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  • Writer's pictureAmal Dev M

Puvidham: A University for Sustainable Living

Updated: Sep 21, 2022

Parindey: Madhav Raj

Alivelihood: Education

Region: Dharmapuri, Tamil Nadu

“This journey of my life started from Puvidham. I met my life partner here and our children study here.”

- Madhav Raj

Madhav Raj presents drawing books and crayons to children as part of Diwali celebrations (Photo: Amal Dev)

Puvidham is an alternative school or learning centre that provides a humane and child-centred educational environment. Puvidham means love for the earth. Madhavaraj is not just the correspondent of Puvidham, but also a role model for children. He has been learning and growing with Puvidham for 22 years now.

Madhav Raj and Meenakshi meeting teachers (Photo: Amal Dev)

Madhavaraj was born and raised in a small village called Balajangamanahalli in Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu. He belongs to a poor family. His father had two acres of land and farming was their only means of livelihood. After the completion of his 12th grade schooling, he was doing odd jobs in construction sites and wondering about what to do next, when he got to know about a vacancy for a teacher at an alternative school called Puvidham in Nagarkoodal village, just 4 km from his farm further away from the town of Nallampalli.

He thought that while teaching he could also take care of the education of his sister’s 3-year-old child. From the dressing style to the academic ideas of Meenakshi and Umesh, the founding duo of Puvidham felt unbelievably new and refreshing for Madhav Raj.

At the same time Madhav Raj was also ashamed of the academic environment that he studied in. “I have put down the same essay that I learnt in 10th standard for 12th as well and I’m still embarrassed about the same,” says Madhav Raj. He concluded from the discussions with Meenakshi and Umesh that they want to set a path that is different from the traditional learning system. That is how Madhav Raj joined as a teacher at Puvidham in 2000.

Students indulging in gardening along with their teacher. (Photo: Amal Dev)

Meenakshi and her life partner Umesh came to Nagarkoodal village in 1992 to live a simple life and grow their own food organically and hoping to research about Meenakshi’s educational ideas. The present greenery of Puvidham is due to the transformation of the 12-acre barren land which they bought in 1992. Dharmapuri had a dry arid climate and always faced acute scarcity of water. In 1992, when Meenakshi and Umesh moved into this place, there were no water sources for even the namesake of it. Initially, they used to bring water for drinking by a cycle from a borewell in the neighbouring hamlet of Avvainagar which was located at a distance of 1 km and for animals and other household use Meenakshi used to carry water pots by headloads from a spring around 300 meters away. Later in 2003, they bought a place with a source of water, which was the location of the hostel (Old Hostel) till 2013, from where they started transporting water by tankers for the school and house. In addition to this, the lifestyle and the agricultural methods that are implemented in Puvidham helps them immensely in managing the above-mentioned scarcity of water. Dry-toilets and the urine-water mixture they use for cultivation are two of the best examples of the same.

Meenakshi did not want her children to study in the mainstream educational systems due to her own experiences. “Highly competitive cast of minds as well as a destructive mentality towards nature with a manifestation of dual behaviour is what the mainstream education cultivates and I had no intention to send my children to these schools. Therefore, I decided to home-school my children,” added Meenakshi. Meenakshi was from Uttar Pradesh and she wanted her children to learn in the language of the place where they lived, that was the reason why she appointed Madhav Raj, to teach herself and her children Tamil.

Meenakshi caring for the cows at Puvidham. (Photo: Amal Dev)

Sustainable living is the major goal of Puvidham as a learning centre. Madhav Raj initially doubted how parents would send their children to a school without exams, ranks or blackboards. However today, including his son, around eighty children study in this space. The students indulge themselves in everything from agriculture to cooking, which is necessary for a person’s day to day sustainable living.

The syllabus for a sustainable living at Puvidham is divided into five categories: Sun, Earth, Water, Air and Atmosphere. The syllabus for each class is prepared after considering the NCERT guidelines as well as the age of the learners. Each module consists of four stories in two languages. Whatever they learn in Tamil during the morning session is taught in English during the afternoon session. Children are introduced to new concepts via activities and games. Soap manufacturing, agriculture, cooking, woodwork, arts and crafts are essential aspects of their syllabus. When the world is chasing mainstream education systems, children who aren’t built into brain-machines but raised as living and breathing beings are being moulded at Puvidham.

Students fetching water for gardening at Puvidham. (Photo: Amal Dev)

“It took me more than three years to comprehend the ideas that are put forward through the education provided at Puvidham,” adds Madhav Raj. Meenakshi sent Madhav Raj to Vikasana, situated at Bangalore for further training only after three months of him joining Puvidham. He considers that one month’s training period at Vikasana, under the guidance of Malathi akka, as the next stage of his life. He learnt how to interact with children and how to teach them from there. After returning from Bangalore, his perspective towards education started to change. Along with Meenakshi, Madhav Raj prepared a new syllabus incorporating the academic needs of the children, in 2009. It was the beginning of a beautiful change. It paved the way for the children to learn more from and along with the rest of nature.

Madhav Raj is still learning from his journey at Puvidham. There were many obstacles that he had to face during this journey. One such obstacle was his short-tempered nature as a teacher. “I was a teacher who used to get angry even for small mistakes committed by the students. Even though Meenakshi akka had warned me numerous times for beating the children, my anger used to get the better of me. However, a student I taught changed my perspective,” said Madhav Raj. When physical punishment was a part of his teaching method, one day a child came in without doing her homework. The answer he got for why the child did not do the homework made him laugh. “I had written it on this page, but now it is not there,” was the child’s answer. After which the child showed her hand in advance with a numbness expecting to receive the punishment. After this incident, Madhav Raj stopped getting angry with children and learnt to trust them and laugh with them.

Madhav Raj along with the residential students of Puvidham during an online class for students staying at home due to the spread of COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Amal Dev)

“One thing that has surprised me about Madhav Raj is his sincerity. His learning instincts are still in place and very active as well. Children love to spend their time with him as he tells them stories from his life experiences as well as his travel journeys. I made sure he travelled all the way to the Himalayas to see the country. Every year the 7th and 8th class children and Madhavaraj travel to far off places and spend at least a month away from home!” Says Meenakshi.

In the last 22 years from its foundation, Madhav Raj has been there as a part of the ups and downs of Puvidham. Madhav Raj has not only succeeded in spreading the philosophy of sustainable living to children but has also succeeded in embracing it to his heart. He still aspires to spread these concepts to numerous children in future. When Meenakshi lives as the heart of Puvidham, Madhav Raj’s contribution to each of its beats is immense.

Madhav Raj can be reached at:

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Translated from Malayalam to English by Anju Chithrakumar

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