Formal Education System in Ancient India

by Sushmita Nath | 2016 | 63,563 words

This page relates ‘Subjects studied in the Epic Period’ 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.

The Epic also introduced the variegated curriculum of studies. During the age, Vocational and Professional educations received special emphasis. The hermitage education system was popular during those days. In one hermitage there were several departments like department of Veda, department of Rājnīti, department of Astronomy and department of transport[1]. This departmental education system shows that during the age the courses of study were become numerous and variegated. Basically both the epics, the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata, mention that during the age Veda, Vedāṅgas, Dhanurveda, Nitiśātra, Vārttā, Daṇḍanīti, Ānvīkṣikī, Music, Poetry, Itihāsa, Purāṇa, the lore of elephant and chariots, Laṅghana (Jumping), Plavana (Swimmimg), Lekhya (Writing), Ālekhya (Painting), Śabdaśāstra, Yuktiśāstra, Gāndharvaśāstra and Astaṅga Āyurveda were the chief subjects[2]. During the age all the students were not allowed to study all these varied subjects. Specialisation of course was necessary. The each Varṇa had their own profession. According to differentiation of Guṇa and Karman the each Varṇas were developed[3]. For their profession they choose their own subjects and become specialized in that subject.

The Brāhmaṇas were the priest. Their main duties were studying, teaching of Vedas, performance of Yajña for themselves as well as others, receiving and giving gifts[4]. They guide the entire community. They also undertake the responsibility of the education of the Kṣatriyas and Vaiśyas. That is why, they studied all the subjects. But they were specially trained in the Vedas. The Mahābhārata[5] gives reference on this point that ‘Traividyo brāhmaṇo vidvān…….eṣa smṛto dvijaḥ’. That means the Brāhmaṇa who have the knowledge of three Vedas become actual Brāhmaṇa. The Kṣatriyas were the rulers. The defense, protection of people and administration was their main duty[6]. For the efficient performance of such responsibility, the training of intellectual faculties, military education, knowledge of Dharmaśāstra, Nitiśāstra were essential. But greater importance was given to the knowledge of Vedas and military training. The Rāmāyaṇa contains a reference to the military training of King Daśaratha’s sons during their boyhood[7]. Like that in the Mahābhārata we also find the military training of Kauravas and Pāṇḍavas. Guru Droṇācārya imparts education to Kauravas and Pāṇḍavas in a very short time[8]. As regards the Vaiśyas, agriculture, animal husbandry, and trade was their chief occupations. That is why, they studied all the Vārttāśāstras[9]. But it is also natural that a student was not able to study all the subjects. That is why, in the Mahābhārata[10] Mahātmā Bhīṣma suggested his grandson Yudiṣṭhira that he had to study the Vedas Rājnītividyā, Tarkaśāstra, Vārttāśāstra and Daṇḍanīti because it was expected that a King must be proficient in all these subjects.

Besides this, the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata give many examples where a person is qualified in diverse course of subjects. In Rāmāyaṇa we find that Rāma and his younger brothers were well versed in various subjects. Rāma was well versed in Veda, Vedāṅgas, Dhanurveda, Nītiśāstra and all the other subjects[11]. From the time of childhood he studied all the Vedas and observed the vow of Brahmacāri and became master in all the Śāstras. When Rāma went with Viśvāmitra to kill the demons, he learnt various kinds of sciences of missiles and weapons and became master in all the weapons[12]. During this time he learnt the two mantras called Valā and Ativalā which were the mother of all learnings[13]. He was profoundly proficient in Dhanurveda. He was first class charioteer and expert in riding elephant[14]. He was a master in all those arts that are specially studied for travelling purpose. He was also proficient in poetry, philosophy, music and in fine arts[15]. It was matter of fact that Rāma was proficient in all these varied subjects because during the time of intervals he used to cultivate the śāstras and became a master in all these varied subjects.

Lakṣmaṇa was also proficient in all the śāstras.But he was specially proficient in the art of warfare and in Nitisastra where as Bharata was proficient in three Vedas, Vārttāśāstras and in Daṇḍanīti[16].

Rājarṣi Daśaratha, the father of Rāma and his brothers was well versed in all the śāstras. But he was specially specialised in the Veda and the Vedāṅgas.[17]

Rāvana, the king of Lañkā was proficient in Veda and Vedāṅgas[18]. His son Indrajit and Prince Akṣa were well versed in the art of warfare. Indrajit was very proficient in the use of the Brahmāśtras where as Akṣa was proficient in aiming and throwing the arrows[19].

Hanumāna the minister of Sugriv was a Vedic scholar. He observed life time the bow of Brahmacāri. His educational attainment was so impressive that Rāma also appreciated his talent. He was a Paṇḍita and master in all the Vedas, Vedāṅgas, Nitiśāstras, Dharmaśāstras, art of warfare, Nyāya and in statecraft. He was a great grammarian because he never used wrong and unsuitable words. His speech was very fluent and clear. He also knew Ayurvedaśāstra. His debating skill was so impressive that he surpassed Bṛhaspati the guru of Gods[20].

The twin sons of Rāma and Sita, Lava and Kuśa were also highly talented. They were both educated at the hermitage of Vālmikī or VālmikīsĀśrama. The Vālmikī gave them specialized training. They were expert in Vedas, Vedāṅgas, and were very much comprehensive in knowledge in music, poetic and in elocution[21].

In the Mahābhārata we meet with similar account. On the educational attainments of Kauravas and Pāṇḍavas we find that all the Princes were proficient in their own field. Duryodhana and Bhīma were expert in mac fighting[22]. Nakula and Sahadeva were expert in swords[23]. Dharmarāj Yudhiṣṭḥira was expert in Vedas and Dharmaśāstras but he was highly expert in driving horse and chariots. And Arjuna was an unrivalled bowman[24]. They also studied the other Śāstras but they were specially trained in their own filed. Droṇācārya, the son of Ṛsi Varadvāja was the guru of Kauravas and Pāṇḍavas. Mahātmā Bhīṣma appointed him as their guru. He was master in all Vedas and Vedāṅgas. From Parśurāma he had learnt all the Astra vidyās and the Dhanurvedaśāstra[25]. Kauravas and Pāṇḍavas received all education from Guru Droṇācārya within a very short time.

Mahātmā Bhīṣma was expert in all the śāstras. He learnt all the Vedas and Vedāṅgas from guru Vaiśiṣṭha. He was an unrivalled bowman and master in Dhanurvedaśāstra, and in Yudhaśāstra. As a warrior he was equal to Devrāj Indra[26]. Like that Pāṇḍu was an expert Dhanurveda. Bidura was an expert in Dharmaśāstra and in Nitiśāstra whereas Dṛtharāstra was an expert in his own strength[27]. During the age various other subjects like Yuktiśāstra, Śabdaśāstra,

Gandarvaśāstra, Itihāsa, Purāṇa, Ākhyāna, Hastisūtra, Aśvasūtra, Rathasūtra, Yantrasūtra, Nāgaraśāstra, Nitiśāstra, Pañcarātraśāstra, Mahābhāṣya, Gaṇitvidyā [Gaṇitavidyā?], Vanaspatividyā, Aṣṭvavidyā and Yudhavidyā also receive importance[28]. During the age subjects of study were divided in to two parts-Primary course and the Secondary course. In primary course the students generally studied all the Vedas and Vedāṅgas and in Secondary course they studied all the Śātras and became proficient in their own field. In the Mahābhārata we find that Pāṇḍavas and Kauravas before started their secondary education they learnt the entire primary course from Kṛpācārya[29].

Footnotes and references:

[1]:

Mookerji, R.K. Ancient Indian Education (Brahmanical and Buddhist), Motilal Banarasi Dass Publishers, Delhi 2011, P.333.

[2]:

Trayī cānvikṣikī caiva Vārttā ca bharatarṣabha |daṇḍanītiśca vipulā vidyāstatra nirdirśitā|| Mahābhārata Śhānti.59.33; yuktiśāstra ca te jeñyaṃ śavdaśāstraṃ bhārata |Ibid.Anu 104.147; Gāndharvaśāstra ca kalāḥ parijñeyā narādhipa |purāṇamitihāsaśca tathākhyānāni yāni ca||Ibid Anu.104.148;Rāmāyaṇa I.80.27.

[3]:

Cāturvarṇyaṃ mayā sṛṣṭaṃ guṇakarmavibhāgaśaḥ || Śrīmatbhagvadgītā.IV.13.

[4]:

Yajanaṃ yājanaṃ caiva tathā dānapratigrahau |adhyāpanaṃ cādhyayanaṃ ṣaṭkarmā dharmabhāg dvijaḥ||Mahābhārata Anu.141.65.

[5]:

Mahābhārata Anu.141.66.

[6]:

Kṣatriyasya smṛto dharmaḥ parjāpālanamāditaḥ |Ibid.Anu.141.47.

[7]:

Te cāpi manujavyāgrā vaidikādhyayane ratā |pitṛśuśrupaṇaratā dhanurvede ca niṣṭitāḥ| Rāmāyaṇa 18.35-36.

[8]:

Tato droṇaḥ pāṇḍuputrānastrāṇi vividāni ca| grāhayāmāsa divyāni mānuṣāni ca viryavān|| Mahābhārata Adi.131.9; gadāyuddheo’sicaryāyāṃ tomaraprāsaśaktiṣu | droṇaḥ saṃkīrṇayuddhe ca sikṣayāmāsa kauravān|| Ibid.Adi.131.29.

[9]:

Kṛṣi gorakṣā vāṇijyam vaiśyam karma svabhāvajam| Ibid. Bhīṣma.40.48; vaisyasya satatam dharmah pasupalyam krsistatha|Ibid.Anu.141.54.

[10]:

Ibid.Śhānti.63.

[11]:

Vedavedaṅgatatvajno Dhanurveda ca niṣṭitaḥ||Rāmāyaṇa Bāla.I.14. Sarvaśāstarthatatvvñjaḥ smṛtimānpratibhānavān|Ibid.Bāla.15.

[12]:

Dhārayantyasurā yāni dadāmyetāni sarvaśaḥ ||Ibid.Bāla.27.13.

[13]:

Mantragrāmaṃ gṛhāṇa tvaṃ valāmativalaṃ tathā |Ibid.Bāla.22.12; valā cativalā caiva sarvajñānasya mātarau |Ibid.Bāla.22.16.

[14]:

Dhanurvedavidāṃ śreṣṭo lokeo’tirathasammataḥ | Ibid.Ayodha.1.29); ārohe vinaye caiva yukto vāraṇavājinām |Ibid.Ayodha.1.28.

[15]:

gāndharve ca bhuvi śreṣṭo vabhuva bharatāgrajaḥ||Ibid.Ayodha.2.34.

[16]:

Eṣeo’sya lakṣmaṇa ………naye yuddhe ca kuśalaḥ sarvaśastrabhṛtāṃ varaḥ|| Ibid.Yuddha.28.25.

[17]:

Tasyāṃ puryāmyodhyāyāṃ vedvitsarvasaṃgraḥ……………tayā daśaratho rājā vasañjagadapālayat|| Rāmāyaṇa Bāla.6.1-4.

[18]:

Ibid.Yuddha.110.

[19]:

Tamastra vicchastravidāṃ variṣṭaḥ………….pitāmahārāghañsancitāstraḥ|| Ibid.sundra.48.2; tataḥ sa viraḥ sumukhānpatatriṇaḥ suvarṇapuṅkānasaviṣānivīragān | Samādhisaṃyogavimokṣatatvavit śarānatha trīnkapimūrdhanyapātayat ||Ibid.Sundara.47.14.

[20]:

yo brāhmamastraṃ vedāśca veda vedavidāṃ varaḥ |Ibid.Yuddha.28.21. samūtravṛtyarthapadaṃ mahārthaṃ………….vaiśārade chandogatau tathaiva||Ibid. Uttara.36.45; Sarvāsu vidyāsu tapovidhāne praspardhateyaṃ hi guruṃ surāṇam |Ibid.Uttara.36.46.

[21]:

Sāngaṃ ca vedamadhyāpaya kiñcidutkrānta–śaiśavau| svikṛtiṃ gāpayāmāsa kavi-prathamapaddhatim||Raghuvaṃśam.XV.33; tau tu gāndharvatattvajñau murchanāsthānakovidau | Bhrātarau svarasaṃpannau ……………………………..|| Rāmāyaṇa Bāla.IV.10.

[22]:

Droṇasya tu tadā śiṣyau gadāyogyau babhūvatuḥ |Mahābhārata Ādi.131.61.

[23]:

tathāpi puruṣānanyāna tsārukau yamajāvubhau||Ibid.Ādi 131.62.

[24]:

Yudhiṣṭḥira rathaśreṣṭaḥ sarvatra tu danaṃjayaḥ| Ibid..Adi.131.63.

[25]:

Vedvedāṅgavidvān sa tapasā dagdhkilbaṣaḥ|Ibid.Ādi.129.45; pratigrhaya tu tatsarvaṃ kṛtāstrao dvijasattamaḥ|Ibid.Ādi.129.66.

[26]:

Vedānadhijage sāṅgan vasiṣṭādeṣa viryavān | kṛtāstraḥ parameṣvāso devrājsamo yudhi ||Ibid.Ādi.100.35.

[27]:

Pāṇḍurdhanuṣi vikrānto nareṣvbhydhiko’bhavat …………………..dharmanityastathā rājan dharme ca paramaṃ gatḥ||Mahābhārata Ādi.108.21-22.

[28]:

Misra,Babulal.Mahabharat kain siksa pranali, Pratibha prakasan,Delhi,2003,P.48.

[29]:

Mahābhārata Ādi.129.23-25.

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