Is Gurukula Education Suitable For India?

Dr. K. Jamanadas,

A few days ago, there was an article in the Hitavada, by Mr. Chaitanya Hazarey, praising highly the 'gurukul system' of education, condemning the British system of education now prevalent in India, and attributing to the present system of education all the discredit, holding it responsible for all the ills of India. Mr. Hazarey is of no consequence, but many prominent highly educated ignorants, like one of Vice-Chancellors of an Indian University, also seem to hold similar views, so this article. It can not be gainsaid that the present educational system needs some changes, but certainly, it can not be accepted that 'gurukul system' is an answer.

Is education responsible for unemployment

The author thinks that the present system is responsible for unemployment, presumably because 'educated youths' become useless for manual labour and white collar jobs are not available in plenty. The argument is not new. At the time of Mahatma Jotirao Phule, his father was advised by his brahmin 'divanji' to withdraw the child from school as the child will be useless for agriculture. Thanks to Ligit sahib and Gaffar Beg Munshi, who persuaded Govindrao, Jotiba's father, against the advice and restarted the education of the child after waste of three years, and thus a "Father of Social Revolution in India" was born.

There is a whispering method of propagation of ideas in India. In this method, you do not have to give a sermon or a lecture or write an article or make T.V. serial. All you do is to casually whisper among your co-participants in any social, religious or political function. It may be casual meeting when you are on trip to market to get vegetables or attending somebody's marriage or a lecture in the hall or seeing a cinema in ganesh festival. You casually mention your idea. Only thing it must be done purposefully, and in strong terms. The fellow opposite usually agrees with you on these occasions. If he does not seem to agree, you change the subject. By this method, the ideas can be planted in the minds of the gullible.

One such idea is, education better be in mother tongue, that way it is easier to understand and retain, etc. etc. But their own children are sent to English Convent schools. In their houses, not only servants but also the cat and dogs and other pets are conversed with in English.

Other idea is 'best is agriculture, medium is business and worst is the service'. The concerned advisers are of course sending their children to lucrative services.

The said article seems to be a part of such a campaign. It may be due to ignorance or may be by design. Similar is this advice to masses by these classes. I have heard many people saying, what is the use of taking education when services are so scarce. This is wrong idea in the minds of 'masses' rooted by 'classes'. The scarcity of jobs should not deter the masses from obtaining the degrees. The mind gets developed and one can get the wisdom to differentiate between good and bad. One can make best use of Information Technology which can be put to best advantage of the public. For example, the situation is turning in such a way that, in near future, one can not be, called a literate, if one does not know about computers. Let us forget about computing in regional languages, with due apology to C-Dac, you can not catch up with the world that way. As it is, it appears that, the revolution of Internet has already bypassed India's bahujans for want of knowledge of English language.

Was the British Education only for making Babus?

Many people think so. May be it is true only in superficial sense. One can not ignore the awakening and aspirations created by Missionaries in the minds of masses. But what were choices available to the British that time? Lord McCauley who was responsible for making the choice of Modern English Education for Indians, had only one alternative, i.e. to give traditional education of sanskrit and vernacular languages and brahmanic sastras. Who would have benefited there by. When we know that early brahmins opposed the education of masses about secular education. Would they have allowed the non-brahmins to learn sastras?

In the reign of last Peshava, daxina was given to all and sundry brahmins. Brahmins used to come from Kanchi, Srirampattam, Kumbhkonam, Tanjawar, Kashi, Kanoj and Mathura and flock together to create a crowd in Poona, once numbering sixty thousand at a time. We also know that even after the end of Peshawai, a very welcome event by the masses, and specially the women of Poona, Britishers continued to please brahmins, though with reduced amount, for sanskrit books. When there was demand for daxina by other brahmins for marathi books, there was hue and cry from orthodox brahmins. However, later half the amount was given to Marathi books also after a big struggle. Thus brahmins resisted against Marathi to prevent lower classes from learning. [Dhanjay Keer, "Mahatma Phule", (MF) marathi, p. 38 ff.] Would they have allowed the non-brahmins to get benefit of Britishers.

In any case, it was the good fortune of Indian masses, that modern education was decided to be imparted to them by Lord McCauley. Otherwise, there would have been no spread of modern ideas and whatever little enlightenment we now see in masses would not have been there. They would have been slaves of the brahmins, who in the name religion controlled their minds. Now at least the SCs and STs are out of their grip, and some OBCs also are out of their fetters, though the majority of OBCs are still slaves of brahmins, in spite of all efforts by the Bahujan leaders like Phule, Shahu, Ambedkar, Periyar, Narayan Guru and many others like them.

The elite wants to hide from the masses that, India had a double slavery. Slavery of masses by brahmins was the real slavery in micro level, experienced in every nook and corner of the country. Slavery of British was over the macro level and was not important to masses. They never came in contact with those rulers. They only came in contact with local rulers, who were brahmins, no matter who ruled above. That is the reason south Indian leaders like Dr. P. Varadrajulu Naydu said that British Imperialism has enslaved our bodies only, but brahmanism has enslaved our souls. The British have taken away our wealth but as it has dominance over social and religious fields, brahmanism has killed the feeling of self respect and freedom in the minds of non-brahmins.[MF-p.314] This feeling was universal among the masses.

What was the essence of Gurukul Education?

Mr. Hazare seems to be very fond of Gurukul education. First thing gurukul was never open to the majority of masses. About 85 to 90 percent of population was outside the pale of Gurukuls. Only the 15 percent population was being catered by Gurukuls. That too, only the boys were admitted and not the girls, thus bringing the total possible population to be only about seven percent.

There were no criteria for admission apart from the caste and whims and fancies of the teacher. Examples of denial of admission to very meritorious candidates on the basis of caste are seen. Glaring example is of Eklavya. Not only the guru Dronacharya denied admission to Eklavya, but demanded Eklavya's thumb as gurudakshina for education NOT imparted by him. Many people feel it is irony of fate and mockery of awards, that such a name is associated with highest sports awards in this country, without any protest from the sufferers of the system.

Second example is of Karna, who got admission to Parashurama's class, which was exclusively reserved for the brahmins, on false statement of caste. Benefit of his knowledge, labeled as unlawfully obtained, was withdrawal when his caste became known, which ultimately lead to his death.

Example of Satyakama Jabala is mentioned by many orthodox people to erroneously show that education in Upanishadic times was open to low caste people. This is a wrong inference drawn from his story. Satyakama was asked by his guru his caste. His mother sent a word to the guru that she did not know the exact father of the child as she had relations with many people. This frank statement, the guru declared, can only be a statement of a son of a brahmin. So the admission to the gurukul was done on the basis of brahmin caste. Not only that, the test applied by him, and his presumption of brahmin caste, was derogatory to non- brahmins, because it was his belief that only brahmins could speak such a truth and non-brahmins could not have uttered such truth.

What were the criteria of selection of teachers in Gurukul?

Mr. Hazare seems to be very sure that teachers selected were of high caliber in knowledge and character. How this idea comes to his mind, is difficult to understand. As a matter of fact there was no central authority controlling the appointment of teachers. There was no fixed syllabus. The main purpose of this learning was to preserve the vedas and gaurd them from non- brahmins. Each and every person by virtue of being a brahmin had an inherent right to be a teacher. He could open an ashram and take pupils as and when he likes, and he could give certificate of completion of studies as and when he chooses. He was not bound by any law of land nor any convention of teachers' body. There used to be guilds and bodies of merchants and craftsmen, but I am unaware if some institution was established to supervise the teaching and conduct of the teacher in such gurukuls. Most of the gurukuls were single teacher residential ones free from any royal or academic control. What was the guarantee of quality under these circumstances? It is a matter of egotism, vanity and conceit to think of quality in such teaching institutions. These had no respect in foreign lands and never attracted any foreign students.

What was the course content?

There seems to be misconceived idea that a student coming out from such a school had all the requisite qualities of a good citizen. This is far from the truth. He used to have learned by heart the brahmanic sastras, which hardly make him versatile. He could never think of outside matters. What is not in his books, does not exist for him. Alberuni, for example, mentioned that Indian scholars have no knowledge of civilization abroad, and they disbelieve if somebody tells them about it. Their thought process centered around the rituals, vratas and ceremonies. After education, their main task involved in seeing that nobody transgress the caste rules, no widow gets remarried, see that all girls married before puberty, and generally nobody transgresses the caste. If anybody did transgress these rules, then this product of gurukul was to sit as the judge to punish the guilty by excommunication and things like that, so that supremacy of brahmin is maintained and the divinely ordained system of chaturvarna works smoothly to the advantage of some and peril to the rest.

Knowledge of Brahmins at the time of arrival of the British

If anybody has any doubt about the standard of education of gurukuls and has any wrong ideas, he better see what is recorded about the knowledge of Brahmins at time of Britishers' arrival.

The brahmins of Poona thought, their town was the whole world. They never tried to find out who were the British and from where they have here. The believed that Calcutta was in England and England was in Calcutta. Any knowledge except sanskrit was considered as a gate way to Hell. They honestly believed that Indra tells the cloud to pour down the rain. The clouds are the elephants of Indra and on his order they make rain. Poona was such a dark valley of ignorance.[MF- p.8] Such was the knowledge of scholars. The modern stories of intelligence of Birbal, Tenali Ram, and Nana Fadnavis are all fables, fabricated to stress upon the masses the false merit of brahmin scholars over the royal princes.

Guru as God

It is true that Guru was elevated to the status of God. There are mantras chanted by brahmins that guru is Brahma, guru is Vishnu, guru is Maheshvara, guru is real supreme godhead, to whom everybody must bow. So we find Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, supreme divine trinity of post Vedic puranik gods to be of same status as guru. But that is not all. This mantra has to be remembered along with another sastrik injunction, that "brahmin is the guru of all varnas" (varnanam brahmano guru). A hindu is not supposed to take any instructions from anybody else other than brahmin. This equates not the teacher with god but a brahmin with god. And sure enough, they are called 'bhudevas' - gods on the earth.

If there were any prerequisites of such respect by the society for the gurus, like good conduct etc., then perhaps this could have been tolerable, but that is not so. That the brahmin, even if becomes corrupt, he is still to be respected as supreme within the three worlds, as is pronounced by a Marathi brahmin saint of seventeenth century, Saint Ramdas, in his religio-socio- political treatise - "Dasbodha". He also avers that brahmin is guru of all; though he becomes inactive is still to be worshipped and that if an 'antyaja', (i.e. todays SCs, STs) becomes learned, still he is useless.

At the time of Mahatma Jotirao Phule, his bitter critic was Vishnu Sastri Chipalunkar - the so called 'the Shivaji of Marathi language'. It is reported about him that, he thought country means not people, but its land, language, hindu traditions and history of famous people. The pride of these was patriotism for him. His writings were miles away from reality and rationalism. [MF p. 166] He abused Phule by calling him 'shudra jagatguru', 'shudra poet', 'shudra dharma sansthapak' and said Phule 'barks' against brahmins. [MF p. 168] He said Brahmins may be cunning and cruel, but one thing is sure, the keys of store house of knowledge are in their waist, and without these keys no other castes can be educated.[MF p.169] He repeated old sastric injunction in an arrogant manner, that the world is under control of gods, the gods are under the control of mantras, and mantras are sole property of brahmins, so brahmins are the gods on earth.

During British times, some Europeans became College professors and were teaching the Indian students. This equation of gurus with god became very intolerable to the brahmins of the time, which made Shivaram Mahadev Paranjape, a learned brahmin of Maharashtra, to pronounce that, 'he aamache guru ch navhet" - "these people are not at all our gurus".

Women had no right to education

Since long, women are not allowed any education in brahmanic system. Some scholars are at pains to tell us that, originally, women also took education. They point out the names of Maitereyi and Gargee in Vedic times. No doubt, there was a time, the sanskara of Upnayana was allowed to women. The more important point is when was it stopped and why. Perhaps Manu Smriti could provide an answer, when it enjoined that women should be under care of father, husband or son and never independent. And also that the father who does not marry his daughter before age of eight, goes to hell. Why were these restrictions put? Just for weaning them away from Buddhism. On the contrary, women were educated in Buddhist centers till quite late. You can see a painting of about sixth or seventh century, in Ajanta, where a girl is sitting in front of a teacher along with boys.

There should be no women teachers

When no teacher was available for Phule's school, Sawitribai got educated and became the first woman teacher in India after about two thousand years. Altekar tells us women teachers were not seen in India, since beginning of Christian Era. [Altekar A.S., quoted MF p. 31] Today a woman can become a teacher, thanks to the British, but still she can not be a vedic teacher. Even in modern times a shankaracharya proclaims that women should not utter the vedic hymns. The reason he gave was not religious; perhaps he was too shy of giving a religious reason in this modern times. But the reason he gave was a biological one. He said that chanting of Vedic hymns would damage the female reproductive organs. Most astounding reason ever heard of. Medical fraternity of India is second biggest in the world, but nobody seems to have taken note of this new etiological factor in diseases of female anatomy, and commented on this. Very very scientific attitude indeed.

Creation of Illiteracy

Present India is illiterate, no doubt about it. But it was not so all the time. When Aryans were savages, there was an urban Dravidian civilization in India, the Harrapan Civilization, and they had their own script.

Ashokan edicts are scattered all over India. They are written in Prakrit language, not in Sanskrit. It shows the language of people was Prakrit. As a matter of fact Sanskrit was not spoken anywhere, any time. It was an artificial language only meant for writing. Even in South India, the most ancient inscriptions are in Prakrit. Sanskrit inscriptions came later on. The mere presence of Ashokan Edicts denotes that Ashokan India was literate India. Historians believe that a great percentage of common people in Mauryan period were literate, who could read these edicts, which were meant for common people. Otherwise, there was no sense in spending so much amount in inscribing the edicts and inscriptions on rock, pillar and caves. Dr. Vincent Smith is of the opinion that, "literacy in those days was higher than many provinces of the British regime." [Indian History- p.134]

India is supposed to have largest number of illiterates in the world. Many institutions are fed on State revenue for the 'noble' cause of so called 'adult' literacy. But nobody tells us why India remained illiterate for centuries. It was Dr. Ambedkar who brought this fact in light. [vol 3, p.41] He averred that, without formal education the accumulated thought and experience relating to a subject can not learned by a student and he will not get new perception and his horizon will not widen. This requires schools, books and planned materials and literacy. Formal education was confined study of to Vedas alone, in schools only for brahmins, as they propagated that there was no knowledge outside Vedas. Education of rest was neglected by the state. Children of vaishyas learned rudiments of business geography and arithmetic from fathers in course of business, and so did the shudra craftsmen from their parents. This education was domestic and practical. Due to this illiteracy became inherent part of Hindus. Manu and others made laws to this effect. Those who had right to study the Vedas had right to read and write, others were deprived of this right.. So according to laws of Manu, reading and writing has become the right of few high caste men and illiteracy has become the destiny of low caste multitudes. This is how literacy was prohibited and general ignorance prevailed among the masses.

Such is the system of Gurukuls. It is very surprising and sad that, there are still in this age, some learned supporters of this system, which needs to be condemned out rightly.

Why such a love for gurukuls

The question arises, why there should be affinity in the minds of people for such gurukuls, which do not as a matter of fact exist today, except for a few attempts scattered in various states to revive Brahmanic schools, where English also is taught, so also modern archery but no science. Either it could be due to ignorance of exact nature of such gurukuls in the past and as a blanket glorification of everything that is ancient, or it may be a purposeful mischievous planed strategic tactic and a wily trick to promote brahmin supremacy on the gullible 'masses' by the learned and knowledgeable 'classes'.

The other reason could be the natural desire from nationalistic standpoint and thought that brahmin culture of ancient India was the only culture available and we must glorify it, may be it was good or bad.

India a land of Hindus, Is it?

There is a feeling in the minds of many, that India is and was a Hindu country having always had a majority of Hindus. This again is a misconception. In historical times the population of India was never in majority of Hindus. Swami Vivekananda, [L.M.Joshi, Studies in Buddhistic culture, p. 358] estimated Buddhist to be two thirds of population and Dr. Ambedkar [Anihil. castes. p. 146] says Buddhist were in majority. Then there were Jains and Veerashaivas and Tribal religions in addition to Muslims, Sikhs and Christians. So taking hinduism as religious faith, they were neither the most ancient nor the most numerous. If one considers Hindu not as religion but as geographical entity like as Hindu comes from pronunciation of Sindhu, then also one has to consider others as a part of, and rightful owners of, this land, irrespective of their religious faith. And Hindu or Aryan as cultural entity has a very poor claim and one could not accept the conditionality of respect for Rama and Krishna etc. as a precondition of nationality, as Gail Omvedt very rightly analyses the situation and comments, "In other words, the construction of Hinduism as achieved by the Hindu-nationalists and accepted in various forms by many supposed secularists as well, rests on a trick: conflating the two contradictory definitions of a broad, territorial, pluralistic, historical identity with a religious culture that continues to give dominance to an Aryan / Vedic / Sanskritic / brahmanic core." [Dalit visions p.95]

Dr. Ambedkar very rightly said, "It must be recognized that there never has been a common Indian Culture, that historically there have been three Indias, Brahmanic India, Buddhist India and Hindu India, each with its own culture. ... It must be recognized that the history of India before the Muslim invasions is the history of a mortal conflict between Brahmanism and Buddhism." [vol. 3 p. 275]

Buddhist Educational System

This brings us to another question. What was the Educational system of Buddhists. Buddhists had their own educational system and was entirely based on different principles. Buddhists never believed in caste distinctions, they believed in equality of all men, they believed in equal status to women. Even after the fall of Buddhism, the education system continued through the siddhas. The students used to utter 'om namao siddam' at the start of their studies. The present 'ganeshay namah' is quite recent. The remnant of this system of siddhas, the word 'onama' meaning 'beginning' - a corrupted form of 'om namah siddham' - still exists in marathi language.

To understand the difference between Brahmanic and Buddhist methods of education is a crucial point which should not be missed if one wants to realize the implications of the education system in Indian Society. The ancient India was known all over the world for Buddhist Education, not Brahmanic.

Brahmanic education was essentially a single individual teacher with his small group of disciples and pupils at his residence. On the other hand, Buddhist system is institutional i.e. monastic. This difference is significant, leading to different lines of evolution. Prof. Mookerji says, "The necessity of a domestic environment in the brahmanical system did not favour the expansion of a small school under an individual teacher into a large educational federation, controlled by a collective body of teachers, as was the characteristic of the Buddhist system." [Ancient Indian Education, p. 460, quoted from 2500 years of Buddhism, (TYB) Bapat P.V. ed, p. 156] It gave birth to those large scale monastic universities, with thousands of teachers and students, and attracted students from all over Asia. Evolution which continued for more than fifteen hundred years culminated in establishing Universities like Nalanda, Vallabhi, Vikramsila, Jagaddala, Odantpuri etc. [S. Dutta, TYB, p. 157] Though these universities started as training grounds for monks, did not remain places for cloistered meditation but developed into seats of culture and learning.and remained so till got destroyed by muslim invasions. [S. Dutta, ibid. p. 157]

Those were the times, without any books, all teaching was imparted by word of mouth. Books came not before first century B.C. Students had to learn by heart Dhamma and Vinaya, and at the end of learning there used to be a ceremony of Paravarna, on the last day of varsavas. [Ibid. p 157] The remnants of this Buddhist practice, remains even now in the form of "Kojagiri" in Maharashtra and by other names in other areas like "Pujagiri" in Bengal.

During the course, there was unrestricted freedom to argue, to dispute, and debate and each was expected to think reason and decide for himself all matters of vinaya and dhamma, [Ibid. p. 160] the facility, presumably was absent in gurukuls.

The subjects were not only dharma and vinaya but they were trained in e varied cultural subjects, in the tenets of other faith, in systems of philosophy, and even the subjects of pragmatic importance like agriculture and architecture. Afterwards, when books began to be written, these centers developed huge splendid manuscript libraries. [Ibid. p. 161]

We have seen in gurukuls, admission was based on basis of caste, reserved only to all dwijas technically. but only to brahmins in practice, because in Kali yuga, there were only two varnas, brahmins and shudras, and the last kshatriya kula was that of Nandas, because they did not want to recognize the Mauryas as Kshatriyas. We also know that people of all castes were admitted to Buddhist sangha, and in Buddhist centers of learning, the admission was open not only to monks of different Buddhist sects but, also to unordained seekers of knowledge and learning, even to non-Buddhists, irrespective of caste and sect, religious denomination or nationality. [Ibid. p. 161, 170]

It is also worth noting that the system of education was totally free and for the benefit of residence and learning in a monastery, there could of course be no question of payment. The monasteries were maintained by grants from princes and people alike as an act of spiritual merit.[Ibid. p.162]


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