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Wednesday, Jun 15 2016

Neil Dalal and Jillian Elizabeth's documentary Gurukulam is a largely arc-free look at life in the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam in scenic Tamil Nadu, India. Students of all stripes travel there from around the globe to study the Hindu school of philosophy known as Advaita Vedanta from Swami Dayananda Saraswati for three months, though some stay for considerably longer. The film is less about the hardcore spiritual stuff than the nuts and bolts of daily life — much of it is just people getting from one place to another — and some talking heads about what brought them there, or how the outside world reacts to their life choices. (A young man from England diplomatically refers to a visit with his disapproving parents as not being "as straightforward as I thought it would be.") Though Swami Dayananda's lectures and guided meditations get a fair amount of screen time and are ultimately more compelling than the quotidian slice-of-life elements, Gurukulam lacks the hagiographic treatment found in thematically similar documentaries such as Awake: The Life of Yogananda. There's also something refreshing in Swami Dayananda's description of the god-like figure of Isvara as a mother, rather than the father metaphor of more patriarchal religions, and it begins to make sense that people would come for months and stay for years.


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Sherilyn Connelly


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