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The Education System of the Maha?bha?rata Age by Shrii P.R. Sarkar

I will now deal with the educational system during the Maha?bha?rata period.
In the Vaedika age there was no educational system in particular. Generally students would go to the guru’s house, at the age of five, and, completing their studies by the age of twenty-four, would return home. The reason for not having a solid educational system in the Vaedika age was the incomplete establishment of even monarchism at that time. The gurus would maintain their catuspathiis by begging from the public. The students were in turn maintained by the catuspathiis.

I will now deal with the educational system during the Maha?bha?rata period.
In the Vaedika age there was no educational system in particular. Generally students would go to the guru’s house, at the age of five, and, completing their studies by the age of twenty-four, would return home. The reason for not having a solid educational system in the Vaedika age was the incomplete establishment of even monarchism at that time. The gurus would maintain their catuspathiis by begging from the public. The students were in turn maintained by the catuspathiis.
As the first phase of learning, one should be taught grammar. But in the Vaedika age there was no grammar of the Vaedika language. The Vaedika language was a spoken language. In addition to this, there was no script, and people did not know how to write. Therefore the students would memorize the things uttered by the gurus. This is why a solid system could not be evolved. Since the students were listening to their gurus and remembering the things spoken, the Veda was named “Shruti.” “Shruti” means “ear” as well as “to listen” The people in the Vaedika age did not even realize well the value of education, a must for sharpening the intellect. If you go through the Veda you will come across a thousand and one grammatical mistakes, i.e. no grammar had been made. A strong Sam?skrta grammar was made by Panini. Panini, a great scholar and the first grammarian of Sam?skrta, was a Pakhtoon of the Peshawar area.
During the Maha?bha?rata period there was a system in the educational field to some extent. In the catuspathiis also there was some financial solidarity, as the kings as well as the people helped financially. The Vaedika language had died in the Maha?bha?rata age. The language of the people was Pra?krta. Though there was no solid written grammar, there was some kind of a grammatical structure.
Though everybody would go to the guru’s house to study, there were some day-students too. Students from far-off places would live in the guru’s house. In the first phase they would learn grammar, then general knowledge of different subjects. After this they would learn the art of operating various weapons, according to their abilities. Those who were interested in learning the shastras were taught them.
In the Vaedika era there was division by caste, but there was no casteism at all. But during the Maha?bha?rata period, there was both caste division and some sense of caste, or casteism. Still, intercaste marriages were customary, and in one family someone might be a vipra, someone a shu?dra, someone a vaeshya, as mentioned earlier. Casteism had not yet entered in. Those who had ability for the use of weapons would study martial arts more than the scriptures. Even a person born in a vipra family could study the use of weapon more than the scriptures if he was interested. For example, there was Drona, who though born in a vipra family, was an expert in operating weapons, since he was interested in them. But persons born in vipra families lost respect if they became very skilled in the use of weapons.
There was also a close link between the educational system and the social system, i.e., the society wanted persons coming from ks?atriya families to be expert in military skills, as it was the duty of the ks?atriyas to defend the country. The social system was that only the ks?atriyas were to defend the country, if invaded; this resulted in a great weakness of the society, leading to the defeat of India when invaded by outside forces 2000 years after the Maha?bha?rata, wherein the majority of the ks?atriyas had been killed, causing a great reduction in their numbers.
Logic (nyaya), social code (smrti), Sam?skrta grammar and the science of spirituality were included in the educational curriculum of the then period. But that which we call philosophy today had not yet been born.
The oldest philosophy in the world is the Samkhya philosophy of Kapila. Though the Samkhya philosophy was written down some time after the Maha?bha?rata period, the philosophical trend had already crept into the minds of the people of that period. The first world philosophy was formulated in India, and had its preparation on the battlefield of the Maha?bha?rata. As said above, there was neither philosophy nor books in the Vaedika era, but there was spiritual teaching, in the period of the Maha?bha?rata there was spiritual teaching, there were books, but there was no philosophy. After the Maha?bha?rata, people began to think very seriously about the origin of the world, the duties of human beings, on the basis of Lord Krs?n?a’s teachings in the Giita. Due to these questions, people created the first philosophy, after getting the answers to these questions. Therefore Maharsi Kapila was after the Maha?bha?rata, not prior to it.
In the Maha?bha?rata age education was given through the medium of Sam?skrta. The Vaedika language was a dead language then. The people’s language was Pra?krta but teaching was not in the Pra?krta medium. Books in Pra?krta were also very few. Generally people did not write in Pra?krta. The Pra?krta language was reformed, and the language which came into being out of the reformation was named Sam?skrta.
Sam?skrta is not the Vaedika language. After the death of the Vaedika language Pra?krta was born. The synthetic language which was made by rectifying the Pra?krta language was known as Sam?skrta. “Sam?skrta” means “reformed” – the reformation of the Pra?krta language.
In the Vaedika age the expression of address was “Bho arya” – “arya” means “ respectable.” In the Maha?bha?rata age, i.e., in Pra?krta, “arya” became “ajja.”
In that age, after the death of the Sam?skrta language (meaning here the Vaedika language), there emerged seven Pra?krta languages. Towards the east of Allahabad in East India was Magadhii Pra?krta; towards the west of Allahabad and east of Delhi, i.e., in Northern Central India, there was Shaorasenii Pra?krta; in the Punjab, Kashmir and Himachal, i.e., to the northwest of Delhi, there was Paeshacii Pra?krta; towards the west and north of this Paeshachii land (in Afghanistan and South Russia) there was Pashcatya Pra?krta; towards the south of Multan, i.e., in Sindh and South Baluchistan, there was Pahlavii Pra?krta; in Central India Malavii Pra?krta; and in Southwest India, i.e., Maharastra and Goa, there was Maharastrii Pra?krta. These were the seven Pra?krta languages.
But educated persons did not use Pra?krta. They wrote few Pra?krta books. The leaders of the Maha?bha?rata, the Pandavas and the Kaoravas, spoke in Shaorasenii Pra?krta, but they did not write that language. When the Pandavas were talking with Kuntii they used a blended language of Paeshacii and Shaorasenii Pra?krta, but when they spoke with a gentleman they used reformed Shaorasenii Pra?krta, i.e., Sam?skrta. Sam?skrta was not the natural language (matrbhasa) of anybody nor had it ever been. The natural language of Krs?n?a was Shaorasenii Pra?krta. With Vasudeva, Nanda and Yashoda He talked in this very language, but with the Pandavas and the Kaoravas in Sam?skrta.
As I told you earlier, in the Vaedika era a gentleman was addressed as “arya.” In the Shaorasenii language, the natural language of Krs?n?a, the grandmother of Hindi (which is a matter of glory for Hindi) “arya” became “ajja.” After that, when Shaorasenii died, “ajja” became “ajjii” in Ardha Shaorasenii, the mother of Hindi. “Ajjii” became “jii” in present Hindi.
The education in that period was in Sam?skrta, and people wrote on bhurja leaves, not palm leaves. The famous book of that age is the Maha?bha?rata, a part of which is the Giita?. In the Maha?bha?rata age people began to write the Veda, but the writing was completed after a pretty long time. On the Giita? we find the influence of only one book or set of books – the Vaedika Upanis?ads – because the only book which could have been called older than the Giita? was the Veda, which was not fully written either. The portion of the Veda dealing with knowledge is the Upanis?ads.
You know that the Veda has two portions – the first is Karmakanda and the second is Jin?a?nakanda. In Jin?a?nakanda in turn there are a couple of portions – Aranyaka and the Upanis?ads. So the influence of the Upanis?ads on the Giita? and even on Krs?n?a is very clear. And the influence was expressed when Lord Krs?n?a began to answer the complicated philosophical questions of Arjuna. And Maharsi Kapila’s Sa?m?khya philosophy is just the philosophical explanation of the Upanis?adik Jin?a?nakanda.
About two hundred years after the Maha?bha?rata we find in the catuspathiis and in the educational complex of India the teachings of philosophical lore. In that period philosophy meant Kapil’s Sa?m?khya philosophy. Though the teaching of philosophy started two hundred years after the Maha?bha?rata, we can speak of Kapil as a contemporary of the Maha?bha?rata, as two hundred years is not a very long period. And in that period, if people talked of a man of letters, it invariably meant Kapil. In the Sam?skrta language the word “Kapila” has acquired the meaning of “first scholar” (adi vidvan), i.e., it was Maharshi Kapil who first received recognition as being a scholar.
During the Maha?bha?rata age the panditas who were teaching in the catuspathiis were helped both by the government and by the public. People considered it to be a sacred deed to help the catuspathiis, which they did with food, clothing, etc, This was something spontaneous. Each pandita was the conductor of one catuspathii, and there was no such thing as a university. Each pandita set up his educational system and curriculum according to his wishes and his own teaching. Each student belonging to a catuspathii was the adopter (dharaka), supporter (vahaka), and patron (pariposaka) of a particular thought. Students connected to different panditas had considerable variation in their knowledge. There was internal clash of thoughts and interpretations in all these catuspathiis, i.e., every catuspathii was a small university in itself.
But in the Buddhistic age that was not so. Instead, controlling universities were there. As for instance, in East India there was Vaneshvarpur Vihara University, which is in the Rajasahi district in present Bangladesh. In East India, in Amga Desha, in the Bhagalpur district near Kahalgaon, was Vikramashila Vihara University. In East India, in Patna District, was Nalanda University. Nalanda was the greatest university, the controlling one. Towards the frontier side near Peshawar was Taksashila University. This was also a controlling university.
In the Maha?bha?rata period the university system was not set up by the people. The difference between the catuspathiis of the Maha?bha?rata age and the viharas of the Buddhistic age was that the latter were not helped by the public but only by the kings. This had a very damaging effect, as after the end of the supremacy of Buddhism, when Neo-Hinduism came in full swing, all the viharas failed, as none of the kings continued aiding them. So within only one hundred years of the end of the Buddhist states, all the viharas in India ceased to exist. Hence we see how dangerous it is for schools to depend completely on governmental aid. Educational institutions should depend on public help and not on governmental help.
There is a well-known word, “cha?tra.” This was first applied in the Maha?bha?rata period to any of the pupils staying under the canopy (chatra) of any particular pandit. As the pupils were under the control of, within the jurisdiction of, one pandit with one school of thought, they were known as “cha?tra”. “Cha?tra” has now wrongly been used to mean any student. Present students are not chatra. “Cha?tra” means one who is under the control and jurisdiction (cha?tra) of a school of thought of one guru.