Sri Kanyakumari Gurukula Ashram is a charitable organization. The kind donation will be used to give free, total residential care to orphans, most poor destitute children and other most needy, homeless children, till they complete their education and are able to settle in life. All aid is used to provide free of cost shelter, food, clothes, medical care, leisure programmes, education and habilitation support to needy, poor children. The Admission is open to most poor and needy children irrespective of age, sex, caste, creed, or social background. The ashram also supports destitute and poor women in need.
The founder of Sri Kanyakumari Gurukula Ashram, Mrs. V. Alamelu Ammal was from Tanjore in Tamil Nadu. When she and her Guru set out on a pilgrimage and came to Kanyakumari on a visit in 1952, she started a home to care for the most needy, homeless poor, particularly children. A long, old, stone building called Oottuperai (free feeding place), near the famous Temple of the Goddess Sri Devi Kanyakumari, was rented on a nominal rent of Rs. 10 a month to provide shelter and care to children, women and the aged andto alleviate their hunger and suffering. With the renting of the building, the ashram was born. The date of founding of the ashram was established as August 25, 1952, from the details known.
The town of Kanyakumari was then called Cape Comorin. The ancient and famous Temple of the Goddess, Sri Devi Kanyakumari, is built on the sea shore close to the southern tip where the three seas meet. The sacred Gayatri Mantra of the Goddess Sri Kanyakumari Devi is mentioned in the Upanishads. The Upanishads are very ancient texts of spiritual teachings on Atman, God and ways of God-realisation. They are considered a part of the sacred Vedas.
The mother, as she was soon called, and her guru were both Karma Yogis. They did not want any thing for themselves and were totally selfless in their services to the poor. They did not want to own lands, buildings or things. They wanted only to serve. So there were only a few furniture, things and equipment in the ashram in the early period. Their belief in Gandhian ideals helped in the formation of the ashram and in the development of its services.
The mother and her guru had a clear vision and philosophy of what they had set out to do. Theirs was a new effort and the first of its kind and was child-centred. The system was based on the culture, tradition and the joint family system of India. The aim was to help the most poor and parentless children to grow up normally as in a natural family as was possible in the ashram so that they might succeed in life when they left the ashram and live happily.
They thought that the gurukula as well as ashram concepts are best suited for this service. A ‘guru kula’ means the house of a guru or the tradition of a guru. From ancient times, a gurukula has been a place where children go to live and study under a guru (preceptor). On completion of their education in the gurukula under the guru(s), the students usually made an offering to the guru before leaving, went to work, got married and settled in life. An ‘ashram’ is a place where people of any age can come and live, meditate and lead a peaceful, spiritual life. Mr. Sitharam defined an ashram as a house of peace.
From its inception, the ashram freely cared for poor, parentless and suffering infants and children, homeless, destitute women and the helpless, aged infirm. No discrimination was practised. All services including long term, total care of children, women and the aged were free of cost. Though there was a need to support children, women and the aged infirm, from the beginning, the ashram restricted itself mainly to the care of children. During 1952 to 1954, there were about 10 to 20 children, 3 to 5 women and a few aged infirm people who lived in the ashram. Some needy people also received help from the ashram. Occasionally, there were more children. In the following years, the numbers increased to 20 to 30 children, about 4 to 6 women and 3 to 5 aged infirm people, all receiving totally free care and shelter. After the formation and registration of the society in 1956, there were 30-40 children, 5-8 women and a few aged people every year. The number of children cared for increased gradually over the years. Most poor and needy, parentless, children, destitute women and the aged infirm people who needed food and shelter, were taken care of and they happily lived in the ashram for years.
Life at the ashram in the early days could be briefly mentioned. With trust in God and with the blessings and guidance of her guru and based on her own views of Life, the mother established an acceptable system of life for all in the ashram like rising up early, singing prayer songs in the mornings and evenings, taking breakfast, lunch and supper at regular times, doing craft work, studying lessons if they were children and doing other works if they were elders. Medical care was provided when needed. Weaving khadi yarn from cotton hanks, making wax and palm leaf articles, tailoring and embroi -dery, etc., were part of the vocational training. All children went to school. School books had to be shared by children studying in the same class as books were few and money was scant. Children were given education in recognized schools, while the middle aged people did service as cooks, house mothers and assistants and helped in the running of the ashram. The aged people also served in suitable capacities. There were music, dance and craft teachers for children and an accountant all of whom served as volunteers.
The ashram depended upon daily income to provide food to the children and adults. Many people supported the work. Among the earliest supporters were the former General and Commander-in-Chief of the former State Forces, who had taken to Sanyas (life of renunciation) and was living in Kanyakumari, Swami Sri Pareshanandaji Maharaj, who warmly supported the work and provided food and support whenever needed and Er.Ramanathan who was a warm well wisher and a strong supporter. As Kanyakumari is both a pilgrim centre and a tourist centre, visitors also began to help. Mother and the elderly people in the ashram travelled by bus and by walk to many places and raised funds. It was a difficult period with frugal living for all the people in the ashram. People were appointed to meet tourists and seek donations. The ashram received support from the people of Kanyakumari and Tirunelveli districts. People from many other places gave occasional help to the ashram, often during their visits to the cape. Donations came in small amounts and were barely enough to meet the daily needs. But the donations increased over the years. The mother formed a committee of leading people to guide the services. But as this was before the Societies Act came into existence, this committee was only informal and the members were only a group of friends and well wishers interested in the ashram.
In 1955, Mr. C. Sitharam, a disciple of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in Sri Aurobindo Ashram, came to see the ashram and liked the work. At the Invitation of the mother, he stayed to help. Coming from a noble family in Andhra Pradesh, he was highly educated and spiritual. He too was a Karma Yogi. He led a very simple life and he guided the work of the ashram from the early stages. He shared in all the struggles and tribulations in the formative years and faced and surmounted difficulties, overcoming opposition in the early years from those who were not used to this concept of service which was wide and open to all needy people. He firmly and quietly set out principles, policies, methodologies and goals and developed the ashram. For instance, regarding the use of donations given by donors, he used to say to the workers that in using the donations they must remember the donors and think and act as if they are ‘the eyes of the donors’. His stay in the ashram till 1985 was most beneficial and significant. Mr. Sitharam came at the right time in the development of the ashram. He stayed in the ashram for 30 years. Under mother’s and Mr. Sitharam’s guidance and leadership, the ashram grew and developed. The children and others were happy. The ashram earned appreciation and support. The ashram faced daily struggles for survival but by God’s Blessings and due to the steadfastness and the purposefulness of the founder and her guru and the good support by donors, the ashram was able to continue its services. The first and early period of the ashram was one of constant, hard struggle for the survival and establishment of the ashram.
The second period of development of the ashram began with its registration as a society. In 1956 when the Literary, Scientific and Charitable Societies Act, Act XXVII of 1955, came into force in the then-Travancore-Cochin State, the ashram was duly registered as a society with no. 43 of 1956 on May 11, 1956. An elite group of merchants and business leaders in Nagercoil and Trivandrum formed the Managing Committee. Many leading persons gave strong support to the ashram.An eminent, highly respected and leading merchant in Kottar, Nagercoil, Mr. Saravana Panikkar, became the President and Chairman of the Ashram’s Governing Body.He was well known for his generosity, love of the poor and support to community welfare. To assist him leading merchants like Mr. Kandasamy Nadar, Mr. Bagavathy Perumal Chettiar, and several others in Nagercoil formed the Governing Body and supported the work of the mother who became the secretary of the society.The ashram met the regulations required by law. In 1956 Kanyakumari district was transferred from KeralaState to Tamil Nadu with Nagercoil as its headquarters town. The ashram used two other rented buildings besides the stone building for its activities in the early years.
In 1959, as the ashram was in its second stage of development and was establishing roots, Mrs. Thangamma, a well known leader and philanthropist, kind and generous to the poor and needy and a well wisher of the ashram, donated 25 cents of valuable land at the foot of the Marunthuvazh Malai (medicine hillock) to the ashram for its use and for relocation, if needed and for any of its programmes in future.
In 1959, the first Prime Minister of India, Pandit Sri Jawaharlal Nehru, who is well known as a lover of children, gave a donation to the Ashram. A close friend and well wisher of the ashram, Mr. M.S. Srinivasan from Madras took efforts to get the ashram Government aid and donations. The children’s home received its first grant from the Central Social Welfare Board in 1958-59, after a visit by its Tamil Nadu Chairperson, Mrs. Ambujammal, some time earlier. This annual grant continued till 2004. Mr. A.L. Kalidas, son of the founder, came to help in 1959 and stayed for a brief time till 1961. He started vocational training and took efforts to get the children’s home recognized for aid for the maintenance of children from the Education Department. The Education Department of the State began giving an annual grant from 1960-1961. This grant continues every year but varies depending upon the number of children during the previous year. Mr. Kalidas also helped to get tax exemption from the Income Tax Department. The Income Tax Department started giving tax exemptions for donations from 1961, first under Sec. 15 B of the Income Tax Act of 1961. Later the exemption for donations was granted under Sec. 80 G of the I.T. Act which continues. The Government of India also granted tax exemption for ashram’s own income under Sec.10 (23C) of the I.T. Act. Both these exemptions are to be periodically renewed. At present,the Ashram has tax exemptions under Sec 80G and Sec. 10 (23C) of the Income Tax Act. Both are under renewal.
In 1962, Mr. F.B. Berry, President of the Theosophical Society in Toronto, had paid a visit to the Ashram during his trip to India. He said that to him the Cape and the seas, the Temple and the ashram represented India.
In 1963 when the mother fell ill and could no more travel to raise funds or attend to the work, her eldest son, Mr. A.S. Krishnan, was invited to join the ashram to support the work. He came and assisted the mother and Mr. Sitharam in day to day administration. He later took care of administration. While the work was growing and stabilizing, a need was felt for owning lands and buildings. Several factors made the ashram decide to buy lands and houses. The conducting of children’s homes in rented buildings brought out the unsuitability of rented occupation since needed alterations could not be done, the inadequacy of facilities and space, and the demand by some owners to vacate after a few years of occupation-–all these experiences strengthened the ashram’s decision to make a change from its earlier policy of not owning property and things and, to a new policy to buy lands and buildings to shelter children. The ashram moved on to establish its services in its own buildings and locations. This new policy helped the future development of the ashram.
Accordingly it made an appeal to Mr. F. B. Berry in Toronto for help to buy a house in Kanyakumari soon to shelter the children, women and the elderly. Agreeing with the need for the ashram to have its own building, Mr. Fleet Berry and Mrs. Vera Berry made a donation to the ashram in 1964 to buy its first house so that the work of the ashram might continue. A house in Kanyakumari was bought with their aid. Children stayed in this house for many years. It also became the registered office of the society. In 1967, Mr. Sri Kishen Beriwala from Calcutta added a hall to Berry House. Mr. Thakur Makan from South Africa added another hall to the house in 1972. Mr. Maganlal Bhuta donated a puja room for the building. A few years later, in 1975, Mrs and Mr Berry again sent help to buy the house opposite Berry House. Named Vera House, this house met a useful need to shelter women and grown up girls who have completed school and wanted to stay further till they obtained further education or were habilitated through job or marriage.
In 1964, the ashram opened a crèche for ashram’s young children and young children of the neighbourhood. It was named Jawaharlal Nehru Bala Kshetra. It soon received Government aid and was useful for young children in the ashram and in the area. It functions in Berry House in Kanyakumari.
Also in 1965, the Ashram started a medical centre. Dr. T.V. Thukkaram from Kurnool voluntarily conducted the free medical centre at Berry House. It was useful to the people in the neighbourhood. After 2 years, Dr. Thukkaram left as he was getting aged and had to return to his home. The medical service had to be discontinued.
In 1965 the mother started vocational training for women and girls as a day time programme. The ashram got a house in Kanyakumari for the vocational programme on a nominal rent with the help of well wishers. A few sewing machines were bought with donations and the course was conducted by a trained lady teacher. The centre was named after the great Saint of Tamil Nadu, Swami Ramalinga. His yellow and white flag was adopted for the ashram as it was profoundly meaningful and apt. It is said that the yellow and white colours described the colour of the soul. Flying his flag meant that any hungry person who came to the place where the flag was flying could get food. Named Vallalar Vanitha Mandali, this unit later received Government aid for 20 years.
During the period of the functioning of the unit, more than 700 women and girls had the opportunity to train in this unit and become self-employed. Now the unit is conducted only for ashram girls and women.
Since 1966 the ashram started functioning in rented buildings. The ashram rented a house till the ashram could find other suitable buildings for its programmes. In 1966, at the request of Mrs. Lakshmi Dogra who was a warm supporter of the ashram in Madras, kind donors and philanthropists in Madras (now the city is called Chennai) and leaders of business and industrial houses, helped the ashram to raise funds through a drama. With the amount raised and some more aid from Mr. Berry, Mr. Narayan and donors in Singapore, the ashram bought a good site on the National Highway, 11 km North of Kanyakumari, in Levenjipuram village in Tirunelveli District. The ashram’s central office, the stores, and boys’ home are located there. There are coconut and tamarind trees also. Recently, the new Highway runs through this land and divides it into two areas.
In 1967, the ashram made yet another decision to introduce cottage type system and to bring up children in cottages under house mothers. Children are cared for in fully self-contained independent cottages cared for by a house mother, and vegetarian food cooked by a cook in every cottage.
A new chapter for the ashram began in 1969 when Mr. Sitharam sought help from Denmark. In 1969, Mr. Sitharam made an appeal for support to Aktion Bornehjaelp. Mr. Holck H. Larsen, Founder of M/s Larsen Toubro Ltd., was a well wisher and he was sympathetic to the needs of the ashram for support. The President of Aktion Bornehjaelp, Mrs. Grete Lauritzen and her Committee kindly made a donation to the ashram in 1970. This was the biggest single donation ever till that date. This big support helped the ashram to continue the services and take in more children. The Founder, Mrs. Alamelu Ammal, was very happy and grateful to hear of the support from Denmark. As her health continued to deteriorate, she passed away on February 13, 1970. Mr. Sitharam took over the Presidentship of the ashram and developed the ashram further. He returned to his home in Andhra Pradesh in 1985 where he passed away a year later on March 10, 1986.
In 1972, the reverred and much loved, l’ Abbe Pierre, Founder of Emmaus, took interest in the ashram. Abbe Pierre recommended to Emmaus to extend its support to the ashram. In 1972, Mon. Roger Lacaze, President of Emmaus in Bordeaux, gave their first support. Their kind help continued till Emmaus started helping.
Around 1971, Mr. Simon Berner from England developed interest in the ashram and wanted to help. He recommended the ashram for aid to the Boy’s Town Trust in England. This was a valuable support at a time when the ashram was struggling and developing. With support from the Boys ’Town Trust, a well was built which provided water. The trust also gave mainte -nance support for several years.
From 1974, the Ministry of Social Welfare of the Government of India, New Delhi, made a special grant to develop and strengthen the ashram’s office (secretarial) functions. With this munificent annual grant the office and administration facilities were vastly improved. This kind and valuable aid continued for 20 years, till 1994 when the scheme was discontinued.
Also in 1974, the Department of Social Welfare, made a new annual grant to care for 40 children in the Alamelupuram campus. This aid helped to admit more numbers of needy children. The ashram started the centre in the newly purchased land. This aid continues as annual aid and has been increased to care for 114 children.
In 1974, a boys’ home was built with grant from the Department of Social Welfare. With donation from Mr. George Rosenfeld and Mrs. Nancy Rosenfeld, New York City, a house was built which served as a kitchen, stores and shelter for women. Regular, continued help from Mr. Berry, Toronto, helped the ashram to buy paddy. The aid from UACE in France was valuable in providing support to different programmes. The monthly support from the UACE helped to meet general needs at the ashram for many years. Mon. Roger Lacaze paid several visits and helped to develop the activities.
A new phase of development, expansion and consolidation of the ashram’s services started in 1975. Mrs. Grete Lauritzen and her husband, Mr. Philip Lauritzen, paid a visit to the ashram in 1975 and their organization obtained Danida aid for the ashram. With their support and aid from Danida, the ashram acquired a site in Terku Karunkulam village and started a dairy farm.
This was a very valuable project for the ashram. Action Children Aid also started the sponsorship programme which continues. The participation and the generous support of the Danish organization and their donors and Danida in the growth and development of the ashram led to expansion and consolidation. Increasing numbers of children were taken in every year. As a result of Danish participation and support, through the years, the ashram’s plans to own land and build cottages for children became a reality. Children’s food, clothes, education and other needs were satisfactorily met. Their support and support from Emmaus, France, helped the ashram to build cottages, develop facilities and expand services to children.
Action Children Aid started giving sponsorship support for the care of children. This made it possible to care for more children. In 1981, Action Children Aid, and Emmaus helped the ashram to acquire land near Kanyakumari for its children’s home there. With a second Danida aid in 1983, the ashram was able to construct a shelter for children, and improve the care provided to children in Kanyakumari. From 1981, more shelters for children were built and more numbers of boys and girls could be cared for. The number of children cared for increased in both districts. Work opportunities for poor people also increased in the farms, dairy and building activities of the ashram. The ashram developed on several sides and this helped most poor people, from young children to youth, women, elderly and workers. With grants from the Government of India, from 1974, the office and administration facilities were improved. Also from1989,the Department of Social Welfare of the Government, granted permission and increased their aid to care for 115 children. The number of children cared for increased to 115 in Tirunelveli district and upto 40 in Kanyakumari district. The number of children cared for and given total support started increasing.Now the number of children cared for stands at about 160.
The ashram was also able to help limited number of children with financial support to obtain further education after high school. Several boys and girls in the ashram joined polytechnics in 1980 and obtained qualifications in engineering. Several youth brought up at the ashram joined vocational and professional courses in colleges like music and dancing with financial help from the ashram. They obtained diplomas and were able to shape their future careers. In later years children were able to score high grades in their twelfth grade public examinations and obtain seats in professional colleges. In 2007, youth from the ashram who had passed Std. XII were studying in engineer -ing, software engineering, nursing and other professional courses and were able to shape their future careers well. Donors and ashram are supporting the education of these students.
Action Children Aid obtained EEC aid for the ashram in the form of free milk powder. This was distributed to nearly 800 very poor households representing more than 3000 people, every day, in the form of re-constituted milk. Action Children Aid and EEC also donated sugar for many years, which were also distributed free to the same people. This helped most poor people in many villages besides the children, women and workers in the ashram to get free milk powder and sugar. The scheme was well organized and conducted every day for more than a decade.
The ashram conducts three day care centres for young children in three villages. About 25 young children benefit in each centre. A teacher and a cook take care of the children. One centre receives Government aid while the other two centres are maintained by a low nominal fee and help from donors.
In order to provide English-medium education to children in the ashram and others from the neighbourhoods, the ashram started an English-medium school in 1987. The school developed further and was located in Palavoor village from 1989. The school is approved by the Department of Education of Tamil Nadu as a high school with Std. from LKG to Std. I to Std. X. Support from Action Children Aid and Emmaus gave class rooms. Stichting Vrienden Ashram in the Netherlands helped to build permanent class rooms for the school. Their continued support also helps to meet the salaries of teachers in the school. Donation of RO plant by the SVA helped to provide pure drinking water to the children and staff.
In 1987,the ashram acquired a farm with good water potential. The produce from the farm, mainly fruits and coconuts, are used by the children’s homes. It also generates an income to meet the expenses of the farm.
In 1992, with help from Mr. F.B. Berry, the ashram acquired a dry farm land with good potential. Horticulture, floriculture, and vegetable cultivation on the farm help the ashram, besides providing employment to local labour. Donations from the Basilian Fathers of Toronto and the Rotary Clubs of Tinneveli, Hamilton, Canada, and the Rotary International, provided two open wells for the farm. This farm with water potential and voluntary services from Agriculture engineer, Mr. Vanarajan, and Dr. Jacob led to the development of agriculture.
Support from Action Children Aid, Denmark, Alamelu Children’s Homes,Canada, Mrs and Mr. Muddiman and the Charities Aid Foundation in the U.K., and Stichting Vrienden Ashram in the Netherlands support the care and maintenance of children in the Homes and the education of children. The ashram needs support for day care centres, agriculture, general developmental activities and running expenses. Help from Australia, from Mr. Cuganesan and his family and friends, helps in the health care of children.
Due to rising costs all round, the ashram needs support to maintain the many-sided activities and for the running expenses. The ashram and its units are functioning in two districts in 9 locations. Help in all forms is needed to maintain the activities and for development. The ashram will be most thankful for support.