In this article we will discuss about educational systems that were followed in India during various periods.
Education during Epic Period:
The epics and the Samriti texts tells us that the educational system had developed a great deal by their time. The entire life of man was divided into four Ashrams, and the age of the tender youth was devoted to education through of process of rigorous discipline and training: This education was vocational or practical, because the contents and methods of education varied in case of different castes or classes of pupils.
The primary education was received at the house of the preceptor where the pupil underwent a rigorous course of mental and moral discipline. Education laid great emphasis on the development of character, mental faculties as well as physical development of the students. Education was imparted free of charge and the teachers did not receive any salary or fees.
In distant forests hermitages existed where pupils came from distant parts to learn at the feet of the learned teachers. One of the most important of such hermitages was that of Naimisha under Saunaka, who is often described as preceptor of ten thousand disciples.
The hermitage of Kanva was another famous centre of learning. It had a number of specialists in various branches of learning viz. four Vedas, in sacrificial literature and art, in orthoepy, metre, grammar and philology. The other important hermitages of the time were those of Vasishtha, Visvamitra and Vyasa.
The course of studies, as during the earlier period, for the various classes differed. We get extensive details about the education imparted to the Kshatriya princes.
They had not only to study all the Vedas and treatises on duty but were also expected to be proficient in archery, hand-to-hand fight, club-fight, swordsmanship, driving of elephants and chariots, rules of propriety, word-science, music and fine arts, legends and tales etc.
Education during Smriti Period:
We get very elaborate account about the educational system during the Smriti period from the various Smritis. The child’s first introduction to education was made by the performance of the vidyarambha ceremony. Usually this ceremony was performed at the age of five. With this ceremony the child started learning of the alphabets. But the formal education started with the ceremony of upanayana.
Different rules existed for the performance of this ceremony for the three classes—the Brahmanas, the Kshatriyas and the Vaishyas. The Brahmans could be initiated during spring, while the Kshatriyas and Vaisyas in summer and autumn respectively.
The age for the upanayana also differed for the members of the three classes. The age in case of Brahmans was eight to sixteen; eleven to twenty-two for Kshatriya and twelve to twenty-four for the Vaisya.
The life of a student was highly regulated as is evident from his daily routine. He was expected to rise from bed before the sunrise as well as before his teacher rose from bed. He took a bath and purified himself. He then performed his morning devotions with a concentrated mind in a pure place outside the village.
On return home he offered oblation of water to gods and sages and worshipped the images of gods and placed fuel on the sacred fire. The student was forbidden to use luxuries, perfumes, garlands, shoes, umbrella, parasol, etc.
He was not to sleep during day time and avoid music and dance. He was to cultivate certain moral qualities such as freedom from sensual desire, anger, envy and covetousness. He was not to talk to women more than was absolutely necessary. He was to avoid lying, backbiting and injury to living beings.
The teachers were expected to possess high qualifications. Usually the teacher belonged to family with hereditary learning and was himself also well versed in sacred education. There were-different classes of teachers. The acharya, who initiated the pupil and taught him Vedas without remuneration.
The upadhyaya, who taught the pupil only certain portions of Veda or angas of the Veda, and charged fee for the purpose. But despite these differences they loved the pupil as his own son and taught him the sacred science with whole-hearted attention. The punishment of the students was not common. Bodily punishments were inflicted only as a last resort, when all other means of reforming him failed.
As regards the course of study it included the whole Veda together with rahasyas (secrets). According to Vishnu Purana Itihasa, Vedangas and Institutes of sacred law were also included among the subjects of study.
Usually three types of knowledge was imparted to the students—worldly knowledge (which related to poetry, rhetoric and the like), sacred knowledge (which related to the Vedas and Vedangas) and knowledge of the Supreme Spirit The education came to an end with the ceremony of samavartana (returning home of the student). This also marked the end of the various austerities imposed on the student.
Education in Fifth Century:
During the next few centuries we do not get sufficient information about the system of education in ancient India. With the accounts of the Chinese traveller Fa-Hien, we once again get useful information about the educational system prevailing in India in the fifth century. This account is very authentic and trustworthy, because it is based on his personal observations and experience.
Fa-Hien came to India along with a band of pilgrims to collect Vinaya texts for the Buddhist sanghas in China. This visit is an evidence of the fact that at that time India enjoyed great reputation as a centre of culture even beyond its boundaries and Fa-Hien came to India to drink at the every fountain of culture. Fa-Hien travelled from north-west across the Punjab along the Jamuna-Ganges valley down to Tamluk in Bengal.
All along the route he noticed numberless monasteries full of monks. On his testimony we learn that Patliputra was a great centre of learning at that time. There were two monasteries in the city—one Mahayana and the other Hinyana, and both of them had about six or seven hundred monks.
These monasteries not only provided elementary education to the younger monks and novices, but also served as centres of advanced instructions. Prominent scholars and teachers lived at these monasteries. These monasteries were maintained out of endowments made by the kings and merchant-princes.
The time-honoured system of oral instructions was still in vogue. Fa-Hien felt great difficulty in getting copies of Vinaya, from which he could copy, it was only at the Mahayana monastery at Pataliputra and the monasteries in Tamralipti that he found certain texts. Thus we can say that while in the north oral educational methods were followed, in the east, certain written educational literature was also available.
We also get some idea about the subjects to study from Fa-Hien. These included the Vinaya containing the Mahasanghika rules, the Karvastivada rules in six or seven thousand gathas; a Kutra of 2500 gathas; chapter of Parinirvana Vaipulya Sutra of about 5000 gathas and Mahasanghika Abhidharma. Another important thing which is brought to our notice is that Sanskrit was still a popular literary language.
Education in Seventh Century:
In the seventh century the educational system had undergone many changes. Hiuen Tsang, a Chinese traveller who visited India in 629 A.D. and stayed here for almost fifteen years has observed that the Brahmanical education and culture was in ascendancy and Sanskrit language was flourishing. The Brahmanical educational system laid emphasis on the learning of the four Vedas.
The instructions were imparted orally and the teachers took great pains to rouse the latent power- of thinking amongst the students. On the testimony of Hiuen Tsang we can say that the period of studentship was fairly long and it normally ended when the pupil was thirty years old. A section of students renounced all their wordly possessions and devoted themselves entirely to the pursuit of different arts and sciences.
Monasteries continued to be important centres of Buddhist learning. Hiuen Tsang tells us that though Buddhism was on the decline, the number of monks in various monasteries was sufficiently large.
Some of the prominent Buddhist scholars mentioned by Hiuen Tsang include Asanga, Vasubandhu, Parsva, Chandravarma, Asvaghosha and Naryanabhadra. The monasteries were sort of colleges to which the students were admitted after completion of their preliminary education.
Hiuen Tsang has also given us useful information about the preliminary education. The child was first introduced to Siddhin or a premier of twelve chapters giving Sanskrit alphabet and combinations between vowels and consonants.
After he had mastered it, he was introduced to the great sastras of five sciences, viz. vyakarana (grammar), silpasthanavidya (science of arts and crafts), chiklisavidya (science of medicine) hetuvidya (logic) and adhyatmavidya (philosophy). Thus we find that the primary education included both religious and secular knowledge. Again both philosophical and practical subjects were included in it.
Hieun Tsang has also given valuable information about higher education imparted by the monasteries. He says that the monasteries concentrated both on theoretical as well as practical education.
Though usually each monastery belonged to a particular sect and included the study of the special literature pertaining to the tenets and practices of that particular sect, but often the monks of other sects and schools were also admitted. Therefore, we can say that these monasteries were not run like denominational universities in narrow sectarian spirit.
The old method of education continued, the Erahmanical practice of reciting the texts and understanding their meaning was in force. The scholarship of a person was judged by the ability to expound the texts in public meetings.
Therefore, the monistic education tried to develop the qualities of public debate and exposition and rewarded those who specialised in these qualities. The moral and practical uplift was also given equal importance.
The discipline and conduct of the monks was regulated according to set of rules. The discipline was ensured through a system of punishments graded according to the offences committed. The system of public examination and recognition of moral as well as intellectual merit were also in vogue.
National debates were also held. At these debates the outstanding scholars from all over the country, representing different schools of thought, participated. The rulers of the time like Harsha also encouraged such conferences and rewarded the meritorious scholars.
The account of education in India in the seventh century, as given by Hieun Tsang, was further supplemented by the account left by another Chinese traveller I-Tsing, who came to India in 672 A.D. I-Tsing has particularly provided us with valuable information about the elementary education.
He says that the elementary education began at the age of six. First of all the child was called upon to read Siddhirastu, a book containing forty-nine letters of alphabet and ten thousand syllables arranged in three hundred verses. This primer was finished in six months.
The Sutra of Panini containing one thousand slokas was the next book which the child had to learn. This was followed by works on dhatu (verbs), the three Khilas (supplements). These two works were started by the student at the age of ten and had to be finished within three years.
This was followed by Kasika Vritti, and commentary on Panini’s Sutra. After studying these works the students started learning composition in prose and verse. They also learnt logic and metaphysics.
After the elementary education the students took specialized studies in branches like vyakarana (grammar), religion, etc. Both the secular and religious education was imparted at the Buddhist monasteries. The monasteries not only provided mental and moral training to the monks, but also paid sufficient attention to their physical fitness. The monks had to take regular and prescribed exercises.