Beginning as simple home sessions, a program designed to teach young children the Srimad-Bhagavatam will soon be offered internationally via Zoom video conference. The resources are already being shared with parents everywhere on the lightofgodhead.com website and WhatsApp Group. Eventually, the full curriculum will be presented as a book.
The seed took root back in 2010, when Syamala Dasi and her husband Madhava Gauranga Das began studying the Srimad-Bhagavatam systematically in Radha Krishna Das’ Bhakti Vaibhava course at ISKCON Seattle.
The in-depth study left Syamala with a deep taste and relish for the “Spotless Purana,” and when she gave birth to twin sons Nrsimha-krsna and Maharathi in 2013, she wanted to pass it on to them.
“I wanted to give them the same taste for Srimad-Bhagavatam at an early age, so that it remains with them for the rest of their lives,” she says.
In June 2018, when her boys turned five, Syamala began inviting their friends and classmates of the same age over to her home in Houston to learn the Bhagavatam in a fun way.
Today, with the blessings of her teacher Radha Krishna Das, she is doing one-hour sessions every Saturday afternoon with ten children aged five to seven years old.
Children learn Srimad-Bhagavatam with Syamala Dasi at the Sadhu Sanga Retreat this year
What’s impressive is that Syamala isn’t just telling stories – she’s teaching very young children the whole Bhagavatam systematically, but in a way that they can relate to.
The kids sit facing her and a big TV screen, upon which she shows a visual summary of the current chapter, with images instead of bullet points. The pictures make it much easier for them to focus on and understand.
Syamala then divides the chapter into multiple philosophical concepts, covering one or two of them each week. First, she explains the concept – for example, the first chapter says that the Srimad-Bhagavatam is understood only by devotees who are pure at heart.
“These are young children, and I am building their whole spiritual vocabulary,” she says. “If I just say ‘Pure at heart,’ they won’t know what it means. So I explain that there are six enemies we all have in our hearts – lust, anger, greed, illusion, pride and envy. And one who doesn’t have these enemies is considered pure at heart.”
Syamala then teaches the children a simple sing-along poem to help them remember the concept; in this case, “Lust, anger, greed, illusion, pride, envy / are six enemies of the soul.” She further explains each “enemy” with examples at their level. An audio clip of the poem goes home with them too, so they can sing and learn it throughout the week.
An example of the visual summary for Canto 1, Chapter 2
Next, the children do an activity, such as art, based on the concept, and Syamala tells a related story from the Bhagavatam – for instance, to illustrate anger, she tells the story of Durvasa Muni getting angry at Ambarisa Maharaja. Finally, the session ends with the children putting on a quick drama of the story they just heard.
“That way, they live the story,” Syamala says. “And by the end of the session, they have a deep impression of the concept. Of course, with this method, each chapter can cover up to a dozen concepts, and can take at least three months to go through. But there’s no rush – we just want the kids to have a very fun learning experience.”
At each session, Syamala also recaps what has been covered in the chapter so far, so that by the end of the three months the children have heard it many times and are able to narrate a summary of the whole chapter.
This fun and in-depth exploration of the Bhagavatam has implanted a deep and growing understanding of Krishna conscious philosophy in the children who attend the class.
“For example, we learned the little song ‘Nitya-baddha is always conditioned, always bound / nitya-mukuta is liberated, always free,’” says Syamala. “At first, they sing it for fun, and don’t contemplate it. But over time, they start to ask questions. One day at bedtime, my son asked, ‘How are we bound? I am free, I’m able to walk everywhere.’ And I could explain in simple terms, ‘It means we are bound in the cycle of birth and death. But when we allow Krishna into our hearts, we can be freed from the cycle.’”
A child's project for SB_1.1.1 showing that Lord Krishna is the cause of all causes
On another occasion, while discussing death with six-year-old Nrsimha-krsna after an earthquake, the boy said, “Death is good. Then I can go back to Krishna.” To test him, Syamala asked, “Butyou have a father and mother who are giving you so much affection here – are you sure you want to go to Krishna?” Nrsimha replied, “Krishna is my real father, my real mother.” And when Syamala added, “Unless we develop love for Krishna, we will not go to Him after death,” the boy returned confidently: “I love Krishna.”
“They’re more and more able to communicate the ideas they learn, and it’s forming their consciousness, forming their goal in life,” Syamala explains.
This December, Syamala and her family will be moving to Mayapur, India, and will no longer be able to offer classes locally in Houston. But through her website lightofgodhead.com and WhatsApp group, she is sharing the resources for other parents to teach their children. There are already forty members in the group.
Once she moves to Mayapur, Syamala will begin offering online classes on the Zoom video conferencing app for children all over the world, starting in January or February 2020. She will also offer special training for parents and teachers.
Already, ISKCON temples in Silicon Valley, California and Austin, Texas have enquired about teaching the curriculum at their Sunday School programs. In the future, once she builds the curriculum for all the chapters of Srimad-Bhagavatam, Syamala plans to compile them in a book that can be used in classroom.
“This model can be replicated everywhere easily, and I envision it to be a very broadly consumable curriculum,” Syamala says. “Myonly desire is to share our good fortune with others.”
Radha Krishna Das, Syamala’s teacher and a major inspiration and supporter for the program, encourages others to take advantage of it.
“Many devotee parents worry about their children’s devotional lives, and if they’ll continue as they get older,” he says. “Syamala Matajai’s program helps to instill the core values of Krishna consciousness in young minds. Exposing the children to Bhagavatam in a fun-filled way as Syamala Mataji is doing is a guarantee that many of our children will become attached to Krishna sooner ratherthan later!”
* * *
Find the resources to teach Kids’ Bhagavatam here:
To join the community and get an invite for the online Zoom classes when they start, subscribe to the WhatsApp group here: https://chat.whatsapp.com/invite/GOGz54aavtDJXGJlqbbc6X[ bhagavatam ] [ education ] [ houston ]