5.1 History of Education: How was education in ancient India like?

Chapter 5


5a i). Give an analysis of education in ancient India

1.   Introduction

In the last chapter, we saw how education developed in ancient Egypt and how that education laid the foundations for the development of modern education. In this lecture, we shall examine how the three major religions, Jainism, Buddhism, and Hinduism influenced the development of education in ancient India.

2. Objective:

By the end of this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Describe how the religions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism contributed to the development of education in ancient
  • Identify by listing the major contents of these three

3.   Content.

  • : Indian Civilization, Religion and Education

The Indian civilization arose between 2,500 and 1,500 B.C. along the Indus River. It was centred on the proper utilization and management of the resources of the Indus River Valley, mainly agriculture.

The civilization thrived between 1,3000 B.C. and A.D 450, during which time. Hinduism and Buddhism arose and developed into major world religions. A third religion, Jainism, arose, although it had fewer adherents than the first two.

The three religions affected education in India in basic ways. To understand the education of Ancient India, therefore, requires us to also understand the religious foundation of this education. Education was inseparable from religion. Indeed, the principles of this education were contained in the three religions’ holy texts.

At the elementary level education was devoted to the vocations and was, therefore, practical and utilitarian. It included religious instruction.

Higher education was highly esteemed as the path to salvation. Among the Hindus or Brahmans, higher education was offered in training colleges called parishads and forest colleges, which catered for the higher education of distinguished scholars and emphasized contemplation religious education was conducted in temple colleges, whereas secular matters were taught in the court schools. The dominant teaching methods were oral and rote, emphasizing memorization and imitation.

Note:  Just as we observed in the last chapter, religion was central to education in Ancient India. Whereas this role has been reduced over time, religion still plays an important part in modern Indian education.

Question:  What was the basis of Indian civilization?

Activity: Name the four categories of higher education institutions for Brahmans (Hindus).

  • : Hinduism and Education

Hinduism is one of the leading religions of the world, in terms of the number of its followers scattered all over the world.   The religion has   three main gods:

  • Brahma, the creator, or lord of the universe
  • Vishnu, the preserver of the universe, and
  • Siva, the

Teachings about, these gods are contained in the    Upanishads.

Hinduism is a complex and eclectic religion, combining several ideas, and being polytheistic in worship and action, but monotheistic in theory.

According to Hinduism, salvation means ascending from the sinful materialistic world into god, Brahma. Accordingly, the main aim of education is to enable one to be free from earthly desire.

The language of Hindu learning and scriptures is called Sanskrit. The Vedas contain Ancient Hindu religious teachings, which include hymns, chants and rituals. The Vedas are the holy texts. They clearly show that Indian society was stratified into a rigid caste system, which prescribes the duties of each caste. The castes included:

  • The Brahmans – the intellectuals, rulers, teachers and
  • The Kshatriyas – warlords, warriors and administrators
  • The Vaisyas – farmers, herders, money-handlers and
  • The Sudras – menial servants and serfs of the first three classes. Members of each caste had their own duties, responsibilities and

privileges. The caste system was thus a social and religious stratification and was central to the operation of Hinduism.  The caste system allowed  no mobility between the classes and no equality of opportunity, even in education. The Sudras and women hardly received any education.

Those cast out of their classes for non-adherence to the rigid stipulations were referred to as Pariahs. These were tasteless and had no rights or privileges.

Note:  Once again we have come across the unequal nature of another ancient civilization in regard to educational opportunities. The denial of education or limited access to it  to women and those of low-socioeconomic status would appear to be deeply rooted in history.

Question:  What were the major aims of Hindu education?

Activity: Using this text, compare the relative equity of educational opportunity given to the various gender and social classes in ancient societies.


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