The unparalleled service to society done by Sadhu Vaswani and later ably carried forward by J.P. Vaswani, or Dada Vaswani as he is fondly called, is well appreciated by all. Sadhu T. L. Vaswani, a spiritual leader, professed the need for love and reverence for the betterment of humanity. Born in 1879 in Hyderabad, Sind, he moved to India after Partition and later on to Pune on February 13, 1949. Consequently, the city stays as the headquarters of the Sadhu Vaswani Centre with 69 other centres spread out globally. Sadhu Vaswani worked for various commendable initiatives such as the Mira Movement in Education started for the upliftment of women. Today, the Centre, lead by Dada Vaswani, works on four pillars namely, Seva, Healthcare, Education, and Satsang or spiritual upliftment.
To know more about Gurudev Sadhu Vaswani and his philosophical teachings, a unique museum is open for the public at the Sadhu Vaswani Mission. Called the Darshan Museum, it was inaugurated on August 1, 2011 by noted film actor Aamir Khan and has since then attracted a wide audience. This space redefines the notion of what museums are about. Of course, there are artifacts on display and it showcases glimpses of a bygone era, but the brilliant use of technology literally brings the past alive. It’s like a biopic, but at times even better than that, considering there are life-like statues and 3D holographic imagery which make the picture very real.
The Sadhu Vaswani Mission (10 Sadhu Vaswani Path, next to GPO, Pune 411001; +91-20-40064447; www.sadhuvaswani.org) in itself has a serene setting. It’s a sprawling expanse with lush green trees and a meditative air. As a practice, every devotee first does Sadhu Vaswani’s samadhi darshan before attending any further activity. August 2 is Dada Vaswani’s 97th birthday and, at the time of going to press, hectic preparations were in full swing for the week-long celebrations beginning July 29. Mandaps were being constructed and posters placed at different places announcing the programme schedule. The theme this time is ‘Pilgrimage to Love’ and there will be inspirational talks by Dada himself apart from bhajan, kirtan, seva, and a maha mritunjaya yagna mahotsav. A 97-hour-long akhand havan and recitation of Maha Mritunjaya Mantra was to begin at 6.30am on July 29 and will end on August 2. As a promise to remind humanity of how important it is to instill love and let go of negative attributes, August 2 is also celebrated as International Forgiveness Day. In that effect, the mission requests a two-minute silence at 2pm, on August 2, as a Global Forgiveness Moment, or the Moment of Calm.
The museum is situated on the first floor of the mission building and is spread over an expansive 10,000 sq ft. Open every day from 11am to 7pm (barring Thursdays, January 26, May 1, and August 15), entry is for three-year-olds and above. Entry is free, but a registration form has to be filled. At the reception, one can opt for either English or Hindi as the preferred language for the tour. It’s a guided tour and takes a little over 90 minutes to complete. From the very beginning, it is impressive and fascinating. Efficiently managed too—you are first given an idea about the dos and don’ts, how the tour will take place, and then there is an usher guiding you throughout the duration for any assistance.
Internationally renowned artists, designers, and art directors have been pressed into service to recreate Sadhu Vaswani’s biography with mind-boggling state-of-the-art technology. The life story of the fakir unfolds from one chamber of the enclosure to another, moving at a pace allowing you to fully absorb the teachings. There is a fine balance of props, paintings, relics, high-definition visuals, and light effects to create the era. The smooth narrative oscillates between audio clippings, movie clips, and a crisp voice-over, ensuring there is no monotony in the storytelling. However, it is the use of 3D holographic images which leaves you totally awestruck. A first-of-its-kind in the country, a couple of illustrations from Sadhu Vaswani’s life are depicted using this form of technology. The finest display of it, however, would be the ‘interactive’ session at the very end, where Sadhu Vaswani answers some pertinent questions from the ‘audience’, a realistic audio coming from different sides of the seating area, making quite an impact. All the more, considering the podium even presents a prop setting of Sadhu Vaswani’s favourite banyan tree beside which he ‘comes’ and sits on a chair. Or that of Dada Vaswani later joining in to share his thoughts. It is truly a multidisciplinary spatial experience, as though the revered spiritual leaders come on stage and talk in person.
Though there is a lovely variety in terms of the installations, the storytelling remains seamless and exciting. Worth mentioning in this regard would be the fresco paintings highlighted with profound light effect on how Sadhu Vaswani progressed as a fakir. Such installations not only tell a part of the spiritual guru’s life, but also effortlessly touch a cord—be it of purification of the soul or the power of prayer.
November 25, Sadhu Vaswani’s birth date, is well recognised globally as the International Meatless and Animal Rights Day. His fervent appeal to stop animal slaughter is touchingly recreated as one of the instances in the Darshan Museum. The sculptures used—in the butcher’s shop or the kali mata mandir scene with statues of him, his father, and the priest—are stunningly life-like. The uncanny resemblance of the figures to real people, replete with hand wrinkles to emotions in the eyes, makes you feel that any second they might turn and walk away. This amalgamation of high-end multimedia technology with light-and-sound effects sends across the core message in a far effective manner. Not surprising then that the Darshan Museum has earned quite a few accolades. It is ranked as one of the top 10 museums in India and also as the most preferred tourist attraction in Pune city by the portal TripAdvisor.
Much care has been taken to include the minutest of features while creating each set. For example, if a particular life story is depicted through an audio-visual or even through paintings, the surrounding walls and the floor sport memorabilia to make the time period look most authentic. The last section of the journey, which depicts how the Nuri Granth was written, is set in a forest. Imagine the detailing which shows moss patches on the rocks and moist-looking soil.
The biographical journey begins with his childhood and eventually leads the guests to the ‘kutiya’ where Sadhu Vaswani spent his final days. He breathed his last on January 16, 1966, and an oil lamp has since been kept burning in the kutiya. The atmosphere in here is one of supreme tranquillity when the Maha Mritunjaya Mantra is recited at 1-1.30pm daily.
The Darshan Museum promises to be a technologically and spiritually enriching experience. More importantly, it is a fine example of how cutting edge technology can be engaged to spread the age-old message of love and peace among people today.