, the ashram gave shelter to older children who had already finished their 10th grade. But soon, it also started accepting younger children as well.
“We only take children who are either orphans, are neglected by their parents or whose parents are too sick to care for them,” says Swami Poornananda Saraswati, the ashram in-charge. He also adds that they never go looking out for children, and take only the children who come to them, sometimes even from as far as the Andamans.
Talking about their contribution to society, Guruji shares that today thousands of the ashram’s students are well settled. ‘They have gone on to become RTC conductors, drivers and hold other office posts as well. One of them even retired as a school principal recently.’
The Gnanananda ashram in Visakhapatnam also has a unique way of operating. ‘Our guru taught us not to take any ‘gift’ from our students. We live like any other being in the world. We enjoy what we get.’ They do not accept donations in the form of cash; neither do they go looking for funds. ‘If people come and ask us what we want we tell them our requirements for the week.’ So on some days, the family at Gynananand has a sumptuous meal, while on other days they just go with the simple food they get.’
The children usually leave after their tenth grade, though a few stay on till they complete college. Along with regular schooling at a nearby convent, they are also taught moral lessons and vocational skills too. The children have a packed schedule, as they get up early in the morning at 5 AM and retire for the night by 7 PM.
Having looked after over 2000 students since Swami Poornananda Saraswati took charge in 1984, this is the haven of safety for children who have no other place to go to. Here they learn the Shlokas, eat a Satvik diet and have a disciplined good life. Future plans include starting a Veda pathshala.
The ashram’s principles seem rather strange and unconventional. One would wonder why they refuse money when that would perhaps help them sort many of their issues. But this is the philosophy that has kept them focused on what they have been doing since the inception of the ashram. That is no mean feat. The old-age wisdom that they imbibed from their Guru has been their strength and we at Yo! hope that such will be the case for many more years to come.
The article was first published in Yo! Vizag in 2016