Formal Education System in Ancient India

by Sushmita Nath | 2016 | 63,563 words

This page relates ‘Gurukula centre of learning’ 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.

In ancient time Gurukula was the most important of Centre of learning. In the Vedic literature we get references of numerous teachers (Ācāryas) and the students (Śiṣyas). The Atharvaveda and the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa[1] gives the graphic picture of the initiated student entrance to the preceptor’s residential institution, and the primary injunctions are recorded therein. Cāndogya Upaniṣad mentioned that the Brahmacārins residing in the Gurukulas are called

kulavāsi’, one who dwells in the house of his preceptor[2]. The great epics like Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata also give the references of Gurukulas[3]. There the Gurukulas are regarded as famous institutions. During that period students assembled in body and acquired knowledge. The Gurukulas were not always situated in forests. In the majority of the case they were in villages and towns. The students came to Gurukulas from far off lands and in this manner, the residential institution were grown up[4]. The curious student acquired knowledge from the teacher residing in the Gurukulas. In the Upaniṣads we find the reference of the hermitage of Satyakāma Jābāla where Upakosala Kāmalāyana acquired his education observing celibacy for long twelve years[5]. Satyakāma Jābāla himself also studied remaining in the residential hermitage of sage Gautama Haridrumata[6].Like that Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma staying in the hermitage of the sage Sandipani got schooling[7]. In the similar manner Kach also learnt spiritual knowledge staying in the hermitage of Śukracārya[8]. From the aforesaid discussion it appears that in ancient time Gurukulas had reputation as educative Centres. In the Dharmasūtras and Smṛti literature too the importance of Gurukulas as the Centres of learning has delineation.

Accepting the command of the preceptor with regard the disciple acquired knowledge and observed celibacy. The vow of celibacy was very strict. In the Vedas the Brāhmaṇas, the Upaniṣads and the Sūtra the vow of celibacy is mentioned. The period of Brahmacārya or student life was like a prolonged sacrifice[9]. At that time, a student had to study the Vedas and its accessories daily. He had to control his sense organs and many other things[10].He had to beg alms, keep the sacred fired burning and tend the cattle of his preceptors’ house. He had to rise earlier and go to bed later than the Preceptor. His hours of study were fixed. Above all he had to observe the vow of celibacy. Though the vow of celibacy was very hard, the life of celibate became very nice. With sincere affection the Guru gives all the instruction of his student. Without the instructions of Guru nothing was possible to achieve. Therefore, it can be said that Gurukula was the basic educational institution in Vedic India. In the residential institution the disciples led their life in a systematic way, and molded their character according to the instructions of the Guru. Thus, in the long run, the disciples became perfect men for worldly life in future.

In the Rāmāyaṇa the hermitage of the sages Bhāradvāja and Vālmīki were important Centres of education. Bhāradvaja’s hermitage was situated in between the confluence of the Gaṅgā and the Yamuna[11]. There the celibates constantly remained in chanting the Vedic hymns along with performing sacrificial rites and worships. In the Rāmāyaṇa while Rāma proceeding towards Citrakuta Rāma took repose in the hermitage of Bhāradvāja[12]. This hermitage was covered by forests. Puruṣottama Rāma was highly influenced by the purity and serenity of this hermitage. The hermitage of the great sage Vālmīki was also a great Centre for learning. The students from distant land came to study residing in the hermitage of Vālmīki. From the Rāmāyaṇa[13] and other treatises we learn that Lava and Kuśa live in this hermitage and got schooling under the guidance of Vālmīki. During that period the hermitage of the sage Agastya was also another Centre for learning. The hermitage of Agastya was located in Daṇḍakaraṇya[14]. There the students remained absorbed in prosecuting studies. Side by side they also performed different kind of sacrifices. In the Mahābhārata the hermitage of the sage Kaṇva and Vyāsa were also the great Centres for studies. The hermitage of sage Kaṇva was situated on the bank of the river Mālinī[15]. The atmosphere of the said hermitage was so pure that even the King when entering the hermitage had to leave his band of soldiers at the outskirts. The hermitage of sage Vyāsa was located in the foot hill of the Himālayas[16]. It was a famous seat of learning. In that hermitage the learned personalities like Sumanta, Vaiśampāyana, Jaimini and Paila get their schooling[17]. The hermitage of sage Śaunakas located in Naimiṣāraṇya was also an important Centre for learning[18]. The Mahābhārata and the Purāṇas mention that there was always gathering of the learned in Naimiṣāraṇya. There the students always remained eager to learn new knowledge. There was a hermitage of Bhāradvājas near the confluence of Gangā[19]. There the students used to learn the science of weapons along with Vedas and Vedāṅgas. In the Mahābhārata it is narrated that Drupada, the King of Pāñcāla and preceptor Droṇācarya[20] got their schooling residing in that hermitage. The hermitage of great sage Paraśurāma was also an important Centre for learning of the science of weapons. Paraśurāma was a versatile scholar in Vedas and very proficient in the art of war. Droṇācārya, the son of Ṛsi Bhāradvāja and the guru of Kauravas and Pāṇḍavas received Dhanurveda Śikṣā, Divyāstra Śikṣā and Nitiśāstra from Paraśurāma[21].

In the ancient Buddhist literature also have come across the narration of Gurukulas. The stories of the Jātaka mentioned that the curious students residing in the Gurukulas prosecuted their studies. The great dramatist Bhāsa and the court poet of king Harṣa Bāṇabhaṭṭa also mentioned Gurukula. During the age the head of the hermitage was called Kulapati. All the disciples obeyed Kulapati as family members[22]. Kulapati means a learned Brāhmaṇa who would provide ten thousands pupils of his institution with free food, clothes, education and accommodation[23]. In Abhījñānaśakuntalam[24] we get the reference of the Āśrama of Kaṇva, distinguished as a Kulapati or teacher of ten thousands pupils on the banks of the Mālinī River. Likewise Alberuni of the eleventh century too in his book mentioned the system of education of the Gurukulas. He wrote that the students of those days residing in the Gurukulas acquired different knowledge by means of strict principle and also by rendering services to Guru. In this way, Gurukula maintained its importance from one century to another century.

Footnotes and references:

[1]:

Brahmacāriṣṇaṃścarati rodasī ubhe tasmin devāḥ saṃ manaso bhavanti………..sa snāto babhruḥ piṅgalaḥ pṛthivyāṃ bahu rocate|| Atharvaveda XI.5;
Brahmacaryamāgāmityāha | brahmaṇa evaitadātmānannivedayati brahmacāryasānītyāha brahmaṇa evaitadātmānaparidadātyathainamāha ko nāmāsīt prajāpatirvair kaḥ prājāpatyamevainantatakṛtvopnayate……………………………………..yathā ha vā ṛcaṃ vā yajurvā sām vābhivyāharettādṛktadya evaṃ vidvānabrhamacārī sannamadadhvaśannāti tasmādu kāmamevāśannīyāt ||Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa XI.5.4.

[2]:

Brahmacaryācāryakulavāsī ||Cāndogya Upaniṣad II.23.1.

[3]:

vasana gurukule nityaṃ nityaṃadhyayanerataḥ |Mahābhārata Śalya.40.3.

[4]:

evaṃ māṃ brahmacāriṇaḥ|dhātarāyantu sarvataḥ svāhā||| Taittirīya Upaniṣad 1.4.3

[5]:

Upakosalo ha vai kāmalāyanaḥ satyakāme jābāle brahmacaryamuvāsa tasya ha dvādaśa varṣāṇyagnīn paricacāra |Cāndogya Upaniṣad IV.10.1.

[6]:

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

[7]:

Sandīpanirasaṃbhāvyam tayoḥ karmātimānuṣam|vicintya tau tadā mene prāptau candra-divākarau||Viṣṇu Purāṇa.3.11.19-20.

[8]:

Kaca susvāgataṃ te'stu pratigṛhanāmi te vacaḥ|ṛrcayiṣye'hamarcayaṃ tvamarcito'stu bṛhaspatiḥ||Matsy Purāṇa.25.24

[9]:

Dīrghasatraṃ vā eṣa upaiti | yo brahmacaryamupati|Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa XI.3.3.2

[10]:

Sa yadmṛgājinani vaste, sa yadaharaharācāryāya karma karoti, sa yat suṣupsur nidrāṃ ninayati………………… noparisāyī syād na gāyno na nartanī na saraṇo na niṣṭivet||Gopatha Brāhmaṇa II.2-7; Sevetemaṃstu niyamān brahmacārī gurau vasan | Saṃniyamyenidriyagrāmaṃ tapovṛdyarthamātmanaḥ ||Manusmṛti II.175.

[11]:

Nunaṃ prāptāḥ sma sambhedhaṃ gaṅgāyamunāyoṚVayam …………… bharadvājāśrame caita dṛśyante vividhādrumāḥ || Rāmāyaṇa Ayodha 54.6-7.

[12]:

Bharadvājoỏvravīdidaṃ–madhumūlafalopetaṃ citrakutaṃ vrajeti ha || Ibid.Ayodha 54.38.

[13]:

Kuśīlavau tu dharmajñau rājputrau yaśasvinau| bharātarau svarasaṃapatro dadarśāsramavāsinau || Ibid.Bāla.4.5; Raghuvaṃsam,XV.33.

[14]:

Tatrāgamanamekāgro daṇḍakānapraviveśa ha…………………sutīkṣṇaṃ cāpyagastyaṃ ca agastyabhrātaraṃ tathā|| Rāmāyaṇa Bāla.1.40-41.

[15]:

Mālinīmabhito rājan nadīṃ puṇyāṃ sukodakām|| Tasyāstīre bhagavataḥ kāśyapasya mahātmanaḥ| āśramprvaraṃ ramyaṃ maharṣigaṇasevitam||Mahābhārata 1.70.21,27.

[16]:

Evamadhyāpayanśiṣyān vyāsaḥ putraṃ ca viryavān | Ubāsa himavatpṛṣṭa pārāśaryo mahamuniḥ || Mahābhārata Śhānti.327.33.

[17]:

Vedānadhyāpayāmāsa vyāsaḥ śiṣyān mahāmatiḥ || Sumantu ca mahabhāgaṃ vaiśampāyanameva ca | Jaiminiṃ ca mahāprājñaṃ pailaṃ cāpi tapasvinaṃ || Ibid. Śhānti.327.26.27.

[18]:

Naimiṣāraṇye śaunakasya kulapatedvārdaśavarṣike satre | Ibid.1.1.1.

[19]:

Gangādvāraṃ prati mahān babhuva bhagvānṛṣiḥ| bharadvāja iti khyātaḥ satataṃ saṃśita vrataḥ||Ibid.1.129.33.

[20]:

Sa nityamāśramaṃ gatvā droṇena saha pārthivaḥ| cikīriḍādhyayanaṃ caiva cakāra kṣatriyarṣabhaḥ ||Ibid.1.129.40-42.

[21]:

Sa rāmasya dhanurvedaṃ divyānyastrāṇi caiva ha| śrutvā teṣu manaścakre nītiśāstre tathaiva ca||Ibid.Ādi.129.52; tathetyuktvā tatastasmai prādādasrtāni bhārgavaḥ| sarhasyavrataṃ caiva dhanurvedamaśeṣataḥ||Ibid.Ādi.129.66.

[22]:

Pratīmānātaka. Act 6.

[23]:

Munīnāṃ daśasāhasraṃ yo’nnadānādipoṣaṇat adhyāpayati viprarṣirasau kulapatiḥ smṛtaḥ|| Abhijñānśakuntalam P.17-18.

[24]:

Eṣa khalu kulapateranumālinītīramāśramo dṛśyate | Ibid.Act.I.

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