1. What is Balagokulam?
Gokulam is the place where Lord Krishna’s magical childhood days were spent. It was here that his divine powers came to light. Every child has that spark of divinity within.
Balagokulam is a forum for children to discover and manifest that divinity. It will enable Hindu children in the US to appreciate their cultural roots and learn Hindu values. This is done through weekly planned activities, which include games, yoga, stories, bhajans (songs), shlokas (prayers), and arts and crafts.
2. Children of what age are allowed in Balagokulam?
Children of ages 5 and above can participate in the Balagokulam. The children are grouped into two age-based groups. (See FAQ #17 for more info) Teenagers and adults have their own activities within the Balagokulam center as well. No one is denied entrance to the Balagokulam center, regardless of age or anything else
3. What language is used as the means of communication in Balagokulam?
English is used to communicate in each Balagokulam. The shlokas, prayers, are mostly in Sanskrit language. Songs are mostly in Hindi and sometimes in English, Sanskrit or any other Indian language.
4. Do you teach regional language in Balagokulam?
We always encourage children to speak in their mother tongue at home and with friends from similar background. We strongly believe that Bhasha (language), Bhusha (dressing) and Aachar (manners) make and sustain our Sanskriti (culture).
Since children at Balagokulam come from different regions, they have different mother-tongues. Learning one more common Indian language (example Hindi) in addition to their mother-tongue is sometimes hard on them. Hence we have English as the primary means of communication in Balagokulam. At many Balagokulams, a separate session is conducted after Balagokulam to teach Indian language(s) provided there are volunteers to conduct the sessions. Shared repository of resources (syllabus, teaching material used at other places) to teach these language(s) should be useful in this regard.
5. How do I become a member?
It’s very simple. Just show up at a Balagokulam center, thus becoming a part of Balagokulam family. “Once a swayamsevak*, always a swayamsevak.” There are no fees for the Balagokulam activities.
7. If I would like to start one in my area, what are the steps involved?
The only things required to start a new one are: passion and time! We will help you and the local team there to develop skills to conduct a Balagokulam, as well as provide all the necessary support for its sustenance by providing resources and frequent visits by our Karyakartas*. We have a special Balagokulam Teachers’ Training workshop specifically for the skills development of new Shikshaks*.
8. Tell me more about Balagokulam Teachers’ Training workshop.
It’s a one-day daytime workshop. The workshops covers the “who, what, where, when, and why’s” to conduct various activities for children in Balagokulam. Time will also be given to discuss/share the challenges, experiments, experiences, team-building and teaching techniques amongst the workshop participants.
9. How much time do I have to commit for starting a new Balagokulam?
To ensure organization, efficiency, and quality in the Balagokulam, we would expect that you commit at least 2 hours on the Balagokulam day. This includes 90 minutes of Balagokulam, and ½ hour of preparation/planning either before or after the Balagokulam. At least one hour of planning and sampark* is expected every week. At least once every 2-months, we would expect your Balagokulam to host an abhyas varg* for karyakartas. Once every month, to maintain organization in the Balagokulam, we would suggest a planning bhaitak* amongst the karyakartas.
10. What is sampark?
Simply, it means keeping in touch. Contacting new potential families who could come to Balagokulam and maintaining contact with those already coming to Balagokulam. Sampark is regularly executed by spending some time with a family every once in a while. But, sampark for large events such as utsavs* in your Balagokulam would require telecommunication to inform families of the event.
11. Also what is the abhyas-varga?
We recommend having a practice session for all shikshaks at least one hr every week. This is to re-enforce the teaching skills, learning new skills and trying them out in the abhyas varga before conducting a session in Balagokulam.
12. And what about baithak?
Baithak is a crucial part in the team-building process amongst shikshaks in the Balagokulam. In the baithak, shikshaks review the activities of the past month, plan for the upcoming month, share thoughts/ideas about new projects/activities and discuss the progress of all children coming to Balagokulam. The bhaitaks obviously are vital in maintaining an organized Balagokulam. Bhaitaks are usually held at a different shikshak’s house each time.
13. What is the minimum set of activities for a Balagokulam?
At a minimum, each Balagokulam should start with hoisting the saffron flag (which is considered as the Guru in Sangh*) and end with prarthana*. Most or all of the activities should remain regular and consistent. Frequent changing of the activities is discouraged. A typical time-line for a Balagokulam is given below (total 90 min):
5 min — Flag hoisting and starting prayer
15 min — Warm-up and surya-namaskar (sun salutation) and yoga
25 min — Games
15 min — Chanting of shlokas
5 min — Singing a group song
20 min — Story/discussion
5 min — Prarthana
14. Where can we get the saffron flag from?
Once the Balagokulam activity gets stabilized and regularized, the Karyavaha (HSS secretary) for the local/nearest area will award a dhwaja (saffron flag) to that Balagokulam.
15. Why do we pray to the saffron flag?
We treat saffron flag as our guru (guide) in Sangh. Sangh is not a person or personality oriented organization. The source which has inspired generations for times immemorial is the saffron flag. Hence as a symbolic representation we bow to the saffron flag and treat it as our Guru.
16. How could the responsibilities be divided in Balagokulam?
In the Balagokulam, one person is assigned as the Mukhya-shikshak. He/she trains other karyakartas, and plays a key role in the planning and implementation phase of the Balagokulam. The Karyavaha of the Balagokulam is primarily responsible for overseeing the activities and environment of the Balagokulam. He/she also acts as an interface between the Balagokulam and society, in the sense that he/she maintains communication with local press and other personnel. Bala-shikshaks plan the children’s activities and implement them, working with the shareerik pramukh to conduct physical activities and the bauddhik pramukh to conduct stories/intellectual activities.
17. What are the various gana(s) in shaakha?
An effective Balagokulam has a bala gana, shishu gana, kishor gana and a tarun gana . Children between the ages of 5 to 8 are grouped in the shishu gana. Children between the ages of 9 to 12 are grouped in the bala gana. Teens of ages 12 to 17 are grouped in the kishor gana, and those 18 and older are grouped in the tarun gana, which consists of mahila (women) and purush (men). Grouping varies per shakha based on the number of swayamsevaks* and sevikas*. In each shaakha, the whole family is engaged in fun-filled, sanskaar-imparting (character building) activities in an enthusiastic environment. This is what makes a prabhavi (effective) shaakha.
18. Who is a swayamsevak/sevika and also how about shaakha and Balagokulam?
Each shaakha is branch of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh. And the children’s program in shaakha is simply referred to as ‘Balagokulam’
A person who comes to shaakha activities is called either a swayamsevak (male voluteer) and sevika (female voluteer). Thus a swayamsevak / sevika is a self-motivated person (volunteer) serving the society through tyaga (sacrifice) and sewa (service) without expecting anything in return.
19. How do we balance the expenses we incur for conducting Balagokulam activities?
The Sangh organization should be self-standing and self-sustaining. Once a year on the Guru-poornima day, swayamsevak(s) and sevika(s) contribute their Guru-dakshina (monetary offering) in front of Guru (the saffron flag). The contributions collected are used for entire year’s activities and expenses.
20. How many such centers are there in US?
At present, there are more than 200 Balagokulam centers in the USA and it’s growing steadily.
21. What other activities/projects should a Balagokulam have?
There are numerous activities to list, a few of them worth mentioning here would be: picnic, visiting old-age homes, community service activities, parents-children get together, celebrating Hindu festivals, Balagokulam magazine, Hindu Heritage Camps for children, and many more creative projects are undertaken at various Balagokulam(s).
22. How could I contribute towards this noble cause?
By giving your time and talent. There are numerous ways you could help in: conducting various activities in an ongoing Balagokulam, which include organizing Hindu Heritage camps, resource generation (example syllabus, web-site, multi-media etc), being active contributor to Balagokulam Magazine etc. Of course, the least one could do is to promote this noble cause and encourage children, parents and teachers to contribute.
23. How do you compare Balagokulam activities with children’s activities conducted by other organizations?
The task of sustaining Hindu culture in our next generation is so huge that no single individual or organization could do it alone. Yet, every single individual or organization’s part is significant and important. We do recognize, respect, learn from and share with the children’s activities run by various organizations.
HSS Balagokulam focuses on building personal sanskaar also social sanskaar. Social consciousness & awareness, giving time for the society and building social leadership skills are stressed through various Balagokulam activities.
24. Could you explain how these various activities help in building social leadership you talked about?
Our approach is all-round integrated personality development of individual based on ancient wisdom of Hindu thought and philosophy. Personality is influenced by one’s spiritual, social, cultural, physical, emotional behavior. Through a planned set of sharirik (physical) and boudhik (intellectual) activities, we enhance and socially orient these various aspects of individual’s personality. All the events and activities in Shaakha / Balagokulam are by and for group and not individual, thus come the lessons of team-work and leadership.
We have activities for the entire family. Family is the basic unit of society, and is composed of individuals. Through committed individual comes transformation in the family. Such transformed families would then bring social reformation.
25. I think, I have started understanding Balagokulam. Could you tell me the mission of Sangh?
Sangh‘s mission is to establish peace and harmony in the world in the light of Dharma. The means to achieve that is to practice, promote, and preserve all-inclusive principles of Hindu Dharma and its Dharmic roots in the society.
*1: swayamsevak: Male volunteer of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh; one who indulges in selfless service for society by Sangh ideology
*2: sevika: Female volunteer of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh
*3: karyakarta: A swayamsevak or sevika who actively takes up responsibilities in Sangh work.
*4: shikshak: The instructor of the activity going on; the karyakarta who oversees the activities for a particular age group.
*5: sampark: see FAQ # 10
*6: abhyas varg: see FAQ # 11
*7: baithak: see FAQ # 12
*8: utsav: a festival celebrated in Sangh
*9: Sangh: the term used to describe all organizations sharing our ideology and equally implementing the regular shaakha as one whole unified body.
*10: Prarthana: the melodic shloka describing the Sangh mission and vision, which is chanted as a conclusion of the shaakha.