Education in Ancient India – An overview
[Published in Sadguru's Blessings - Jan2012 Issue. Available online@ http://188.8.131.52/~harihara/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/January-2012.pdf]
Knowledge is the stimuli to the soul as the food to the body. It is said that man is born as a potential whereas all the other animals born in their original form; means, a dog will be dog and it has no improvements. But the man can challenge his limits of consciousness and can expand it to the infinite heights. He should be equipped with the right knowledge and come out of his mediocre mind to traverse in the path of light. Hence a divine status is give to knowledge in our culture. Education is the right key to attain the knowledge.
From the time unknown, India was famous for its scholars, philosophers and saints. Maharshi Valmiki, Veda Vyasa, Upanishad time scholars like Ashtaavakra, Maitreyee, Gaargi, and in the later period like Paanini, Ubhaya Bharathi, Govinda Bhagavatpada, Adi Guru Shankara are just a few to mention. It is said that Jadadguru Adi Shankara was mastered in all the four vedas at his eighth age. A shloka describes his scholarship in hindu scriptures:
Meaning, Adi shankara was was mastered in four vedas at the age of eight and at his twelfth age he was well versed in all Shastras. He wrote Bhaashyas to Vedas at his sixteenth age and he left his body at the age of thirty two.
In ancient India, we had several educational hubs like Vaarnaasi, Kashmira, Nalanda, Takshashila and so on. It is said that, at Nalanda University’s peak time, it attracted scholars and students from as far away as Persia, Greece and China, as well. Nalanda was one of the world's first residential universities, i.e., it had dormitories for students. It is also one of the most famous universities. In its heyday, it accommodated over 10,000 students and 2,000 teachers. Courses were drawn from every field of learning, Buddhist and Hindu, sacred and secular, foreign and native. Students studied science, astronomy, medicine, and logic as diligently as they applied themselves to metaphysics, philosophy, Samkhya, Yoga-shastra, the Veda, and the scriptures of Buddhism. [Source - Wikipedia]
Varanasi, popularly known as Kaashi, has been a sacred place since very ancient times. It is mentioned in the Vedas, puranas and also many Jain and Buddhist texts. It was a great hub of education for the Hindus as well as for other religions Buddhism and Jainism. There students were taught the Vedas, Upanishads and other schools of philosophy and religious thought in theashrams or study centers that existed in the nearby forests. All the major Accharyas of our religion were associated with Kaashi and it is believed that their work, including Shaivism, Advaitha, Vaishanvism, Dvaitha were having significant influence from Kaashi. Scholars studied in Kaashi were treated with great respect throughout the country.
Kashmir was another centre of learning from ancient times. Even we pray our Godess Sharada as ‘Kaashmeera Puravaasini’. It was famous for scholarly works on Sanskrith. It had major influence on ‘Kashmir Shaivism’, Budhism and other schools of philosophies.
There were thousands of different educational institutes/Gurukuls in ancient India during different timeframes. School at the Nataraja temple situated at Chidambaram, Vikramshila , Odantapuri in Bihar, Somapura now in Bangladesh, Nagarjunakonda in Andhra Pradesh, Valabhi in Gujarat, Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu, Puspagiri and Ratnagiri in Orissa are few to mention. This list is non-exhaustive, but a symbolic only.
As per a classical Indian tradition “Saa vidya yaa vimuktaye”, (that which liberates us is education). The education system at ancient time was aimed at moulding a person’s mind with moral, knowledgeable qualities.
Author:Prabhuprasad Naduthota, Sringeri