The title of this contemplative and well-crafted documentary refers to the wisdom and truth-revealing insights passed on by a well-respected teacher (guru) to a learning family of students (kulam). It takes place at an ashram set in a secluded and remote forest in Tamil Nadu in southern India. We meet local and international students attending a five-week course in Advaita Vedanta, as well as others who have been there for 10 or more years: a former psychology professor, a young man from England, a Japanese yoga teacher, and a French Muslim businessman.
They have come to study under Swami Dayananda Saraswati (who died in 2015 at the age of 85). He speaks slowly and clearly about the nature of reality, the ancient teachings of Vedanta, and the mysterious wisdom of oneness and non-duality.
Wherever he goes, Swami Dayananda is treated with respect. Two aides are always at his side and other students attend to his needs. Visiting a temple, the guru is surprised and honored when an elephant puts a wreath around his neck. The friendly animal is rewarded with a bunch of bananas.
The filmmakers focus on the importance of learning in the Hindu tradition. Watching the chants of students and the readings of sacred texts brings to mind the sober studies of Jewish men in Yeshivas. Just as Torah study sweetens lives, so does Vedic learning. Interestingly, the first time we see Swami Dayananda, he is teaching grammar to the students.
The other fascinating aspect of this documentary is that it subtly and convincingly shows how important everyday spirituality is in the life of the ashram. There are daily chores which must be done -- gathering and placing the fruits for offerings to the gods, cooking food, cleaning rooms, and going to the market; each task is undertaken with reverence. And nothing about this place is rushed. As the American Tibetan Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron reminds us: it takes a warrior's discipline and commitment to realize that each and every chore is important and can be a beautiful path leading to peace and joy. The life of every individual, according to Hindu scriptures, has its peculiar duties apart from what belongs in common to universal humanity.