A man ready to kill and a man adored by parents. Two different people, right?
Dara Singh was a simple boy, a farmer’s son, growing up in the remote village of Khera in Rajasthan. His turning point came when he had to leave home to attend school. Instead of receiving the right kind of education, he was introduced to highly addictive drugs. Forced into addiction by unscrupulous elements, he became a drug peddler to support his unrelenting habit. The illness of addiction became so severe that he was ready to steal, prepared to kill to get a ‘fix.’
Then came another turning point. Dara got caught.
Sentenced to 12 years in 2001 for trying to smuggle 750 grams of heroin into Bihar, the Rajasthan police flung Dara Singh in a prison cell. Little knowing that here was a man who would come to be adored by more than 450 children and their parents just a few years later. A man, whose life had been packed with crime, would become a model worth emulating.
All because of a simple breathing technique.
The Sudarshan Kriya opens up a world of positive possibilities
At first, life in prison was no different from the experience outside. Fear continued to gnaw at Dara’s insides. He was also consumed by a burning desire to escape and avenge his imprisonment. This changed in 2007 when he attended the Art of Living Prison Program in an Udaipur jail. His first Sudarshan Kriya was a powerful experience, making him confront his traumatized emotions. “I cried,” says Dara. “As the program progressed, I felt calm. I continued to practice the technique, and my thoughts changed, I became more positive,” he adds.
It helped that Dara also completed the Youth Leadership Training (YLTP) and the Advanced Meditation Programs. Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s simple yet profound teaching propelled him into a decision that would alter the course of his life forever. He wanted to make a difference, and he did.
Sentenced to 12 years, released after 7
During the YLTP, Dara was motivated to perform both the Sudarshan Kriya continuously for 41 days. It took Dara two years to actually complete the 41 days without a break. And during the two years, he grew more focused and more positive. Incidentally, on the 41st day, the High Court issued his release.
Dara takes commitment to a whole new level
Life had never been easy for Dara, and now, upon his release from jail, he faced the uphill task of overcoming people’s prejudices against him. The fear and hatred, he encountered everywhere, had to be changed into acceptance. The drastic reform in his behavior, his regular meditations enabled him to find a way in his fellow villagers’ hearts. Dara began to organize yoga and meditation programs for the villagers. At the end of the program, people were refreshed and energized and thankful to Dara for the experience. They began to trust him, and his genuine concern for another’s well-being.
In 2011, he became an Art of Living faculty; he, now, had the power to rid people of stress. The breathing techniques were much appreciated, and people started feeling uplifted by the Kriya. In Dara’s words, “People just came forward and started associating with me. I became their hope for a better life.”
Dara was also appointed the administrator of a free school established by the Art of Living. The school takes care of more than 450 children, 55 percent of whom are girls. More than 80 percent of these children are first generation school goers. Apart from the mainstream curriculum, they are also taught yoga; served free, nutritious meals; given free uniforms; textbooks; school bags and treated to the daily commute to school. Dara is supported by 12 teachers and another 4 members of staff. The school is approved by the government, and what is more important, thoroughly accepted by the children.
Here’s what some of them have to say:
Sulochana, Student - 10-year-old Sulochana, Class 4: Is extremely happy. Her brother and sister attend the same school, which makes it fun and she never misses a single day. She loves maths, science, environmental science and scores well. The teachers agree that she is a bright girl.
Sonu, Student - 11-year-old Sonu, Class 5: Used to attend his previous school only twice a week. But he attends Dara’s school daily.
Jeetmal, Parent - Jeetmal has three children studying in the school: Disregarding Dara’s past, Jeetmal has complete trust in Dara's capabilities and his genuine concern for the village children’s education. He says, “Children are studying well, they are taken care of, I do not have to worry about expenses. What more can I ask for?”
Dhanraj, Parent - All three of Dhanraj’s children study in Class 4, 6 and 8. One of them is Sulochana. Dhanraj has undergone schooling only till Class 6, and his wife never attended school. Given that background, he feels very proud that all his children are getting holistic education free of cost. He is inspired by Dara's sense of service.
The middle school is being extended to high school, and general facilities are being upgraded.
Mirroring the school’s progress, Dara Singh’s journey has been an incredible one. From drug addiction to child education; from imprisonment to reform of prisoners; from cruelty to kindness. But perhaps the most telling commentary on Dara’s character and work comes from the parents. They would rather not send their children to any other school.
It is only Dara they can trust their precious children with.