Formal Education System in Ancient India

by Sushmita Nath | 2016 | 63,563 words

This page relates ‘Pabbaja (initial ordination)’ 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.

Pabbaja (initial ordination)

The first step of Buddhist initiation was called Pravrajyā or going forth[1]. It was the preparatory ordination for education in Buddhist system of education. It was equivalent to the Upanayana ceremony. The candidates, those who performed the Pabbaja ceremony, had to leave all the visible marks of his previous life when he was admitted in to the order. It was the first step of “going forth” for the ultimate “going out of his Worldliness”. Through the performance of this Pabbaja ceremony a child would enter the Order as a ‘Sāmaṇera’, or ‘Pabbajit’ i.e. novice and receive education.

Eligibility of a Novice—The consideration of Varṇa

Caste distinction did not come in the way of Buddhist Order. All the Varṇas equally perform the Pabbaja ceremony and enter in to the Order. Because in the words of Buddha held that just as all the rivers by merging in to the Ocean became one with it, in the similar way different castes became one after being admitted to the Order[2]. But it should however be remembered that a person belonging to non Buddhist religious Order could only be admitted in to the Saṃgha after they had gone through a probationary period of four months and behaved themselves properly during the period[3]. In the other way there were also some restrictions to the admissibility to the Order. The first restriction was that, without the consent of the parents, a child was ineligible to take admission in to the Order. The second restriction was that a person who had physically defects such as serious sickness or bodily deformities and infectious diseases as leprosy, boils, itches or consumption and the like were also not allowed to take admission in to the Order. Serious moral defects were also a bar to take admission in to the Order. Confirmed criminals, matricides or shameless persons were also kept out in to the Order. Similarly persons who furtively attached themselves to the Order were also not allowed to take admission in to the Order[4].

The consideration of Age:

In the very early age, a child was to perform the Pabbaja ceremony. As we already mentioned that the Buddhist system of education follows the Brahmanical rules and regulation. So with the very little variation or improvement, they also follow the same rules and regulation which were made for a Brahmacāri. As the Brahmanical system, the minimum age limit was fixed for initiation. In the same way, in Buddhist Order, a child below the eighth years was not accepted by Order. So in the eighth year, the boy was allowed to perform the Pabbaja ceremony[5].

The Ceremonies :

Pabbaja was a period of novitiate. In this time a child would go to his preceptor and with folded hand uttered these words: “May, I Lord, remain the ‘going forth’. “I desired, O My Lord, according to thy teaching and thy direction, to walk in the Brahmacarya”. Then the Preceptor used to pronounce the following word: “Come hither, O Monk the doctrine is duly preached; walk in the Brahmacārya to put an end to all sorrow[6]. The boy then take the Oath of three Refuges three times: “I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the Dhamma. I take refuge in the Order”[7]. The boy was now accepted as a student. He became full fledge ‘Samaṇera’ or ‘Pabbajita’. The boy also had to clad in Saffron uniform (Yellow robe) and abide by the ten educational commandments i.e., he had to refrain from the following misconducts viz.—killing a being, theft, unlawful sexual misconduct, speaking false, taking intoxicating drinks, eating after midday, attending dance-music and visiting shows, using garland, scents and ointments, sleeping on high beds, and accepting gold and silver[8]. After taking the Ten Commandments, the Pabbaja ceremony was over and the novice was committed to care of his preceptor who brought him till he was fit for the higher ordination.

Footnotes and references:




Gaṅgā Yamunā aciravatī sarabu mahī tā mahāsamuddam pattā jahanti purnimāni nāmagottāni mahāsamuddo eva saṃkhaṃ gacchanti………………………khattiyā brāhmaṇā vessā suddā te tathāgataooavedite dhammavinaye agārasmā anagāriyaṃ pabbajitva……….. ||Cullavāgga IX.I.4.




Na bhikkhavi pañcahi ābādhehi phuṭṭho pabbājetabbo. Ibid.I.39.7. Titthiyapakhantakupajjhāyena up.,tiracchānagatupajjhāyena up.,mātughatakupajjhāyena o.,pitughātakupajjhāyeneup.,arahantaghātakupajjhāyena up.,bhikkuni dūsakupajjhāyena up.,saṃghabhadakupajjhāyena up.,lohituppādupajjhāyena up.Ibid.I.69,4;.


Mookerji, R.K. Ancient Indian Education (Brahmanical and Buddhist), Motilal Banarasi Dass Publishers, Delhi 2011, P.396.


Vinaya Piṭaka 1, P 12.


buddhaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi, dhammaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi, saṃghaṃsaraṇaṃ gacchāmi.Mahāvagga I.12. 4.


Kāsāyāni vattāni acchādapetva. Mahāvagga.I.12.3; Anujānāmi bhikkhave sāmaṇerā naṃdasasikkhāpādani…………..imāni dasa sikkhāpadani imesu ca sāmaṇerehi sikkhitun ti ||Ibid.I.56.

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