The Art of Living International Centre - service and spirituality

Tue, 06/07/2010

At a young age just after his graduation, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar started receiving invitations from different parts of the world to give lectures on Vedic knowledge. He traveled to universities in Europe where he interacted with many scholars and professors. On one such occasion, a German university invited Guruji to their library that housed volumes of Sanskrit manuscripts and sought his help to decode them. Guruji decided to get Sanskrit scholars from India for this work. On returning to India, he searched extensively for Sanskrit pundits but found a big between orthodox Sanskrit pundits and those with a scientific outlook.

To bridge this, Guruji formed a committee comprising well known Sanskrit scholars and respected members of society such as Justice V R Krishna Iyer (former Chief Justice of India), Justice P N Bhagavati, Chief Secretary Narasimha Rao and N. Laxman Rao (Former Administrator, Bangalore City Municipal Corporation) with the sole intention of reviving the science and knowledge of the Vedas. This was the basis on which a few prominent citizens of Karnataka along with Guruji’s father, Sri R S V Ratnam established Ved Vignan Maha Vidya Peeth (VVMVP) in 1981 to take Guruji’s vision forward.

In 1985, VVMVP applied for 100 acres of fertile land close to a forest on Bannnerghatta Road to build a Vedic academy. Gundu Rao, the Chief Minister of Karnataka at the time, agreed to allot the land. In the couple of years that followed, it transpired that the land to be given to us had been given to Islamia Institute. The Chief Minister then gave alternative land to VVMVP off Kanakapura road.
This was sixty acres of barren land covered with rocks where nothing grew. There was not a single tree!

The same barren land where not even grass or weed would grow has now been transformed into a beautiful ashram with trees and gardens where tens of thousands of people from all over the world come and find joy and peace in their lives!

Although it was such arid land, VVMVP agreed to take it on lease for a period of thirty years. Even though the full amount was paid to the government at the time of the purchase, VVMVP had to wait an additional two years to take possession of it. By this time, locals had begun encroaching upon the land. When the officials gave VVMVP permission to take possession of the land, only 24 acres was available of the sixty acres, as villagers who had settled on the land had usurped the rest. The land authorities were on the verge of removing the settlers when Guruji intervened and said that VVMVP would take only 24 acres and allow the villagers to remain where they were. The villagers who had feared forcible evacuation were furthermore taken by surprise when Guruji instructed his people to dig the first bore-well in the land and supply water to all the huts around.

Guruji not only prevented the evacuation and demolition from taking place, he allowed them to then legally own the land, which they had illegally occupied! Subsequently, VVMVP approached the Government to have the remaining land, due to it, somewhere else. It was in the mid nineties that the government allotted 19.5 acres of land on the opposite side of where the ashram now stands. This was also a barren hill. At present VVMVP still does not have all of 60 acres of land, which was allotted to it in the mid eighties and is still awaiting an additional 16.5 acres.

Since there was no school in the vicinity, Guruji started a rural school for all the children from neighboring villages, and built a water tank for the villagers. This school provides free education to children until class 10. As of now, more than 2000 children are studying in the school. It was Guruji’s wish that kutcha huts in neighboring villages be transformed to a simple proper house with toilets and the Ashram set about putting this in motion.

Udipalya village was the first village to be adopted by the 'Art of Living' to implement its various service projects. Now, 'Art of Living' volunteers have worked in thousands of villages in India and in many under-developed and developing countries. The ashram’s activities have given a boost to the local economy. However, Guruji often says that this is but a drop in the ocean and there is much to be done.

Since some malefactors have come up with stories that the 'Art of Living' ashram has grabbed land from poor people, the foundation felt compelled to present the truth behind each piece of land possessed by VVMVP. It was Guruji who helped the villagers get land in their name.

Then VVMVP bought another 8 acres, next to the lake, near the ashram. This land was purchased from people around the lake, which was all set to be used for a poultry farm.

Karnataka Financial Corporation auctioned another piece of land in the north of the ashram. It was auctioned twice and our bid was accepted. Mr. Gopal Krishna and Ms Arti Krishna put lot of pressure and challenged this transaction in court. Her appeal was dismissed in the High court and then by the Supreme Court.

In 2005, preparations for the Silver Jubilee celebrations of the 'Art of Living' were on. Hundreds of thousands of people from all over India and the world were expected in Bangalore and at the Ashram for the event. In light of this the 'Art of Living' purchased fourteen acres of land from a person named Vijay. All the land documents were verified, and a notice was issued in the newspapers calling for any objections. After waiting for six months for any response, the land was bought from him at market price. After we took legal possession of land, a gentleman called Mr. Paul challenged the sale claiming that Vijay’s father was his business partner and owed him money.

Mr. Agni Sridhar, a don turned tabloid owner/publisher, with a criminal background, has suddenly worn the garb of a messiah of the Dalits! He recently alleged that the ashram had grabbed the land of the aforementioned Vijay, a dalit, who as it turns out is a Brahmin. Paul coming on Television and saying that ashram has grabbed his land is baseless! We had even requested Vijay and Paul to settle their grievances amicably. We will never agree to any unfair practices and we will follow the verdict of the court.

Where is the question of land grabbing? We have always bought land at the current market value after checking all the legalities. Land laws in Karnataka are stringent and it takes a lot of time for the deal to become legal. By the time land is registered, years pass and prices soar high. After the deal is made, by the time you actually get possession, sometimes you pay ten times more. Nevertheless we have always paid the correct value for the land. Often we have lost land, because we did not wish indulge in bribery.

In recent years, when more people began coming to the ashram, more accommodation and facilities were required. Over the years, the foundation and members of the foundation have acquired additional land: 22 acres of land from Mr. Kashinath, 8 acres from Colonel Sobti, 16 acres from Mr. Madhusoodan Baliga, 13 acres from Shiva Kumar, 15 acres from various farmers.

Currently, we are in the process of acquiring few acres more of land for the Ayurveda hospital and educational institutions. Our legal cell is looking into the necessary permissions and papers required.

The organization’s growth has been an up hill task, which has been successfully undertaken and is a shining example of how one can grow against the institutionalized impediments that exist. One need not succumb to corruption and bribery in order to grow with haste and we have led by example.

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