Education Revamp in Bharata: 2. EVOLUTION OF BHARATĪYA EDUCATION


In the introductory part, we gave a practical definition to education and the present scenario in Bharatîya formal education system. Towards the end I had told that I would write about the highly rated education systems around the globe in this part. However, I realised that for the sake of maintaining the flow of thought, we shall have to take a step back to view at how the education system in Bharata had evolved over time before moving to the rest of the world. That said, we shall go straight to the topic.

Back in time, human beings distinguished themselves from other creatures by their ability to tame nature and settle into an agricultural life. This was the first step towards food security and time-saving thereby. The surplus time was invested in knowledge gathering. Over time, social life was more and more streamlined to reduce frictions in practical living and enhance the knowledge gathering process.

In Bharata, the society was divided into power structures based on the quality of the individual (Varṇa): knowledge, arms, wealth and natural resources. Each structure had specific responsibilities and roles to play; within each structure, an individual’s life was divided into stages (āśrama) and specific responsibilities associated with each stage. This is known as varnāśrama. Bachelorhood, Marriage & Family life, Retirement and Renunciation were the four stages in an individual’s life. Those who did not want marriage had to embrace a life of renunciation.

[Let us clarify upon this oft-created confusion: Varṇa ’s most common meaning is ‘colour’. It also means variety or categories (the latter is undoubtedly the meaning we must take in the case of classification of people). Therefore, varṇa implies the inherent nature of an individual. So, one who had a predominant tendency towards knowledge was a Brāhmaṇa, towards physical prowess and warfare was a Kṣatrya, towards business and economic affairs was a Vaiśya and towards harnessing the natural resources was a Śūdra. Each of these have their own associated powers and cannot exist or thrive in exclusion of the others. Jāti is a professional guild or community.

Varṇa and jāti have no fixed connect with blood-lineage which goes by the name kula (a family or a community of related members). Kula cohesion is powerful with each having its own culture, tradition, deities and festivals. These tend to be localised and, due to the proximity and cohesion, the tendency for a kula to develop expertise in a particular field of economic activity is high. In time, these simply got entrenched as jātis. However, we must keep in mind that these are not NECESSARILY reflective of any specific varṇa. That kula is not the same as jati is seen from the fact that we have exclusive kula devatās (and no exclusive jāti or varṇa devatās). Moreover, jātis are not permanent and keep changing with societal change. Today ‘Programmer’ and ‘Online Retail Business’ jātis are thriving while Dhobis and Typist jātis have gone nearly extinct in recent times. Over-emphasising jāti is often demeaning and this is detrimental to social mobility and adaptability and it is high time that we do away with it.

Hence, we are left with individual varnās and social kulas and the recognition of both are vital for a robust society. Paraphrased, each kula has all varnās inherent in it and all professions have the need for resources (śūdra), economy (vaiśya), safety (kṣatrya) and knowledge (brāhmaṇa) which are oftentimes provided for by those within the kula itself. These are in need of fresh recognition.]

The streamlining of social life was vital in providing the best possible education at the individual level. Education was not a certifying process, rather it was an evolutionary process for the individual. Social skills, respect and recognition of the power of creation and nature, basic survival skills, discrimination abilities (dharma) and responsibility for one’s own actions (karma) were among the education received by the individual simply by being part of the society. When it came to higher-order training in any field, the formal education system was used. The formal system was widespread and started from family-based skills training right from a tender age (kula profession) to training under master-craftsmen. It was not merely the learning of the Vedas –  and the deep introspection thereof – that took place in the āśramas as we are brought to believe. Apart from these, there were itinerant gurus who went from village to village spreading knowledge of everyday living interwoven with spirituality; itinerant artistes who went spreading culture through entertainment; medicinal tribes and physicians catering to the needs of the villagers and sharing their knowledge with them and kṣatrya masters in practically every village training and challenging the youth to take up daring sport and fighting skills. It was the duty of the village elders to gather the young and narrate stories to inculcate personal ethics and the sense of dharma. Simply put, ours was a society that was throbbing with knowledge and thirsting for more. All that I have stated above need no references and are widely acknowledged facts. Yet, they are always left out of discussions and arguments.

I have idealised the past despite our knowledge that people have had to live with the imperfections of the times. Yet, any system can only be described in its ideal state and hence we shall leave other discussions out until there we reach the topic where we discuss practically present social difficulties.

Today we have two parallel streams of knowledge in our nation.

One is the traditional knowledge which is alive in each and every household and community by way of food, medicine, fasts, festivals (which closely align with celestial significance), ceremonial observations at birth, naming & ear-piercing with tonsure of child, social recognition of marriage, marital obligation of duties & responsibilities, architecture & design, craftmanship of wood, stone and metal, art & craft, music, theatre & dance, martial art, health systems such as haṭha-yoga, spiritual systems, trust based trade & business, silent charity, honouring guests & learned ones, love for nature and so on. Further, there is a vast collection of texts containing Vedic knowledge, literature, social sciences, sciences and mathematics, arts and so on.

The other is the schooling system which came with the British imposition of the Macaulayan education pattern which is logic-rationality based. Although a significant quantum of what is taught in this system only reinforces our traditional knowledge, there is no recognisable connection made between the two nor is there a validation of our traditional systems.

Both of these systems have their positives and negatives and a balance has to be struck between them so that we are able to provide an education which would not merely boost the Bharatîya system but also act as a guide to the rest of the world.

We shall take up the discussion on the different schooling systems around the globe in the next part…


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