In this article we will discuss about the different types of institutions through which education was imparted to people in ancient India.
Broadly speaking three different types of institutions were in vogue which imparted education to the people in Ancient India. In the first instance there was the popular system under which the teacher, as a settled householder, admitted pupils of a tender age and imparted instructions to them.
We also get references in the earlier period when a child received education from his father. Usually the pupils were admitted by the teachers on request by the preceptor and the rite of upanayana was performed. The students usually spent twelve years with their guru. During this period the student lived at the house of teacher and performed several duties as a means of his moral and spiritual discipline.
The usual duties performed by the students included begging for the teacher, collection of wood for sacrificial fires, looking after the house work as well as the cattle. They devoted the rest of the time to their studies.
On his part the teacher had also to fulfill certain moral and spiritual conditions. He was to be well versed in sacred lore and live entirely as a Brahman. He was expected to teach his pupil the truth as was known to him, without concealing anything. Education was open to people of all classes of the Indo-Aryan stock. But the course of training and subjects were not uniform for students of all castes.
While the Brahmana student was specially trained up for teaching and performing sacrifices for others and receiving gifts, the Kshatriya was taught about defence or protection of his people.
But we frequently come across references in Upanishads of Brahmanas of the learned Kshatriyas and princes who studied the Vedas and attained proficiency in the sacred lore, which was special property of the Brahmans. For example king Janaka of Videha was a learned Kshatriya who imparted sacred knowledge to the Brahmanas.
Women were also permitted to receive education in Ancient India. In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad we get a reference to Gargi taking important part in the philosophical discussions. The Upanishads also mention several women taking as teachers. However, the women specialised in fine arts like dancing and singing, the accomplishments which were considered unfit for men.
Education was imparted through discourses by the teachers. The students could ask questions and were supposed to introspect and contemplate on those topics. They were to acquire knowledge about Ultimate Truth and Reality through meditation.
The acquisition of knowledge was supposed to precede by annihilation of all desire and annihilation of the illusion of a manifold universe, of the consciousness of plurality. This could be attained through sannyasa and yoga.
The former meant casting off of one’s home, possessions and family and all that stimulated desire. Yoga meant withdrawal from all organs of sense and concentrating mind on the Inner Self endeavors with a view to secure union with Atma.
The second type of institutions were meant for the imparting of advanced education to the students who were not satisfied with the knowledge acquired as students and were popularly known as academies. Usually the specialists and literary celebrities held academic meetings in different parts of the country for the purpose of philosophical discussion.
The students keen to acquire advanced education held discussions with these specialists and learnt the truth about the Atma. Participation in debates with these academies enabled the students to check their knowledge which they had acquired at elementary schools.
In addition to these academies located in different areas, the king often called special national gatherings or Congress, in which the representative thinkers of the country of various schools were invited to meet and exchange their views.
Such Congresses helped a great deal in the spread of learning in those days. We learn of one such Congress of rishis in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the Satapatha Brahmana and the Vayu Purana.