Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....


Srimati V. T. Lakshmi


Indeed, many were the ancient cultural civilisations that have left their indubitable marks on the immortal pages of history. But, the glories of the civilisations of Central America, Egypt, Babylonia and Assyria are just memories of the past, while the grandeur of the civilisation of China was successfully superseded by Serindia. But, of all countries, India alone, it is universally admitted, has survived the rude shocks and ravages of time, all military exploits and political disturbances; and she has preserved and even propagated to the world her inimitable cultural heritage, thus earning the enviable place of being the cultural mistress of the ancient and modern worlds. Needless it is to say that, as regards the cultural institutions of ancient India, Indian literature, science and art were by far eloquent, which were only handed over to posterity in the form of a sound system of Education.

In the Vedic Age, several references are made in the Rig Veda to the formation of Brahmanic or Vedic schools, where Vedas were taught by hoary sages to a select number of pupils who eagerly sought them. In due course, various types of priestly or spiritual schools were established to propagate several special sciences and arts. Usually, these schools were housed in the Teacher-Sages’ hermitages. But, as days passed, the number of students increased in number and the necessity was keenly felt for the establishment of many educational institutions, preferably secular and moral in character. In "Lalitha Vistara," we are told of the formation of such institutions for teaching the three R’s and moral stories to the young. Further, a very remarkable achievement of ancient India in the post-Vedic and Buddhist ages was the organisation of higher education in a few of the prominent centres of India. The earliest and the most famous institutions of the kind were those of Benares and Taxila, which were the educational havens for people from all parts of the world, right down at least from the Buddhist age. The one place which acquired a great reputation not only for its mastery over a special branch of knowledge, medicine, but also for its general ideal instruction, perfect discipline and homely training was the University of Taxila.

Taxila was one of the great north Indian cities, the foundation of which would go to a very remote age. The name of the city was Takshasila, (in Sanskrit), or Takkasila or Takhasila, (in Pali), which with the Greek and Roman writers was transcribed as Taxila. It is now in a state of ruins, long forgotten and neglected, but, thanks to General Cunningham’s endeavours and explorations, in l863 the locality of Taxila could be fixed and identified with the ruins or remains which are situated near Sarai-Kala, a junction on the Railway, twenty miles north-west of Rawalpindi. The valley in which they lie is very prosperous, well-watered by a navigable river, protected by a chain of hills near an ancient trade route. In the words of Sir John Marshall: "The strength of its natural defences and the fertility of the soil add a good supply of water account for the importance of the city in the early times."

Notwithstanding the power and wealth of Taxila in ancient days, the information that is available about its history now is very meagre, drawn mostly from the ancient traditions, literary accounts of foreign writers, and based upon the information from coins and rare inscriptions in and near the place.

There are many references to Takshasila in the Sanskrit literature of various periods. In the Ramayana, (Vangavasi Edition-Uttarakandam-Chapter XIV) Bharata, Sri Rama’s brother, is said to have built two cities, Takkhasila and Puskalavata, and appointed his sons, Takkha and Puskala, to be their rulers respectively. The cities were described as very prosperous in as much as their citizens were pious and prosperous. There is another reference in the same Uttarakanda of Ramayana that Takkhasila was a centre of learning and that people from different parts of the country resorted to the Institution of Education there to specialise in Law (Vyavahara). The 88th Chapter of Vayupurana refers to Takkhasila, the capital of Takka, a beautiful city.

‘Brihatsamhita’ mentions Takkhasila as a most famous city, implying thereby that it was doubtless a centre of ancient education and culture. Further, in Mahabharata, it is recorded that the King Janamejaya conquered it. It also declares the men Taxila to be matchless and unrivalled in discussions and debates in educational and cultural learning. Lastly, Ksemendra’s ‘Aradanakalpalata’ says that Asoka’s son, Kunala, was sent by Asoka to conquer Takkhasila, which was ruled by Kunjarakarna.

Taxila has been referred to, often, in Pali literature as well, a great centre of learning and as an important University centre in ancient India. According to Dhammapadattahakatha, Pasenadi, King of Kosala, was educated at the University of Taxila. From the Mahavagga, (Vinaya Pitaka), we learn that several princes from various kingdoms, within and without India, went to the University of Taxila for their complete education. Dhammapadadattahakatha speaks of a student who went to Taxila, all the way from Benares, to study the ‘Silpas’, in the midst of five hundred class-mates. In several places, in the Pali Jatakas, there are references to highly renowned teachers living at Taxila and to the various subjects taught there.

The foreign writers of Greece, Rome and China have left Lind valuable records of accounts of Taxila. Arrian refers it as having been a great and flourishing city in the times Alexander. Strabo comments upon its population. Plutarch dwells upon its fertile soil. Hiuentsang writes of its rich harvests and luxuriant vegetation. There are other foreign Buddhist works which refer to the various arts and sciences, imparted at the University of Taxila, in the Buddhist age.

Historical evidence is not absolutely wanting in confirming the greatness of the ancient history and prosperity of Taxila, the fifth century B.C., Taxila was included in the Achaemenid Empire of Persia. An inscription in Aramic character, a relic of Persian influence at Taxila, was discovered in the fifth or fourth century B.C. Taxila was then a reputed University town, famous for the arts and sciences of the day. Alexander the great received the submission of Ambhi of Taxila, in 326 B.C. From the Greek writers we learn that the country was well governed. But polygamy and Sati were in vogue; poor girls were sold at marriage-markets; the dead were exposed to vultures. After Alexander’s death, Chandragupta incorporated Taxila into the Empire of Magadha. In the times of Bindusara, Taxila rebelled and then threw off the Mauryan yoke. Asoka, however, subdued it and ruled there as Bindusara’s Viceroy. That Kunhala, Asoka’s son, was, for some time, Asoka’s Viceroy at Taxila, a flourishing city, is testified to by the Pillar Edict VII. After Asoka’s death, along with the other outlying provinces, Taxila asserted her independence, only to be conquered by the Bactrian Greeks. Their rule was, however, supplanted at Taxila by that of the Scythians or Sakas. It is supposed, by the way, that in 44 A.D. Apollonius of Tuana visited Taxila. Very soon, Taxila fell into the hands of Kujula Kadphises, between 50 A.D. and 60 A.D. In 400 A.D. Fahien visited the Buddhistic monuments at Taxila, but left no particulars about them. When Hiuen-tsang visited India, in the days of Harsha, he found it a dependency of Kashmir. The greatness of Taxila gradually passed off unceremoniously into the limbo of oblivion. The work of its downfall and gradual destruction was certainly due to incessant hordes of barbarous Huns.

We have reasons to believe that the University of Taxila, to which many Colleges were affiliated, howsoever it might have originated, was maintained by the voluntary and willing co-operation of the State and society. The King’s bounteous donations and the occasional subscriptions of the rich local magnates and merchants, together with the collection of fees from the paid students of the University, defrayed the expenditure of the Institution.

The University was a residential Institution. The students lived there and studied various arts and sciences, under the able and paternal guidance of their efficient teachers. The class contact between the teachers and students led to very desirable results. The healthy and laudable examples of teachers did not work slow in moulding the character of their pupils. An ideal and friendly relationship, a perfect discipline and cordial understanding grew up between them. The teachers understood their pupils, sympathised with their weaknesses and tried to help them to rectify them. They were not blind to their pupils’ merits, which were encouraged to develop. While the pupils loved the teachers as their sympathetic guides and friends, they revered them as their preceptors. What a happy contrast to the existing dismal want of a sympathetic understanding between our modern teachers and pupils!

The students of the Taxila University were of two kinds: those who paid for their education; and those who served their teachers and the Institution in some way or the other in day time in lieu of payment of fees and received their lessons in the nights. Although we have not sufficient and definite evidence to say if lady students were admitted into the University of Taxila, we may however presume, until the contrary is definitely discovered, that Taxila was a mixed University, in the light of existing evidence on hand that there were several Buddhist lady scholars, like Dhammadinna who rejected her husband’s treasure and surpassed her husband in her knowledge of Buddhist doctrines and in solving numerous intricate problems, and like Sona and Kisa Gotami, who were profoundly educated, and who abandoned the pleasures of the world and embraced the monastic life, "not as a relief from poverty and suffering, but, as the crown of self-sacrifice and selfless service." Will it be then too much to think that these ladies, skilful in debate, must have had the benefit of instruction and training at a good University like that of Taxila? Besides, we have definite authorities. according to Rev. Keay, about the existence of Buddhist nunneries, as great as monasteries, which did yoeman service to the cause of woman’s education in ancient India.

The instruction that the University catered to its pupils was an ideal one. It was characterised by a broad and catholic spirit of philanthropy. The system of education gave scope for liberty of thought and action on the part of its students. It stimulated the students’ original work and independent powers of discussion. It encouraged them to give free vent to their love of the Muses in lyrical Poetry and metaphysical speculation. It taught them their rights and duties. It curbed their vile ideas and vicious impulses. Corporal punishment was often used to correct otherwise incorrigible erring. Individual attention was paid to the students’ education–physical, moral, mental and spiritual. In short, it prepared them not only for organised social and political life in the world, but also for the spiritual evolution in progress through eternity.

The University of Taxila, however, acquired special reputation, for medical sciences, as the University of Benares was reputed for theology. The Mahavagga speaks of ]ivaka, the renowned physician at the Court of Bimbisara, having been educated there in medicine and surgery. But, the University did not neglect the imparting of other sciences and arts. Of the other subjects taught there, special mention should be made about the three Vedas–Sama, Rig and Yajur–and eighteen Vijjas (branches of knowledge). According to Uttarakanda of Ramayana, (Vangavasi Edition), we learn that Law or Vyavahara at the University of Taxila was a specialised subject. We also learn that Bhimasena, King of Benares, learnt archery there (Sarbhanga Jataka). In the Campeyya Jataka, it is said that a young man learnt "Alambanamantam" (art of charming snakes) at Taxila. According to the Vrahachatta Jataka, a son of the King of Kosala learnt "Nidhi-Undharanamantam," (art of discovering hidden treasures), at the University of Taxila. Thus, we have every reason to believe that the system of education imparted at Taxila comprised a comprehensive curriculum, including the science of grammar, lexicography, fine arts, medicine, logic, philosophy, law and the study of "Jatakamala," the stories of Lord Buddha in his previous births.

The teachers at the University were selfless monks, belonging to different castes, who were experts in the branches of knowledge and science which they chose to specialise in. The fame of these highly renowned teachers spread far and wide not only for their unrivalled knowledge, but also for the perfect and practical training that they gave their pupils; and foreign scholars, students and visitors flocked there. The "Cittasambhuta Jataka" tells us that the University was more or less an aristocratic institution that was open to people belonging only to upper classes. Could the University of Taxila have been influenced by the then existing scruples of the rigid caste system? It is a matter for speculation and study. Though the University was staffed with missionaries of Buddhist learning, the dominating force in its scheme of education was social and ethical, while the spiritual element played only an incidental role.

Thus, the University of Taxila was an ideal one. It imparted such education as converted the savage into a sage, the barbarous into the enlightened, the warring into the peaceful. And it gave such perfect training to its votaries that they were able to fill their places in life, with credit to themselves and to the hoary country to which they had the honour and privilege to belong.

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