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Embracing the Gurukul Way?

Embracing the Gurukul Way?

By Aditi Maheshwari


Gurukul system of education was one of the first formal education system in ancient India (dating back to around c. 1700 BCE – c. 500 BCE), where “shisya” and “guru” used to reside in the guru’s ashram or in proximity and had a comprehensive application of education which included imparting life skills with Vedas at its epicentre. Vedas were not taught in isolation. An overall development learning was inclusive of physical tenacity, intellectual attentiveness, emotional balance, spiritual elevation and socially responsible skills are nurtured through collective knowledge on Spirituality, Mysteries of Creation, Astronomy, Mathematics, Aeronautics, Geology, Agriculture, Ecology, Science and Technology along with understanding of ethics and management that holds humanity together.


Yoga, Sanskrit, Ayurveda and other allied subjects were taught simultaneously and formed an integral part of the Vedic education. Sanskrit a venerable language of India and a source of new languages and literature across the world formed the basis of these gurukul teachings.  The first ever book of the world i.e.: Rigveda was compiled in Sanskrit. The predominant Sanskrit literature holds exquisite traditional knowledge comprising of scientific, technical, philosophical, religious texts in a poetic and dramatic version.


Intellectual discernment (“Viveka” in Sanskrit) required the application of Vedic insights in true sense in our routine lives. India’s native educational tradition is rich in imparting knowledge and wisdom using methodologies to cultivate this necessary intellectual and emotional culture among youth. India is notable for its religious diversity, with Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Islam, Christianity, and Jainism among the nation$s major religions all thriving together. In-spite of such rich and diverse traditional background the mainstream education system in India has ignored the Indic dimension of imparting education.


Veda is a Sanskrit word, meaning knowledge, wisdom. ‘Vedic’ means ‘of the knowledge’, refers to the original knowledge given by supernatural to humankind. Brahman “the Cosmic Principle” is a key concept found in the Vedas and is thoroughly discussed in the early Upanishads. Hindus following Dvaita Vedanta consider that the individual Self, known as jīvātmans, and the eternal metaphysical Absolute called Brahman in Hinduism exist as independent realities, and that these are distinct. Such a philosophical system of Dvaita as set out in the Vedas and popularised by Madhvacharya in the 13th century has been influential on Hinduism.


Veda Mantras have been carried through oral communication over thousands of years by adopting a technique called ashta vikruti: eight variants like Jata, mala, etc. These variants of chanting were designed by the rishis to protect the original text so that it remains untarnished with time. However, Vedic Mathematics is an assemblage of techniques/sutras to solve mathematical problems in practical ways. It consists of 16 Sutras and 13 sub-sutras, which can be used for solving problems in arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, conics. Vedic Mathematics continues to be the core principles amongst the researchers across the world. It may sound unrealistic and outdated but it surpasses the current technological advancements. It helps in calculations relating to Mysteries of creation, Astronomy, Mathematics, Aeronautics, Geology, Agriculture, Ecology, Science and Technology including management that holds humanity together.


Even today Sanskrit continues to be widely accepted and cherished as a ceremonial language in Hindu religious rituals and Buddhist practice in the form of hymns and chants. People are realising the importance of Sanskrit not just in religious context, but they are recognising the value of knowledge it provides and this is gaining acceptance across the globe with many universities making ‘Sanskrit Language’ a part of their curriculum.


Various institutes are offering 2-3 years course on study of Vedas.  Indic Knowledge Studies is trending large in recent times. Scholars and professionals from mainstream academic disciplines are now exchanging notes with Indian Shaastras. The exploration for utilizing Shaastric knowledge in contemporary applications is on the rise and it is envisaged that there is huge scope for research in this direction. Integral Psychology aims to bring together the Modern Perspectives and Vedic Perspectives on the mind (manas), intellect (buddhi), ego (ahankara), consciousness (chitta).


In today’s time when young students are opting for courses on technology and robotics, this young lad 20 years old Sangam Pathak from Kathmandu was awarded a Gold Medal for excellent result for Bachelor in Vedas course in India along with other 4 Nepali students: Basudev Aryal, Bipin Sapkota, Kedar Prasad Adhikari and Siddhartha Pandey. Sangam completed his schooling in Nepal and came to India for further studies in Vedas. He performed proficiently in academics since his school days. His decision to choose to study Vedas may sound an orthodox choice but in reality, he has chosen the best curriculum for personal growth, by opting to study Vedas in detail. He is now equipped to serve society wisely. He is not just carrying forward the traditional literature and knowledge but is also leading the youth of today to make wiser choices in life.


Preserving the core culture and traditions and carrying forward the values as well as to provide better understanding of not only of Hinduism but also of science and technology that is not being studied sufficiently and in the right perspective is in itself a great contribution to society. This also reignites the question that why our traditional knowledge is being ignored and not given the due credit it deserves by studying them in detail. “Old is gold” holds so true in this context.  


Education sector has witnessed a host of reform and improved financial outlays recently that holds the potential to transform the country into a knowledge haven. However, it’s an obvious fact that current education in India is different from that of the “Gurukula.” The current curriculum is mostly focused on computer, technology skills, and on the competitive examination and grades rather than moral, ethical and spiritual education which forms the basis of humanity but still not made a substantial place in modern education system.


Taxila was one of the oldest and prominent centres of learning with renowned teachers in the past. In Pali it is called as Takkasilā and in Sanskrit as तक्षशिला; $(City of hewn stone$). One of the earliest mentions of Taxila is in Pāṇini$s Aṣṭādhyāyī, a Sanskrit grammar treatise dated from the 5th to 4th centuries BCE. In the Buddhist Jatakas, Taxila is described as the capital of the kingdom of Gandhara. In Vedic texts such as the Shatapatha Brahmana, it is mentioned that the Vedic philosopher Uddalaka Aruni (c. 7th century BCE) had travelled to the region of Gandhara. Later in Buddhist texts, the Jatakas, it is specified that Taxila was the city where Aruni and his son Shvetaketu each had received their education. By 317 BCE, Taxila came under the control of Chandragupta Maurya, who turned Taxila into a regional capital and his advisor, Kautilya/Chanakya, was said to have taught at Taxila$s university. Under the reign of Ashoka, Chandragupta$s grandson, the city was made a great seat of Buddhist learning.


Taxila exerted a sort of "intellectual suzerainty" over other centres of learning in India focusing on higher education. Generally, a student joined Taxila at the age of sixteen. Students arriving at Taxila usually had completed their primary education at home (until the age of eight), and their secondary education in the Ashrams (between the ages of eight and twelve). The Taxila education covered Vedas, revered scriptures, Eighteen Silpas or Arts, political science, law, medical science, management, economics, military training, archery, hunting, elephant lore, etc. It encouraged debates and public speaking. Students came to Taxila from far-off places such as Kashi, Kosala and Magadha, because of the quality of education it provided, despite the long and arduous journey they had to undergo.


Taxila had great influence on Hindu culture and the Sanskrit language. It is perhaps best known for its association with Chanakya, also known as Kautilya, the strategist who guided Chandragupta Maurya and assisted in the founding of the Mauryan empire. Chanakya$s Arthashastra (The knowledge of Economics) is said to have been composed in Taxila. The Ayurvedic healer Charaka also studied at Taxila and later also started teaching at Taxila. Pāṇini, the grammarian who codified the rules that would define Classical Sanskrit, has also been part of the community at Taxila. The institution is significant in Buddhist tradition since it is believed that the Mahāyāna branch of Buddhism took shape there. Jīvaka, the court physician of the Magadha emperor Bimbisara who once cured the Buddha, and the Buddhism-supporting ruler of Kosala, Prasenajit, are some important personalities mentioned in Pali texts who studied at Taxila.


The best part was No external authorities like kings or local leaders controlled the scholastic activities at Taxila. Each teacher enjoyed complete autonomy in work, teaching as many students and as many subjects he liked without conforming to any centralised syllabus. Study terminated with the teacher’s approval on the student$s level of achievement. However, specialisation in a subject took around eight years, this period could be short or long depending on the intellectual abilities and dedication of the student. Generally, the "schools" were within the teachers’ premises, and sometimes students were advised to quit their studies if they were unable to perform well.


Knowledge was considered too sacred and hence any monetary compensation was strictly condemned. Financial support came from the society at large including rich merchants and donations from the king. Teachers did not deny education even if the student was poor and had to be provided with free boarding and lodging facilities. Also, students were made to do household work to make them self-sufficient. “Gurudakshina” was usually expected at the completion of a student$s studies, but it was a mere token of respect and gratitude – sometimes nothing more than a turban, a pair of sandals, or an umbrella, etc. In cases of poor students unable to afford even that, they could ask the king for aid, who would then help. Not providing a poor student a means to supply his Guru$s Dakshina was considered the greatest slur on a King$s reputation.


Taxila was one of the earliest universities in the world. Some do not consider it a university in the modern sense, because the teachers living there may not have had official degree of colleges, and there was no classified infrastructure in Taxila, in contrast to the later Nalanda university of eastern India. Examinations were considered as superfluous, and not necessary to complete one$s studies. The process of teaching was critical and thorough- unless one unit was mastered completely, the student was not allowed to proceed to the next. It was believed that knowledge was its own reward so no convocations were held upon completion, and no written "degrees" were awarded. Using knowledge for any selfish use was considered sacrilegious unlike the modern approach of carrying a business of imparting education. Retrospection is the need of the hour to incorporate the wisdom of the Gurukul in accordance with the requirements of the current era.