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UGC NET: Higher Education

Higher Education in Ancient India

India has a rich tradition of learning and education right from the antiquity (praacheen kaal).

These were handed over generations to generations either through oral or written medium. A single feature of ancient Indian or Hindu civilization is that it has been molded and shaped in the course of its history more by religious than by political, or economic influences.

The fundamental principles of social, political, and economic life were welded into a comprehensive theory, which is called Religion in Hindu thought. The total configuration of ideals, practices, and conduct is called Dharma (Religion, Virtue or Duty) in this ancient tradition. Multi-dimensional progress of all mankind became the sole objective of her civilization.

Fundamentals of Ancient Indian Education

Ancient Indian Education had been evolved strictly on the foundations of Indian epistemological (related to knowledge) and philosophical traditions. The materialistic education embodies various aspects of the knowledge of physical sciences. It is for a student that the developed social structure exists. Spiritual knowledge has been regarded as the means of attaining the final beatitude (param sukh).  For the realization of the great truth, deep meditation in privacy is essential.

The ultimate aim of education emerged as the Chitti-Vritti-nirodha (the control of mental activities connected with the so called concrete world). However, education did not neglect the development of the pupil’s powers for his all-sided advancement.

        1. Knowledge related to life: beautiful natural surroundings, sitting at the feet of his teacher, would               comprehend all the intricate (jatil) problems of life through listening and meditation.

  1. Close association between teacher and student resulted in all round development.
  2. Development in social work: The pupil’s residence at his teacher’s house would make it possible for him to develop social contacts as it was his sacred duty to collect fuel- wood supply water and do other household odd jobs for the teacher. In this way, not only would he receive instructions related to domestic life, but also learn the concrete lesson of the dignity of labour and social service.
  3. Vocational training: Students were given training in occupations of animal husbandry, agriculture and dairy farming etc. by tending his teacher’s cows and serving him in diverse ways.

 The Four Vedas:

A study of these Vedas will enable one to get a thorough knowledge not only of the philosophy of life but also of the whole fabric of ancient Indian culture.

A study of these Vedas will enable one to get a thorough knowledge not only of the philosophy of life but also of the whole fabric of ancient Indian culture. Consequently, the entire literature and philosophy of India, The Upanishads, the Smritis and the Puranas, all acknowledge the superiority of Vedas

Before giving a detailed account of the Vedic Education, it is necessary to make a short appraisal of the four Vedas as the education of that period was based on them.

The Rig Veda

The Rig Veda is established as the earliest work not merely of the Hindus, but of all Indo-European languages and humanity.

Broadly speaking, it is on a foundation of plain living and high thinking. Some of the prayers of the Rig Veda, like the widely known Gayatri mantram also found in Samaveda and Yajur Veda touch the highest point of knowledge and sustain human souls to this day.

Other Vedas

Following Rigveda, came into existence the three Samhitas of Sama, Yajur and Atharva in close succession Sama, Yajuh and Atharva the hymns follow closely in order of the sacrifices. Priesthood was gaining ground. Higher education later on related itself to priesthood and the ritualistic aspect of religion.

The curriculum of education was the same for all the students called Brahmacharinis; each of them was required to attain proficiency in the melodies of verses and ritualistic aspects of yajna. In course of time however, essentiality of division of labour was strongly felt owing to the growing complex nature of formal aspect of sacrifice, because no single individual priest could be expected to specialize in the triple aspect of the yajna. Yajna literally means “devotion, worship, offering”, and refers in Hinduism to any ritual done in front of a sacred fire, often with mantras.

The Sama Veda : The compilation of all the hymns recited on the occasion of the Soma Yajna                   came to be known as the Sama Veda.

The Yajur Veda: It is the collection of prose Mantras. Though the duty of chanting the hymns on the occasion of sacrifice was mainly undertaken by the Hotri, the first order of priesthood, yet certain hymns related to prayer or invocation were sung by the Adhvaryus who were closely associated with  sacrificial operations.

The Atharvaveda : Unlike the preceding Vedas, the majority of Mantras in this Veda have not been adapted from the Rigveda. The Atharvaveda is thoroughly secular in character containing a vivid description of various arts and sciences.

Evolution of Education in the Rigveda (Eary Veda- 1500 BC-  1000 BC)

The system of education, which evolved in the Rigveda concerns itself with the acquisition of the Supreme knowledge, religion and Brahma. The aim of the Veda was the knowledge of the Ultimate Truth and the realization of the Supreme. Rishis were seers (saints) of truth. Their works were utilized to constitute six different Mandalas. These Rishis are Gritsamada, Visvamitra, Vamadeva, Atri, Bharadvaja, and Vasistha.

When the highest knowledge was thus built up by these Seers and revealed and stored up in the hymns, there the methods were then necessarily evolved by which such knowledge could be acquired, conserved, and transmitted to posterity.

The Curriculum of Vedic Education:

The students started the recitation (sasvar paath) of the Vedic hymns in early hours of morning.

The Vedic knowledge was imparted by the Guru or the teacher to the pupil through regulated and prescribed pronunciation, which the pupil would commit to memory, having listened to it alternatively. Only that knowledge, which was received from the lips of the teacher, was regarded as purely Vedic. Thus, the teaching was oral.

Various subjects were incorporated in the curriculum of Vedic education. Grammar, rhetoric (the action of repeating something aloud from memory), astrology, logic, Nirukti (etymological an interpretation of origin) was the main subjects.

Though the Rigvedic education, being essentially religious and philosophical in character, was imparted only to those who were fit to make quest of Eternal Truth and acquire Supreme knowledge, yet there was arrangement for secular education and vocational training for the masses. The people would receive training in diverse arts and crafts for material gain. Agriculture, horticulture and animal husbandry attained to a high norm of progress. Thus, we can safely conclude that secular, social and practical form of education was in existence during the Rigvedic era.

Method of Teaching

The first method was Oral and the second was based on Chintan i.e. thinking. In the oral method the students were to memorize the Mantras (Vedic hymns) and Richayas (verses of Rigveda) in order that they might 10 not be changed wrongly and they might remain preserved in their original forms. Thinking method was another part of the teaching method. Through this an attempt was made to reserve the Veda Mantras and Richayas.

Features of Vedic education

The admission was made by the formal ceremony Upanayana or initiation by which the pupil left the home of his natural parents for that of the preceptor. this new home he had a second birth and was called Dvijya or twice born.

The discipline of brahmacharya or celibacy was compulsory. Though a married youth was entitled to get education, yet he was denied the right of being the residential pupil. Brahman-Sangh was an organization where meritorious students were given chances to fulfill their quest of higher knowledge.

These Sanghs may be compared to the seminars of the modern times. There was equality between the sexes in the field of knowledge. The Rig Veda mentions women called Brahmanavadinis.

Princes and other leading Kshatriyas were trained in all the manifold sciences to make them fit for government. Most boys of the lower orders learnt their trades from their fathers. Some cities became renowned because of their teachers. Chief among them were – Varanasi, Taxila from the day of Buddha and Kanchi in the beginning of the Christian era. Varanasi was famous for its religious teachers. Taxila was known for its secular studies. Among the famous men connected with Taxila was Panini, the grammarian of the fifth or fourth century B.C., Kautilya, the Brahmin minister of Chandragupta Maurya and Charaka one of the two leading authorities of Indian medical sciences. The institutions imparted Vedic knowledge that exists even today. There were also universities like Taxila and Ujjain for medicine and learning including mathematics and astronomy respectively. In the south Kanchi became an important center of learning.

In the Rigvedic period occupations were not dependent on Varna system. At that time the nature of education was religious.

Conclusion: Thus, the ideal of the Vedic education was lofty. Ample opportunities were provided to the pupil for the development of his personality. The preceptors took personal care of the pupils, which resulted inevitably in a multi-dimensional development. The educational system of Vedic period achieved a pronounced success in connection with character formation, development of personality, and contribution to knowledge in all branches of learning as well as social well-being and material prosperity. The Vedic education was essentially spiritual and religious in character, yet it did not ignore the material aspect, the evidence whereof is available in the Yajurveda and the Atharvaveda. Thus it points unmistakably to the future evolution of Aryan culture.

Education during the Later Vedic Age (1000 BC- 600 BC)

In Vedic period, the educational sphere was inordinately dominated by priesthood hence knowledge pertaining to sacrificial rituals had considerably advanced. There were scholars and thinkers who had developed an attitude characterized by mysticism towards life and meditated on speculative subjects such as God, Soul and Universe, Life and Death etc.

The philosophers now meditated upon self-realization. Their mystical experiences manifested themselves through the scriptures known as Brahmanas and Aranyakas. The Upanishads were next to emerge into being. The Upanishads aver that whatever good is done with full knowledge and awareness becomes forceful and fruitful in life.

The Vedanta, an important trend in philosophical thought, which can rightly be regarded as the culminating point of the Vedic knowledge, was revealed through the pages of the Upanishads. The spread and propagation of the post-Vedic education was influenced through diverse institutions known as Sakhas, Charanas, Parishads, Kulas and Gotras– an improvement on the oral tradition of the Vedic literature.

Aim of Education

The basic aim of education during the Later-Vedic period has been the same as during the Vedic Age- the salvation of the soul, but the method of attaining this goal has been different between the two periods.

During the Vedic period the student used to attain the objective of education through penance (tapsya) while living with Acharya as member of his family. During the post-Vedic period, Yajna replaced the penance and a number of procedures were prescribed for the same.

Only that education was regarded true, which helped one to realize this supreme truth. The Upanayan

Sanskar ceremony was so important during the Post-Vedic period that it was usually regarded a second birth of the individual.


In addition to religious subject, many worldly subjects were also included in the curriculum. The curriculum consisted of Vedas, History, Puranas, Grammar, mathematics, Brahma Vidya, Nirukti, astronomy, dance, music etc.

Its aim was the attainment of Brahmavarchasa i.e. knowledge of the Absolute. The performance of sacrifice and other ritualistic operations were directed to the same end, but special emphasis was laid on the study of the Scriptures, technically known as Svadhyaya or Self- study.

Method of Instruction

Hearing, thinking and meditation were the three principal psychological methods of instruction during the post- Vedic period. Also question-answer system was followed in the Upanishad literature, through this difficult and abstract ideas were made simple.

Duties of Students and Teachers

Students had to beg alms for the support of the Guru and himself. This tradition was carried out by all, be poor or rich. Simple living and high thinking was the motto of his life.

At the completion of their educational period, the teachers would deliver convocational address to the students, which sought to remind them of the duties in practical life they stood at the threshold of. this was the Samavartana ceremony. These final addresses of the teachers of ancient India can be compared to the Convocation Address of modern Universities.

Forms of Educational Institutions: Broadly there existed three types of institutions namely Gurukulas, Parishads(Academies) and Sammelans (Conferences) in that age.

During the Vedic period one could choose a particular profession as he liked and accordingly his Varna was determined. But during the later Vedic period Varna came to be determined by birth. Consequently the whole society was divided into four Varna- Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya

and Shudra. Secular education was prescribed for all these Varnas or castes according to the requirements of their respective duties they had to perform in life towards the society.


The main duties of the Brahmans were studying and teaching of the Vedas, performance of the Yajna for themselves as well as for others, receiving and giving gifts.

The sphere of duties appropriate to the Kshatriyas was limited only to defense, protection of people and administration. Military training (Dhanurveda) was thus important for the princes.

As regards the Vaishyas, agriculture and animal husbandry and trade was their chief occupation, and as such they were given technical education of agriculture, animal husbandry and trade.

There was no provision of higher education for the Shudras. To serve was their occupation. They learnt devajana Vidya, which according to Shamkara, included dancing, vocal music, orchestral music and dyeing of clothes.

Brahmanic Education (Part of Later Vedic period, It is more peculiar (strange))

The Brahmanical education has its own peculiar importance as regards the harmonious development of physical, mental and spiritual aspects of human life. It helped a lot in the development of character and individuality of human beings.

“Not only did Brahman education develop a system of education which survived the crumbling empires and the changes of the society, but they also, through all these thousands of years, kept aglow of the torch of higher learning, and numbered amongst them many great thinkers who have left their mark not only on the learning of India, but upon the intellectual life of the World.”

Thus, the aim of Brahmanic education was similar to the aim of Vedic education when the education was considered to be a means of gaining knowledge.

Brahmanic education included worldly aspect as well. Self-reliance, self-control, formation of character, individual development, knowledge of social and civil life and preservation of national culture was accompanied with the physical development as the aim of education.


  1. In Brahmanic education instead of collective teaching, individual teaching prevailed.
  2. Brahmanic education was not only theoretical; it also gave the practical knowledge to face the struggles of life.
  3. In Brahmanic education the course of study was much more vast than that of Vedic- period. Besides all the four Vedas, the study of Itihaspuranas, Vyakarans, Arithmetic, Astrology, Ethics, Yajurveda etc were also undertaken.

In Brahmanic education Karma siddhant and stratification of caste system also had an effect on the courses of study.

Education in the Sutras and Epics

The period of the Vedic literature was followed by that of Sutra literature. It falls between 600 B.C and 200 B.C. In this age, the rules and regulations of education were manifested mainly in the form of Dharma-Sutras. These Dharma- Sutras embodied the principles of social conduct and a code of

duties for the teachers and students.

Geometry, Algebra, Astronomy, Astrology, Physiology and Grammar reached culminating point in this period. The commentary of Patanjali is an immortal creation of ancient India. The Nyaya and Mimamsa Shastras too were the production of this age. The period of Upanishads can well be regarded as the meridian of philosophy.

The account of education in the Sutra period will not be complete without the consideration of the evidence of the grammatical literature as represented in the works of Panini and his two famous commentators, Katyayana and Patanjali. Panini throws light on the literature of his times. The hermitage of Vyasa was another seat of learning.

The six systems of philosophy, viz, The Samkha of Kapila, The Yoga of Patanjali, The Nyaya of Gautama, The Vaisheshika of Kanada, Karma or Purva-mimansa of Jaimini and Uttara Mimamsa or Vedanta of Badarayana. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are the main Epics of ancient India.

Education in Buddhist Era

Buddhism, itself, especially in its original and ancient form, is, as has been admitted on all hands, rooted deeply in the pre-existing Hindu systems of thought and life.

The monasteries were the centers of education during the Buddhist period. Besides monasteries, there were no other organizations for imparting education. Only the Bhikshus could receive religious and other types of education. Other persons were deprived of this facility. There was no place for Yajna in the Buddhist system. For admission the student had to present himself before the teacher and request him for giving education. The teacher was fully responsible for education of his pupil. In turn, the pupil had also to be responsive to the instructions received from the teacher. Thus, a relationship was established between the teacher and the taught as during the Vedic period.


Pabbajja (First ordination)

It means ‘going out’. According to this ceremony, the student after being admitted to a monastery had to renounce all his worldly and family relationship. After admission into ‘Sangh’, they could remain as a monk. The age limit fixed for Pabbajja was 8 years.

Upasampada (Final Ordination)                

After completing the education of 12 years, the monk at the age of 20 years had to undergo the Upasampada ritual and then he becomes the permanent member of the Sangh. This ceremony was democratic in nature. The Shraman had to present himself before all other monks (Bhikshus) of the monastery. One could be admitted for the Upasampada ceremony only when the majority of the monks voted in favour of the same.


It was chiefly spiritual in nature. It was so because the chief aim of education was to attain salvation. Study of religious books was most important. Suttanta, Vinaya and Dhamma were the main subjects prescribed for the study. Besides these, spinning, weaving, printing of the cloth, sketching, medicine, surgery and coinage were the other subjects of Buddhist education.

Education during this period may be classified into two parts primary and higher. In the primary education the emphasis was given on the teaching of reading, writing and arithmetic.

In the higher education, religion, philosophy, military science, medicine and other difficult subjects were taught.

The Vedas were also studied for acquiring comparative knowledge; nevertheless the Atharvaveda was not included in the curriculum upto the Jataka period. As regards higher education, Hiuen-Tsang has quoted the example of Nalanda where Buddhist philosophy, the Literature, the Yoga and other spiritual sciences were taught. The institution at Vikramshila was reputed for imparting education in Logic and Jurisprudence (Nyay Shashtra).

The following higher education subjects have been mentioned in the Jatakas:

 Vashikaran Kam-Tantra

 Tantra-Mantra

 Archery

 Elephant taming

 Hunting

 Giving life to the dead

 The knowledge of the voices of various animals

Method of Teaching

The main aim of education in Buddhist period was the purity of character. Therefore, like Vedic educational system, they also emphasized much on the practice and training for pure character instead of psychological development of the students. Books were taught and there was art of writing. These were essential means of education. Later on to attain the stage of Bodhisattva personal development was considered essential and mental and moral development began to be emphasized. Originally there was predominance of religions.

Search of truth and nirvana- Some students who could not get mentally satisfied even through higher studies used to go to the isolated place of some monk and spent their lives in search of truth and Nirvana. Gradually gaining spiritual knowledge they became ascetics in their future life.

Education of Women in Buddha:

Though Buddha had first refused admission to women in Sanghs but later on the request of his disciple Anand he agreed to give admission of women in Sanghs. But rules for women were stricter.


Being mainly religious, Leaving their family, No military training, need of escapism (neglect of physical education).

Comparative Study of Brahmanic and Buddhist System of Education

Buddhist education was to a great extent influenced by Brahmanic education, so their basic principles were similar in many respects. The daily life of Bhikshus was more or less improved form of Brahman Brahmacharis. Their mode of living, food arrangements and clothing etc. were almost similar. Most of the Brahmanic Rishis and Buddhists were spending their lives in similar manner in isolated cottages in the forests or on the hills practicing self- realization, devoting the rest of their lives in higher studies.


  1. Buddhist education was meant for religious expansion, whereas Brahmanic education was for life- Brahmanic education was aimed at the usefulness for life.

2. Buddhist education was democratic while Brahmanic education was monocratic- In Brahmanic                 system; the disciple always remained disciple for his teacher though he might gain even higher                   knowledge. But in Buddhist system, as it was based on democratic principles the Bhikshu after                   becoming Shraman was kept in the category of the Upadhaya.

  1. Buddhist education was collective and Brahmanic education was individual- In Brahmanic system Gurukula system was prevalent. Here the teacher taught the students under his direct guardianship. But in Buddhist system, education was given in monasteries and Vihars and greater importance was attached to collective education.
  2. Brahmanic system imposed more restriction on the students than Buddhist system- In Brahmanic system, luxuries were strictly prohibited, but in Buddhist system the rules were not so rigid.

A Critical Assessment

Buddhist education was not altogether immune from defects. Not unlike Vedic education it was also dominated by religion, so much so that Arts and Crafts, in the last phase of it, came to be looked down upon by the members of higher classes and ultimately they gave them up completely. Military art and science, art of manufacturing arms and weapons and the art of warfare could not develop much under the Buddhist system of education as it was based on the principles of non- violence and renunciation of the world. According to Buddhist religion the world is full of sorrow.

Therefore, the sole aim of life was considered to be the attainment of Salvation (Nirvana) by  renouncing the world. The meaning of struggle of life was confined to mere metaphysical peculation. This dealt a serious blow to all round progress and development of life. Still it s acknowledged that merits of Buddhist system of education far outweigh the defects and flaws, though it was through its shortcomings that its downfall was so sudden and sure and in its stead the Brahmanical system of education was re-established in the country.

Important centers of learning

  1. Taxila

From times immemorial Taxila has been an important center of Brahmanical education. During the Buddhist period, its fame continued in Northern India. It attracted hundreds of students from various countries of the world. They came their to quench the thirst of their knowledge. Being situated at the distance of 20 miles in the West of Rawalpindi, Taxila was the capital of Gandhar Kingdom.

The higher studies were conducted in Takshshila mainly in that time and the students of sixteen years of age were admitted in the University. Perhaps the fees were also realized in the beginning. Here the chief branches and subjects of study were Vedatrayi (Three Vedas), Vedanta, Vyakaran, Ayurveda, eighteen Sippas (crafts), Military education, Astronomy, Agriculture, Commerce, Snake Bite cure etc. Panini, the father of Vyakaran and Jivaka, an expert in Surgery and Medicine were the product of Taxila. Kautilya, the famous author of Arthashastra had received his higher education here. No caste distinction was observed as regards the training in these sciences. Taxila had been influenced by Greek culture also. Some preceptors taught Greek there. Taxila was very famous as a centre of training in Indian Military science.

  1. Nalanda

In the province of Bihar, situated at a distance of 40 miles southwest of modern Patna and seven miles north of Rajgriha, Nalanda was a famous cultural and educational center of Northern India. t enjoyed a considerable degree of fame and importance for Buddhist monks owing to its being the birth place of Sariputta, a favourite disciple of Lord Buddha. This place began to grow in importance since the rise of Mahayana branch of Buddhism in the first century A.D. By the beginning of fourth century A.D. it became educationally important and famous.

Nalanda reached its zenith of progress at the hands of the kings of Gupta dynasty. Kumaragupta I (414-445 A.D.) built a monastery there. A big and strong enclosing wall having only one gateway marked off the entire university area. Hieun-Tsang detailed about this university. The Kulpati or Chancellor of the University was Shilbadra. He had studied all Sutras and Shastras books and may explain them fully well.

  1. Valabhi

Another important education center of Buddhist period was Valabhi (Gujrat), capital seat of the Maitraka Kings between 475 and 775 A.D. It can aptly be regarded as the rival of Nalanda in fame and educational importance. There were several Vihars and monasteries at Valabhi. Like Hiuen-Tsang, I-Tsing too had found Valabhi in the western side of India as glorious as Nalanda and students from every part of India would flock there for education. These students after completing their higher education was appointed in the courts on high and responsible posts. Whereas Nalanda was center for Mahayana branch of Buddhist religion, Valabhi was the center for Hinayana.

          4. Vikramshila

The Vihara of Vikramshila was established by the famous Emperor Dharampala of Pal dynasty in the 8th century in Northern Magadh at a beautiful hill on the bank of the river Ganges. In Vikramshila  scholars were appointed as the incharge and Acharyas of the various temples. As there were many learned personalities in the University so its fame spread out in various countries. It attracted a large number of scholars from Tibet, who came there for higher studies.

Mahasthavir was the highest authority of the University and the general management was carried on under his guidance. Vikramshila University was destroyed by Bhaktiyar Khilji in 1203A.D.

  1. Odantapuri

This University had been established long before the Kings of Pala dynasty came into power in Magadha. Odantpuri could not attain that level of fame and repute which either Nalanda or Vikramshila had accomplished.

  1. Jagaddala

Pal King, Raja Ram Pal of Bengal had set a city on the banks of Ganga. It was the beginning of the 11th century and it was named as Ranavati. He also constructed a monastery and named it as Jagaddala.

  1. Mithila

In the Upanishadic age Mithila became a prominent seat of Brahmanical system of education. It was named as Videha. Raja Janak used to hold religious conferences, wherein learned Rishis and pandits took part in religious discussions.

         8. Nadia

Nadia was formerly called Navadweep. It is situated at the confluence of Ganga and Jalangi rivers in Bengal. It was the center of trade and commerce as well as learning and culture.

Conventional Learning Programs  

Conventional degree courses are those courses which are designed to provide in depth knowledge of a subject or discipline. These courses are purely based on theoretical knowledge of a subject or a discipline. They are also comprised with practical knowledge but that was nominal. These courses contains pure knowledge. There are so many under graduate and post graduate degree courses which are helpful in pursuing PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) in later part of studies.

B.Tech, M Sc (Master of Science), MBBS, M Com (Master of Commerce), CA, LLB, MA (Master of Arts), MBA

Non-conventional learning programs

B.Sc Food Technology and Management

BA Dress and Fashion Coordination

PG Diploma in Nutrition and Dietetics

Bachelor in Hotel Management

Bachelor in Mass Com

Certificate in Film and Television

Certificate in Pet Groomers

Certificate in Ethical Hacking

Certificate in Spa management

Gerontology Course (Gerontology is the study includes the social, emotional and life aspects of ageing that aims to help the elderly)

Carpet Technology,  Robotics

SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

Online Education

Oriental learning programs

These programs are especially devoted to Indological studies. Indology is the science of study of culture in all its aspects. With the disappearance of the Gurukula system, Sangha system and the ancient universities like those at Nalanda, Vikramshila and Taxila and also the gradual dissolution of the powerful kingdoms by conquests from outside, it became necessary to evolve a method by which the ancient knowledge and wisdom of the country could be revived and preserved.

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