In this article we will discuss about the state of Hindu education in the medieval times.
During the Medieval times the Hindu education continued to operate on the ancient lines. No doubt, some of the prominent Hindu universities of Taxila, Nalanda and Vikramshila, the great centres of learning, suffered a decline on account of the onslaughts of early Muslim invaders.
Professor A.L. Srivastava has said, “Muslim invaders destroyed Hindu seats of learning as well as Hindu temples and one of the first and most injurious result of the early Turkish rule was the decline, if not disappearance, of the ancient learning in Northern India.”
Though the temples and educational institutions suffered destruction at the hands of the Muslim invaders and Mosques were raised, the Hindu institutions continued to be a living reality. Their vitality was not killed or crushed through the Hindu education was deprived of the Government patronage, the individual patrons kept flam; of learning burning. Usually, the local population supported the village school.
Ibn Batuta writes “I saw in Hanaur thirteen schools for the instruction of the girls and twenty three for boys, a thing I have not seen anywhere else.”
During the medieval time, there were three types of Hindu educational institutions:
(1) Pathshalas or elementary schools;
(2) Tols or Colleges and
(3) Private schools.
The children were sent to the Pathshalas at the age of 5 after consulting the Astrologer, where he learnt reading, writing and arithmetic. In addition, he was also given some type of elementary religious instructions. The Tols or Colleges were seats of higher learning where the students were taught Sanskrit language and literature.
The other subjects included in the curriculum were Kavya (poetry), Vyakarna (Grammar), Jyotish (astronomy and astrology), Chhanda (thetoric), Nirukta (lexicon) and Nayaya Durshan (philosophy). In some of the colleges instructions were also imparted in Medicine, History, Geography, Puranas, the Vedas.
The chief aim of Hindu education was character building, development of personality, preservation of ancient culture and inculcation of spirit of social service and performance of religious duties. Special emphasis was laid on discipline and self-dependence.
There was no printed Premier and the children were taught orally. During the primary stage, the children learnt alphabets and figures on wooden board (Takhti) or on the dust of the ground in their fingers. The pupils were usually taught under shadow of a tree where they sat in rows. The master attended to them either standing or sitting on a mat or deer skin. The classes were held twice a day—in the morning and evening with an interval for meals.
Education was imparted free. It was considered to be a pious and noble duty to impart education and it was a handmaid of religion. The State did not extend any financial assistance and the necessary funds were provided by individuals as a matter of religious duty with the object of acquiring personal merit in the next world.
According to Professor K.A. Nilakantha Shastri, “Adult education was provided throughout the country by endowments in temples for the recitation and exposition of the Epics and Puranas. An intelligent and popular expositor seldom contained himself to the words of his text, but at once instructed and amused his audience by ranging over a variety of popular instruction is not unknown even at the present day. The singing of devotional hymns in temples by choirs regularly maintained for that purpose and the training of young men for the same purpose in schools generally attached to it has is another side of education that deserve notice. Besides mathas, Jain Pallis and Buddhist Viharas played an important part in educating the people wherever they existed, and they had large libraries of books in all branches of learning which were being copied from time to time.”
Physical punishments were not that common in Hindu educational institutions. Physical punishment was inflicted only to those students who did not behave properly or consistently failed to do their homework. Usually, punishments given to the students, included their detention after school hours or re-writing a particular lesson 10 or 15 times.
There was no system of regular examinations or award of degrees. The promotion of student to the next higher class depended entirely on the discretion of the teachers.
The chief centres of Hindu learning, which can be designated as the universities, were usually set up at places where eminent scholars resided. Usually these universities came up at places of pilgrimage so that the pilgrims could offer necessary financial assistance.
The teachers and scholars thus rid themselves of financial worries and devoted themselves to the acquisition and dispersal of education. Amongst the prominent seats of learning during the Medieval time mention may be made of Banaras (Varanasi), Nadia, Mithila, Madura, Srinagar, Prayag, Ayodhya etc.
Banaras which had been a great centre of learning from earliest times, suffered a great setback during the early Muslim rule due to their policy of religious persecutions. With the advent of the Mughals it once again regained its importance as a seat of learning and attracted scholars from remotest corners of India.
Bernier was greatly impressed by the facilities of higher education available at Banaras and compared it with Athens of ancient Greece as a centre of learning.
He says in his travels, “The town contains no colleges or regular classes as in our universities, but resembles rather the schools of the ancients, the masters being dispersed over different parts of the town in private houses and principally in the gardens of the suburbs, which the rich merchants permit them to occupy. Some of these eminent may have twelve or fifteen, but this is the larger number. It is usual for the pupils to remain ten or twelve years under their respective preceptors, during which time the work of instruction proceeds, but slowly…”
Kabir and Tulsidas carried on their literary activities at Banaras. Raja Jai Singh also founded a college for the education of the Princes at Banaras. In addition, there were number of other scholars of Hindu religion and philosophy which dispersed their knowledge.
Nadia in Bengal was another rare centre of Hindu learning during the Mughal period. This university rose to prominence after the destruction of the university of Nalanda and Vikramshila. The University of Nadia consisted of three branches at Nabadvipa, Santipura and Gopalpara and attracted students from all parts of the country. It is said that in 1618 there were 4,003 pupils and 600 teachers at Nadia. At Nadia the famous Nyaya school was set up by Vasudeva Sarvabhauma and it soon out-rivalled the school of Mithila. Separate sections were also set up for the study of logic,, philosophy and astronomy.
Mithila, located in North Bihar, which was a centre of great learning from the earliest times retained its importance as a centre of learning throughout the medieval period. It made notable contributions in the realm of scientific subject.
During the Mughal days it drew students from all parts of the country and became great seat for the study of logic. With Nadia gaining prominence as a seat of learning Mithila suffered a setback and many students from Mithila started migrating to Nadia. The other important centres of Hindu learning were Mathura, Brindaban, Prayag and they specialised in certain special subjects.