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Greatness and Importance of Gurukula System and Vedic Education

Greatness and Importance of Gurukula System and Vedic Education is an essay taken from the editorial of the Prabuddha Bharata Magazine September, 2010.

Detachment and Brahmacharya

Pursuit of knowledge and wisdom was facilitated by the gurukula system, where the homes and ashramas of rishis and scholars were open to students for residential study. A fundamental principle of Vedic education was tapas. Control and concentration of mind and senses was considered the highest tapas. Concentration, however, is only one component in the training of the will. The other, and equally important aspect, is detachment. The Vedic student had the first lesson in detachment in leaving home to live with the guru’s family. The brahmacharya code, which every student abided by, furthered it.

Strict Adherence to Truth and Honesty

Strict adherence to satya, truth, was another vital facet of Vedic tapas. According to Satyavacha Rathatari of the Taittiriya Upanishad, truth is all that needs to be cultivated. The great fidelity with which Vedic texts were orally transmitted and their contributing rishis faithfully acknowledged is one evidence of the immense stress laid upon truthfulness and integrity. Honesty in mundane dealings was recognized as the cornerstone which the pursuit of higher truths had inevitably to be based upon.

Vedi Education was Oral

Vedic study was almost exclusively oral. But mastering the vast corpus of Vedic texts and associated literature was not merely a feat of memory. Regular recitation with stress on correct intonation and phonetic and metrical accuracy provided students with early deep insights into linguistic laws and generative grammar, which is best captured in Panini’s remarkably comprehensive and succinct work Ashtadhyayi. Diverse ways of recitation of the same text — the pada, krama, jata, and ghana pathas, and the like — not only ensured accuracy of transmission of texts from teacher to student but also aided concentration and assisted grasp of meter and melody. Every Vedic student was thus a poet. But Vedic poetry was no ordinary poetry, and the mantras not merely ‘rules without meaning’. Being the product of the deep insights of Vedic rishis into the nature of Reality, they provided students with an orientation to Reality that made values meaningful and life harmonious and goal-directed.

Learning was not burden in Gurukula System

Vedic study emphasized love of learning. Naka Maudgalya of the Taittiriya Upanishad asserted that learning and teaching indeed constituted tapas.
Acharya Adi Shankara elaborates: ‘Learning and teaching are mentioned in all the contexts in order to imply that these two are to be carefully practiced even by one who is engaged in all these duties [of a householder]; for the comprehension of meaning is dependent on study, and the supreme goal [emancipation] is dependent on the understanding of meaning.’
This love of learning took students great distances in search of suitable teachers and institutions for study, discussion, and debate.

The variety of disciplines available for study is indicated by the many departments present in a full fledged educational institution of the Mahabharata times.

These included:
  • Agni-sthana, for fire worship and prayers;
  • Brahma-sthana, for Vedic studies;
  • Vishnu-sthana, for study of raja-niti, politics, artha-niti, economics, and varta, agriculture and trade;
  • Vivasvata-sthana, for astronomy;
  • Soma-sthana, for botany;
  • Garuda-sthana, for training in transport and communications; and
  • Mahendra-sthana and Kartikeya-sthana, for various aspects of military training.

Subjects in Vedic Learning

Primary education in the late and post-Vedic period was comprehensive.

 Xuanzang noted that after being formally acquainted with the Sanskrit language through the Siddham ‘children were introduced at the age of seven to the “great Shastras of the Five Sciences”, viz, 
  1. vyakarana (grammar), 
  2. shilpasthana-vidya (the science of arts and crafts), 
  3. chikitsa-vidya (science of medicine), 
  4. hetu-vidya (Nyaya, logic, science of reasoning), and 
  5. adhyatma- vidya (inner science [spirituality])’.
Here is a picture of a society that valued knowledge. The greatest of Vedic treasures was, of course, the knowledge of Brahman, ‘knowing which all else is known’, gaining which one transcends sorrow, becomes perfectly contented, goes beyond fear, and attains immortality. For providing him with this knowledge, King Janaka gave his entire kingdom along with himself to Yajnavalkya, his teacher. Vedic wisdom was priceless. It remains so even today.