Education in Vedic Period

Since the time of Vedas, Rigveda being the supreme, ancient Indian education system took holistic approach towards an individual development by taking care of both inner and outer self. The ancient focused on the values such as moral, physical, self-reliance and respect for all creations.

The beliefs of Vedas and Upanishads were followed in teaching and learning fulfilling the duties towards self, family and society which again covers all aspects of life. Education system at that time focused both on learning and physical development. Ancient Indian education system emphasize on healthy mind and healthy body.

Following are the various sources of education:

  • The ancient education system was based from the education of the Vedas, Brahmanas, Upanishads and Dharmasutras.
  • The writings of various learned –namely- Aryabhata, Panini, Katayana, Patanjali, Charaka and Sushruta (for medical treatises).
  • Physical Education was an important circular area and pupils participated in krida (games, recreational activities),vyayamprakara ( exercise), dhanurvidya (archery), yagosadhna (training mind and body).
  • To assess pupil’s learning – Shastratha (learned debates) were organized.
  • System of peer learning was in place- Pupils at an advanced stage of learning guided younger pupils.
  • Shastras (learned disciplines), Kavyas (imaginative and creative literature),Itihas (History),Anviksiki (logic),Mimasa (interpretation),Shilpashastra(architecture),Arthashast(polity),Varta (agriculture,trade,commerce and animal husbandry) and Dhanurvidya (archery)

Forms and Education System of Ancient India

Education in Buddhist Era

There were both formal and informal ways of education system in Ancient India. Initial education/knowledge was imparted at homes, in temples, pathshalas, tols,chatuspadis and gurukuls. Guidance was also given by elderly in homes, villages to young children. Temples were the centers of learning and took interest in the promotion of knowledge in the Indian ancient system.

For higher education, students used to go to viharas and universities of higher knowledge.Mode of teaching were mostly oral and students remembered and meditate  upon what was taught in the class.

Gurukuls were like boarding schools (residential places of learning) conducting by various stages. Women also had access to education during Vedic period.Prominent  women scholars were- Maitreyi, Viswambhara, Apala, Gargi, Lopamudra etc.

The main objective was to have complete learning, leading a disciplined life and realizing one’s inner potential. The relationship of guru (teacher)  and shishya              (disciple) strengthened with time. While pursuing their education in different disciplines like history, art of debate, law, medicine, etc., the emphasis was not only on  the outer dimensions of the discipline but also on enriching inner dimensions of the personality.

Many Viharas/Monasteries were set up for monks and nuns to meditate, debate and discuss with the learned for the knowledge .There were many other educational  centers set up for higher learning which attracted people from  other countries like China, Korea,Tibet,Burma,Ceylon,Nepal  etc.


The most notable universities that evolved during this period were situated at Takshila,Nalanda,Valabhi,Vikramshila,Odantapuri and Jagaddala- these established      connections with Viharas. Other universities which developed at Benaras,Navdeep and Kanchi developed in connection with temples,thus,became community centers.The kings would occasionally ask them to meet,debate and exchange views.

Taxilla University and Nalanda University has been declared heritage sites by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

TAXILLA UNIVERSITY :Taxilla was a noted center of learning,especially religious teachings of Buddhism, for several centuries. It was destructed in the 5th century CE.The curriculum here comprised of the study of ancient scriptures,law, medicine,astronomy,military science and the eighteen silpas or arts.One of the famous students of Taxilla were the legendary Indian grammarian,Panini. He was an expert in language and grammar.His one of the famous books is Astadhyayi. Another popular students were Jivaka (renowned physician) and Chanakya, also known as Kautaliya, a skilled component of statecraft. Chanakya wrote/composed his book Arthshashtra here. The teachers had complete autonomy in aspects of selection of their students and syllabus.   They could admit as many students as they liked and to one who wanted to learn. Debate and discussions were the primary methods of teaching. Teachers were assisted by their advanced level students.

NALANDA UNIVERSITY: The ancient Nalanda was a center of learning  from the  5th century CE to 12th Century. Currently,they are located in Rajgir,Bihar,India. Nalanda was one of the   oldest universities of the world and UNESCO declared the ruins of Nalanda Mahavihara,a world heritage site.The new Nalanda university is predicted as a center of inter-civilization dialogue.

Chinese scholars Xuan Chang  and I-Qing visited Nalanda University in 7th Century. The university was called Nala at that time. According to them, there were a   variety of courses offered in a variety of disciplines through the methods of debate and discussions. Xuang  Zang studied Yogashashtra at Nalanda. He has mentioned  that Chancellor of Nalanda, Shilabhadra,was the highest living authority in Yoga. Students at Nalanda studied the Vedas and were also trained in fine arts, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, politics and the art of warfare.


During ancient times knowledge was considered sacred and thus no fee was charged. Financial support used to come from wealthy parents, rich merchants and society. Gifts were in the form of buildings and land to the university. Other universities giving free education at the ancient times were Valabhi,Vikramshila and Jagaddala.

In South India, Agraharas served as centres of learning and teaching. The cultural institutions in South Indian kingdom were known as Ghatika and Brahmapuri.

Ghatika was a center of learning including religion and was small in size whereas Agrahara were bigger institutions. Agrahara were a  whole settlement of learned Brahmins,powerful in relations to government and was maintained by donations from the society. The other sources of education were Temples, Mathas, Jain Basadis and Buddhist Viharas.

After the 5th Century B.C.,Buddhist Education brought a major reform in Indian Education system, The emergence of Buddhisim granted  the people opportunity to obtain education and practice the religion which the Brahmins have deprived the common people of.The collection of Buddhist teaching is known as Triptikas,which are of three types became the main source of learning.The Vinay Pitak consist of rules of behavior, Sakta Pitak was collection of religious sermons and examples, and Abhidhamna Pitak were descriptions of the main teachings of Lord Buddha and his philosophical thought.


Education in Medieval Period (Mughal Era)

Arab and Central Asian peoples brought Muslim educational models to the subcontinent in the both medieval and early medieval periods. The muslin kings, during their reign built many schools and colleges for propagation of Islam and higher learning. Most of the education centers were located in and near Delhi. Scholarships and financial help were granted to scholars. Special interest was taken to educate the slaves. Separate schools were established for educating Hindu Children. Many Hindu books like Mahabhrata,Ramayana and Atharaveda was translated into Persian and many Muslim books were translated into Sanskrit.An Act was passed that if any rich man died without an heir then his property will be taken by the state for construction and repair of educational institutions and promotion of education.

The curriculum was divided into two categories:

 1.The traditional (manqulat) : Under the traditional sciences the subject introduced included, law, history and literature.

 2.The rational (maqulat) sciences: Included Logic, Philosophy, medicine, mathematics, astronomy etc.­­­

Traditional subjects dominated the reign of Iltutmish till the reign of Sikander Lodi ( 1211-1517).After which logic and philosophy were introduced in the system of curriculum.

In the Muslim period, the education was organized in Maktabs and Madrasas.Primary education was given in Maktabs and Higher Education in Madrasas.In Maktabs, the children were taught Persian Language and scripts. They were given religious knowledge by making them remember Ayats of Quran.Religious education was emphasized along with the study of literature, General education was also given in Maktabs such as letter writing, applications and accountancy.

After completion of Maktabs, one would go to Madrasas for higher education. Practical affairs of life were also attended to. Islamic religion was compulsory to be taught  to all the students. The subjects taught at madrasas included medicine, mathematics, history, geography, economics, political science, philosophy, astrology and law.

If the students used Sanskrit as their official language attained the familiarity to the terms of Vedanta,Jurisprudence and Patanjali. AbulFazl has described the educational system, introduced by Akbar in his famous book Ain-e-Akbari. During that period, law was based on religious practices and in the education of law, the study of religious principles gained importance.

Education in British Era  

The colonial interests of the British shaped the then educational policies of India. Arthur Howell In his book ‘Education in British India’ says. “Education in India under the British Government was first ignored, then violently and successfully opposed, then conducted on a system now universally admitted to be erroneous and finally placed on its present footing”.

The Charter Act made it obligatory on the part of the East India Company to spread education in India. It laid the foundation of State System of Education in India. The Charter Act of 1813 was the first act by which the East India Company made an annual provision for a sum of not less than one lakh rupees for the promotion of learning.The direction of education remained uncertain during the next 22 years on the following issues:

The Medium of Instruction: It could not be decided whether the medium of instruction should be English or Indian Languages.

Aim of Education of the British Policy: Whether education should be available to all or should be given to only a selected few.

Type of Knowledge: Whether to preserve and promote Oriental learning or to introduce Western knowledge, culture and science.

Agency of Education: Whether the Government should assume direct responsibility of educating or Indigenous system of education of the country to continue.

Role of Missionaries: Whether the missionaries should be given a free hand in educational practices or should the Company itself shoulder the responsibility.


Between the period of 1823-1835, controversy arose between two groups of educationists having different views about education system in India.

Group 1: (Orientalists): Who were in favor of educating the upper classes of the Indian people through the medium of their classical languages such as            Sanskrit, Persian and Arabian. The Orientalists preferred Indians to be given traditional Indian education.

Group 2: (Occidentalists):Who favored the teaching through the medium of English language. They wanted Indians to be educated in the western style of      education and be taught western subjects.

There was also another difficulty regarding the language of instruction. Some wanted the use of Indian languages (called vernaculars) while others preferred English.

The controversy continued for a decade with Orientalists dominated the committee till 1824.In 1835, with new recruits, the differences came into surface.This is the period when Macaulay’s resolution provided a clear picture of the British education policy.                                     

Minute of Lord Macaulay:

Due to controversies of Orientalist and Occidentalist, there were issues in Education system which were referred by the Secretary to the General Committee of Public Instruction to the Governor-General of India in Council in his letters dated the 21st and 22nd January,1835.The minute of Lord Macaulay was the resultant of an attempt to solve the issue due to the educational clause in the Charter Act of 1813.

He wrote:

      1. The lakh rupees was set apart not only for ‘reviving literature in India’ but also for the introduction and promotion of the knowledge of the Sciences among the inhabitants of the British territories’- words which are alone sufficient to authorize all the changes for the which I contend.
      2. The label of “learned native of India” could also be given to a person versed in philosophy of Locke or the poetry of Milton.
      3. The aim of promoting knowledge of sciences could only be accomplished by the adoption of English as the medium of instruction.
      4. Encouragement should be done for presenting a class of persons, Indian in blood and color but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect.
      5. He rejected the claims of Arabic and Sanskrit as against English because English was the key to modern knowledge and English was the language sponsored by the ruling class. It was likely to become the language of commerce throughout the seas of the East.
      6. Lord Macaulay supported English by saying that it was the most eminent language of the West, whosoever knew that language had access to most of the knowledge available and Literature available in English was more valuable than the ones available in other languages.
      7. British government’s main aim was to spread European Literature and Science among Indians and so all the money granted (1 lac) should be spent for that purpose through English medium.

Macaulay’s minutes ultimately decided the policy,aims,medium,means and aims of education in India as the then Governor-in General himself was admirer of English Language and thus the existed Indian languages and knowledge were denigrated and dominance of English language was established as a medium of colonial “instruction” and used the ploy of limitation of resources to “form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern- a class of persons Indian in blood and colour,but English in tastes,in opinions,in morals and in intellect…”


BENTINCK’S Proclamation:

On March 7, 1835 Bentinck’s Proclamation resolution was passed. It stated that the council is of the opinion that the greater objective of the British Government was to promote European Literature and Science among the natives of India, and that all the funds appropriated for the purpose of education would be best employed on English education alone. Promotion of western sciences and art was acknowledged as the major object.  Schools   teaching European education by some of the educated Indians and more particularly by leaders like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and others.

Bentinck’s proclamation gave birth to the following results in Indian education:

The aims of education in India were determined by the British

          1. The promotion of Western arts and sciences was acknowledged as the declared object. The printing of oriental works was to be stopped.
          2. New grants or stipends to students of oriental institutions were to be stopped infuture.The medium of education would be English.
          3. This proclamation promised to supply Government with English educated Indian servants cheap but capable at the same time.

Lord Hardinge ,aligning with the Bernick’s Resolution , declared that public services will be given to the ones educated in English schools. The Proclamation marked a turning point in the history of education in India. It was the first declaration of the education policy adopted by British Government in India. The barriers of caste, religious orthodoxy and conservatism no more blocked the  cultural progress of the country but new views were generated and new class of people were categorized  as Indians who had English tastes, opinions, morals and thought/views. Thus, cultural renaissance was started in India.


Wood’s Despatch:

Issued in 1854 by Sir Charles Wood ,declared that the main objective of Indian education is the diffusion of the improved arts,sciences,philosophy and literature of Europe.His  suggestion was to create  of Department of Public Instruction in each province under the charge of Director of Public Instruction and thus recommended  the establishment of universities in the then presidency town of Calcutta,Madras and Bombay.  Due to his valuable and fundamental recommendations,it is said to be the most glorious era of history of Indian education.It is termed as Magna Charta of Indian Education. Because of Revolt of 1857,many of the recommendations of the Despatch could not be implemented.

The Despatch contained 100 principal clauses. The various recommendations of Dispatch are as follows:

The Aim of Education- The aim should be impart useful knowledge to the Indian people in such a way as to raise their intellectual, moral and economic status.

The Curriculum– Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian should be included in the curriculum along with English, Western literature and science. Education in Law was also recommended.

The Medium of Instruction– The Despatch recommended that along with English, Indian languages should also be accepted as the media of instruction.

Department of Public Instruction– The Despatch recommended that a department of public instruction should be constituted in each province. The Director of Public Instruction should be the Chairman of this Department.

University Education- For development of higher education two Universities should be established, one each at Calcutta and Bombay on the pattern of the London University. The Despatch also recommended for a university at Madras and other places if a need was felt.

Importance of Graded Education– For receiving higher education, one should get education from the lower stage. The Despatch urged the Company to establish graded institutions.

Expansion of general education- Education should be made available to all. It recommended for education of the Indian people in all directions.

Grant-in-Aid for Education- The Despatch advised the Provincial Government to formulate its own rules of grant-in-aid system. The rules should be accepted for all categories of educational institutions, primary or higher.

Teachers’ Training- Despatch recommended that there should be at least one training college in each province for training of teachers.

Women’s Education- Despatch recognized the importance of private enterprises in this area and advised that they should be further encouraged and women should be given education in all the provinces.

Education and Employment- Despatch stated that the purpose of education was to develop human qualities for success in life. So education should be obtained with a wider outlook and not only to obtain services.

Vocational Education- Despatch suggested for Vocational education of the people through schools and colleges to be established for the purpose.



The Hunter commission was appointed by Lord Ripon  under the chairmanship of  William Hunter  in the year 1882. The commission basically was formed  to suggest the measures to apply the principles Wood’s Despatch .The commission recommended that tremendous efforts to be  made towards elementary education and suggested that the primary education should be controlled by District and Municipal Boards. Local/Native/Indigenous schools (Vernacular) to be encouraged and local funds to be utilized mainly for primary education. The commission recommended that secondary (High School) education should have two divisions-Literary- leading into University and Vocational for commercial careers. The commission   drew attention to inadequate facilities for female education, especially outside presidency towns and made recommendations for its increase in number and spread.


In the year 1902, The University Commission was appointed by Lord Curzon in order to enquire into the conditions and prospects of the universities established in India.Lord Curzon has been the most magnificent Viceroy of India.The number of primary schools doubled within  10 years of his regime (1902-1912) and the government grant for education was raised by 50%.


The Calcutta University Commission (1917-1919): (M.E. Sadler)

The  Calcutta University commission  was appointed in 1917 under the chairmanship of Sir M.E. Sadler. The commission improved the condition of Calcutta University .Commission gave a number of suggestions to improve the secondary education as it is the foundation of university education.

Some of the recommendations for the improvement of secondary education were as follows:

University admission should be granted to only immediate passed candidates.

Intermediate colleges should be established.

Intermediate classes should include the subjects related to practical life.

A board of high schools and intermediate education should be established in each province. The board should be independent of the existing education department.

The medium of instruction in the intermediate college should be the local language.

The commission emphasized on Women education, Teacher’s training and Vocational education. The education system was patterned on the Oxford and Cambridge Universities. The commission also gave suggestions for administrations, functions and organization of the university. In-spite of shortcomings, the Commission led to establishment of many universities at Patna,Lucknow,Aligarh,Agra ,Dacca, Delhi,Nagpur,Hyderabad and Mysore were established.

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