Those hurdles in Giridhar Mishra's education have long been overcome. Today, the acharya is master of six languages and is an authority on several religious epics. The Tulsipeeth ashram, which he established in 1987 and which today houses 200-odd handicapped students, is an oasis of serenity and discipline.
The acharya lost his visual faculty at the tender age of two mon-ths, but developed a keen sense of hearing. People around him are still amazed at how the hermit never forgets what he once hears. It's this experience that the sage wants to experiment with in the Chitrakoot Handicapped University (CHU), which will be the only such institution in the world, with refreshing innovations. "In this university the blind will have to take oral examinations," insists the guru. "I know for myself how the blind are cheated by their helpers in a written exam situation," he says.
To begin with, the acharya has trained around 10 teachers. Most of them are now accomplished in instilling confidence and helping the handicapped students inculcate a sense of self-esteem. Says the Jagadguru: "The university will not only aim at giving the students a degree, but also equip and empower them to make a dignified living."
And he himself best exemplifies this. His own examiners duped him while others never recognised, never even understood the need for the blind to learn. But with immense support from his parents and a keen sense of learning, he had memorised the entire Bhagwad Gita by the age of five. This encouraged his great-grandfather Surya Bali Mishra to teach him Tulsidas' Ram Charit Manas next. By the time he was eight, the acharya was ready to embark on his holy journey.
Having mastered the Bhagwad Gita and Ram Charit Manas, the young Mishra developed a stro n u rge for higher education in Sanskrit. He studied Panini's grammar for five years in Jaunpur's Adarsh Shri Gauri Shankar Sanskrit College, after which he came to Varanasi. The Sampurnanand Sanskrit University awarded him a gold medal in '73 for topping the Shastri examination. Since then, he's been honoured in several All India Sanskrit Conferences. The Padmabhushan was awarded to him for having rewritten Panini's Ashtadhyayi in Sanskrit verse. Even A.B. Vajpayee was mpressed with Jagadguru 's immense knowledge of Sanskrit and his devotion for the handicapped when he met him in April '97.
But it's his plans for the university that the achary a 's currently full of. Its foundation has already been laid, adjacent to the Ratnagiri hillock. The university will comprise four colleges, one for the blind, another for the deaf and dumb, a third for the physically handicapped and a school for the mentally re t a rded. will be open to students from all over the world; for the mentally handicapped the college will have classes only up to high school. Funds for the university have been collected from various organisations. Early this month, the Jagadguru met the UP govern o who promised all help. The district magistrate Jagannath Singh is working on shifting the venue away from the Madhya Pradesh borde towards UP because, "the state would take pride in owning such an institution and also there would be no dispute regarding land".
The acharya has chalked out the entire curriculum himself taking into consideration the special needs of the handicapped. Both science and humanities will be taught at the schools; also music and fine art . There will also be a special section for research. The acharya later plans two colleges for medicine, one for allopathy, the other for homoeopathy. Special vocational classes will also train students in areas like bookbinding, food technology, weaving, carpentry and tailoring. Contributions and advice can be sent to Shri Tuslipeeth Seva Nyas, Tulsipeeth Amodavan, PO Janaki Kund, Chitrakoot, District Satna (MP) or call 07670-65478.