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Gurukulam

An experiential documentary that profiles life at an Indian ashram

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Spend the better part of two hours at a remote ashram in a lush part of Southern India, via Jillian Elizabeth and Neil Dalel’s documentary. It’s an experiential work, as the camera captures students and others going about their daily lives, from the mundane (chopping vegetables and sweeping the yard) to the profound (praying together, meditating on what it all means). The instructor is the saffron-robed Dayananda Saraswati, a traditional teacher of the ancient Vendanta Hindu philosophy. His students range in age, nationality and level of commitment. (It is meant to be a short, months-long course, but several admit to having stayed on for years.) The swami teaches enlightenment through the quiet contemplation of the day-to-day, and comes across as a warm and patient guide. “The stakes are infinite,” says one acolyte, “… the understanding of everything.” Nothing in the film is explained — the viewer is simply immersed in the daily routines and, given the subject matter, is expected to absorb it for what it is and not sweat the details. 

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