Formal Education System in Ancient India

by Sushmita Nath | 2016 | 63,563 words

This page relates ‘Meaning of the word Samskara’ of the study on the (formal) education system in Ancient India with reference to Vedic and Buddhist period, investiging educational institutions and universities which existed during this time. Professional educational methods were found in ancient Sanskrit literature (Brahamanas, Dharma-Shastras, Puranas, Jatakas, etc.), including rules, ceremonies and duties of pupils in ancient India.

Meaning of the word Saṃskāra

The word Saṃskāra has been used to denote different meaning. In the Oxford English Dictionary, we find that the Saṃskāra is a ceremony performed to purify from sin. The word Saṃskāra is actually derived from Sanskrit root Saṃ-√kṛ + ghañ and the word is used to mean with different attributes. The Ṛgveda defines it as purification[1]. The Śatapatha Brāhamaṇa uses it in the sense of preparing or purifying havis (offering / oblation) for the Gods[2]. Jaimini in his Sūtra has also used the word Saṃskāra several times in the sense of purification. Sābara, the commentator on the Jaiminisūtras, explain the term as an act which makes certain thing or a person fit for some purpose[3].

The later school of thought the Advaita Vedānta, the Naiyāyikas, the Vaiśesikas and the works like Tantravārtika give their own explanation of the term Saṃskāra. The Mīmāṃsakas also interpret it as the ceremonies for purification of the sacrificial materials. The Advaita Vedānta regards it as a false attribute of physical action to the soul. The Naiyāyikas used it to mean self-productive quality or faculty of impression which the Vaiśesikas recognised as one of the twenty four guṇas. The Tantravārtika states Saṃskāras are those acts and rites that impart fitness. In the Classical Sanskrit literature, the word Saṃskāra is used in the sense of education, cultivation, training, refinement, perfection, grammatic purity, polishing[4], embellishment, decoration and ornament, impression[5], form, mould, operation[6], the faculty recollection impression or the memory[7], a purificatory rite, a sacred rite or ceremony[8], consecration, sanctification and hallowing idea, notion and conception, effect of work, merit of action etc[9]. With this wide interpretation we find that the word Saṃskāra is a socio religious rite by the performance of which the life is sanctified. The concept is that without these Saṃskāras no one can lead a balanced social life.

Indian tradition gives a very high place for the Saṃskāra to be performed at various stages of life. Without the performance of the Saṃskāras none can claim to enter to that particular duty of a particular age. It is difficult to trace out when the Saṃskāras were developed. But it would be said that when the community developed, the Saṃskāras also developed simultaneously. It is not older than a community not very much younger, their existence is interdependent.

Like the source of a river, the Saṃskāras began invisibly; then become visible in a very thin line. For instance, the Ṛgveda give references about the Wedding, the Funeral, the Upanayana and the Conception ceremony. But from the Ṛgveda we do not find any exact descriptions of these Saṃskāra. In the Ṛgveda the Upanayana Saṃskāra implication is found such as “he leads the life of a Brahmacārin, even adoring all the gods; he becomes a portion of the gods; therefore Bṛhaspati obtained his wife (formerly) brought him by Soma, as the gods receiving an offering”[10]. From this little evidence we find that during the age, the Upanayana ceremony was prevalent in practice by it did not go by the name. Like that the Ṛgveda also do not contain any rules and regulation of the Saṃskāra. They were the incidental references. But from these references we gathered that during the age the manual of Saṃskāras were also prevalent in society.

In the contrast with the other Saṃhitās, the Atharvaveda supplies many information about the Saṃskāra. In almost every end of life, the Atharvaveda give information. A full hymn is devoted to praise the Vedic Brahmacārī[11].

The Brāhmaṇas give many references about the history of the Saṃskāras. The Gopatha Brāhmaṇa mentioned the Upanayana Saṃskāra[12]. The Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa describe the word Brahmacāri (the condition of the life of the students)[13]. The word Antevāsin (living with the teacher) is used both the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa and the Aitreya Brāhmaṇa[14].

The Āraṇyakas and the Upaniṣads concerned with philosophical speculations. But from the point of view of the educational Saṃskāras the Upaniṣads give references. The Cāndogya Upaniṣad[15] gives description about the Brahmacarya period. From the story of Satyakāma Jābāla we find reference in this respect. Taittirīya Upaniṣad gives many practical instructions about the students’ life[16]. The sacred Gāyatrī Mantra is esoterically explained by Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad. After the Upanayana ceremony teacher give instruction about the Gāyatri or Sāvitri[17].

The Gṛhyasūtra give us exhaustive information about the saṃskāras. Gṛhyasūtras generally begin with the “Vivāha” or marriage ceremony and go on describing the Garbhādhana, the Puṃsavana, the Sīmantonnayana, the Jātakarma, the Nāmakaraṇa, the Niṣkrammaṇa, the Annaprāśana, the Cūḍakaraṇa, the Upanayana, and the Sāmavartana. All the Saṃskāras are minutely described in the Gṛhyasūtra. From the Gṛhyasūtra we find the direction for all sorts of usages, ceremonies, rites, customs and sacrifice of which were binding on the Hindu house holder.

The Dharmasūtras are closely connected with the Gṛhyasūtra. In many times, the contents of the Dharmasūtras and the Gṛhyasūtras overlap each other. The Dharmasūtras were mainly concerned with the customs of our daily life where as Gṛhyasūtras describe the domestic rituals. The Dharmasūtras do not describe the rituals any kind. But from the Āśrama-Dharmas we find the exhaustive descriptions of Upanayana ceremony. The Dharmasūtras also contain rules about the Samāvartana and the Upākarma ceremony.

Like the Dharmasūtras, the Smṛtis are also concerned with social conduct of men rather than rituals. But in Smṛtis we find references about the educational saṃskāras. The Manusmṛti discusses about the Upanayana and Samāvartana[18]. But some Smṛtis like Nārada smṛti entirely deal with the law. The main features of the Smṛtis as regard the Saṃskāras are that they mark the transition from Vedic to Smārta and Paurāṇika Hinduism.

The Epic also give some information about the Saṃskāra. But purely educational evidence of the Saṃskāras, however is very meagre in comparison with the sizes of the works. This is, of course due to the interest of the two epic lying mainly in the realm of action and not in that of thought.

For the study of Saṃskāra, the Purāṇas are also important. There are many identical descriptions of the topic relating to the saṃskāras in the Smṛtis and the Purāṇas. The Purāṇas deal with ceremonies, customs and usages and fasts and feasts of the Hindu and thus throw light on many of the Saṃskāra.

Footnotes and references:

[1]:

Na saṃskṛtaṃ pra mimīto gamiṣṭanti nunaṃśvinopastuteha | divāvipitve'vasāgamista pratyavartiṃ daśuṣe śamavabiṣṭa ||Ṛgveda V.76,2.

[2]:

Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa I.1.4, 10.

[3]:

Saṃaskāra nāma sa bhavati yasmijjāte padārthe bhavati yogyaḥ kasyacidarthasya|Jaiminisūtra.III,1.3.

[4]:

Prayuktasaṃskāra ivadhikaṃ babhau | Raghuvaṃśam.V.III.18.

[5]:

Svabhāvasundaraṃ bastu na saṃskāramapekṣate | Abhijñānasakuntalam.VII.23.

[6]:

Yannave bhājane lagnaḥ saṃskāro nānyatha bhabate | Hitopdeśa.I.8

[7]:

Saṃskadijanyaṃ jāñaṃ smṛtiḥ | Tarkasaṃgraha.

[8]:

Kāryaḥ sarīrasaṃskāraḥ pāvanaḥ pretye cheha ca |Manusmṛti II.26.

[9]:

Falānumeyā prārambhāḥ saṃskārā prāktanā iva | Raghuvaṃśam.V.I.20.

[10]:

Brahmacāri carati veviṣadviṣaḥ sa devānāṃ bhavatyekamaṅgam|tena jāyāmanvavindad bṛhaspatiḥ somena nītāṃ juhaṃ na devāḥ||Ṛgveda X.109.5.

[11]:

Brahmacārīṣṇaṃśacarti rodasī ubhe tasmin devāḥ saṃmanaso bhavanti……………..|| Atharvaveda XI.5.

[12]:

Gopatha Brāhmaṇa I.2, 1-8.

[13]:

brahmacāriṇameva na prāyacchatso’bravīdastu mahyamapyetasminnabhāga'iti yāmeva rātri samidhannāharātā iti tasmādyāyaṃ rātrimbrahmacārī samidhannāharatyāyuṣa eva tāmavadāya vasati tasmād brahmacārī samidhamāharennedayuṣo’vadāya vasānīti ||Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa XI.3.3, 1.

[14]:

antevāsī va brahmacārī .............. Ibid.V.1.5, 17; Aitareya Brāhmaṇa III.2.6.

[15]:

Sa ha hāridrumataṃ gautamametyovāca brahmacaryaṃ bhagavati vatsyāmyupeyāṃ bhagavantamiti|| Cāndogya Upaniṣad IV. 4.3.

[16]:

Vedamanūcayācāryo'ntevāsinamanuśāsti | satyaṃ vada | Dharmaṃ cara |svādhyāyanmā pramadaḥ |ācāryāya priyaṃ dhanamāhṛtya prajātantuṃ mā vyavcecetsīḥ |satyānna pramaditavyam | dharmānana pramaditavyam |kuśalānna pramaditavyam |bhutaiya na pramaditavyam | svādhāyaya pravacanābhyāṃ na pramaditavyam |devapitṛkāryārbhyāṃ na pramaditavyam|matṛdevo bhavo|ptṛdevo bhavo|ācārya devo bhavo|athitidevo bhavo |yānyanavadyāni karmāṇi tāni sevitavyāni |no itarāṇi | yanyasmākaṃ sucaritāni |tāni tvayopāsyāni no itorāṇi |ye ke cāsmacṛeyāṃso brāhmaṇaḥ teṣāṃ tvayāo’sanena praśvasitavyam |śraddayā deyam |aśrddyahdeyam |śriyā deyam |hriyā deyam | bhiya deyam |saṃvidā deyam |atha yadi te karmavicikitsā va vṛttavicikitsā vā syāt ||ye tatra brāhmaṇaḥ saṃamrśinaḥ |yuktā āyuktāḥ | alūkṣā dharmākamāḥ syuḥ | ythā te teṣu varteran | tatha teṣu vartethāḥ |athabhyākhyateṣu ye tatra brhāmaṇaḥ sammrśinaḥ |yukta āyuktaḥ | alūkṣā dharmakāmāḥ syuḥ |yatha te teṣu varteran |tathā teṣu vartethāḥ |eṣa ādeśaḥ || eṣa upadeśḥ | eṣā vedopaniṣat| etadanuśāsnam | evamupāsitavyam |evamu caitadupāsyam | Taittirīya Upaniṣad I.11

[17]:

Sa yāmevāmūṃ sāvitrīmanvāhaiṣaiva sā sa yasmā anvāha tasya prāṇāṃstrāyate||Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad V.14.4.

[18]:

Manusmṛti II.36; III.4

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