This January 4th saw the official opening of ISKCON’s new Varnashrama College, based at Sri Krishna Balarama Ksetra in Udupi, South India, near the national headquarters of the newly established ISKCON Daiva Varnashrama Ministry.
Varnashrama, a traditional vedic social structure of natural vocations and life stages, is often confused with the birth-based caste system—which Vaishnavas consider to be a missaplication of the original ancient system.
The Varnashrama College’s upcoming three-month course teaches students this original system, a vision of ISKCON’s founder Srila Prabhupada. Entitled “Land, Cows and Krishna,” the course will cover topics such as holistic farming, cow protection, and composting. It will also discuss pottery, mud-brick housing construction, manual water-lifting devices that eliminate reliance on electricity, village technologies such as oil ghani, and many other activities related to traditional occupations.
In the mornings, students will visit the fields in Sri Krishna Balarama Ksetra and other rural projects, and will learn from faculty members through observation and practical application. Meanwhile, afternoons will be spent learning the theory and ideology of Varnashrama-based living and occupations. Many international teachers will visit the College throughout the duration of the course to share their areas of expertise, and add to the students’ learning experience.
The College’s own resident faculty, present at the opening ceremony, included project overseer Bhakti Raghava Swami, agricultural manager Giriraja Dasa, Master Potter Laksminatha Dasa, and student counselor Kanai Thakura Dasa.
Also present were yoga therapist Prananatha Dasa and Sundarananda Dasa, manager of the company “Panchagavya Shala Surabhi” which produces various traditional medicines from cow dung and urine.
For now, students will observe a one-week Orientation Period, during which they will visit the neighbouring area, acquaint themselves with the details of the course, learn about some of the basic conditions of the soil and local forest, observe the various flora and fauna in the area and get to interact with fellow students and faculty members.
The course was off to a sacred start at the opening ceremony, with teacher Raya Ramananda Dasa performing a fire sacrifice to invoke auspiciousness, and the traditional “Go-Puja” being offered to resident cow Subhadra and her calf Rama.[ varnashrama-dharma ]