Educational Heritage of Ancient India — A Talk by Sahana Singh
So in the years that I have been living outside India, I get a lot of questions like: how is it that you Indians are motivated to study so hard? What is it that makes you study so hard? And another question I get very often is that why despite being so intelligent and smart – Indians being so smart – why is your country in such a mess?
So, when trying to find the answers for these questions I did a lot of reading and that’s how I ended up writing this book. So, I am not a historian; I’m an engineer. But like many others today I’m just trying to connect the dots and get a clear picture of our civilization. So that’s what I’m trying to do. So, and this book, as he mentioned, it’s, today there are a few copies, but it’s mainly available on amazon.com. So you have to order them on Amazon. I’m using the money that I get for Indic causes.
So let me take you back to a time long ago when India was the educational capital of the world. So, one of the most important things was that there was a sacredness associated with learning and teaching. So, you can see that here is a ceremony, a sacred ceremony, where a child is being initiated into the alphabets. So does anyone know what this ceremony is called? Yes, and also Vidyarambha. It’s called Vidyarambha and Aksharabhyasa in South, and there is a similar ceremony in Bengal called Haate Khori, which they do on Saraswati puja, when boys and girls are introduced to the alphabets. So, you can see that there was a deep sense of sacredness associated with learning and teaching and there was also a ceremony called upanayanam, which many of you know wherein a child would enter into higher education. Again, sacredness associated with it.
There was a mad rush for gaining education in India, just like today there’s a rush to go somehow get into an Ivy League university in the US or get into Oxford and Cambridge in the UK. Something like that was happening in India in ancient times. So most of the civilized part of the world wanted to get and get a degree from India it was like that. So, students came from China, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, West Asia. Recently I discovered that I-Tsing did not come directly to India. First, he went to Indonesia, he learned Sanskrit there, so that he would be able to get into one of the advanced institutes in India. So, some of them did not come straightaway to India. So Fa-Hien, Huan-Tsang, I-Tsing – these are the famous Chinese students who came and got an education in India and if you read their autobiographies you will be moved by the dangerous journeys they undertook to come to India, somehow, like they nearly died in the process they took boats, they walked, but their aim was clear that, I have to reach Nalanda or I have to reach Vikramsila or some of them were even aiming for Kerala the Kanthalloor shala, you know.
So, I need to get a degree from India that was the spirit with which they came and on top of that after coming to India there was no guarantee they would get admission because there would be an admission test and many were eliminated. So I’ll tell you more about it as we go along. So here is an artistic representation of a forest University which was the earliest kind of university, where holistic learning was obtained in the middle of nature under the supervision of a guru who was like a parent, and so in the Mahabharata there is a mention of many ashramas which functioned like universities. So ashramas of Shaunaka, Kanva, Vyasa, Vasista, Viswamitra. Rishi Kanva’s ashrama was not a single ashrama, it was a collection, an assemblage of hermitages of which he was the presiding rishi.
So, a student would go to one in ashrama and specialize in one subject under the Guru, then go to another ashrama, adjoining ashram, and get specialization in another subject, and then this way he would go to different ashramas and complete his degree. That’s the way it worked, and they were specialists in every branch of learning of the time Vedas, yoga related literature, logic, grammar, mathematics, zoology, physical sciences, medicine and what have you, and they were rush with female issues which are mentioned in Mahabharata.
Now I come to a page from Nyaya Sastra. So, this I’m just trying to show you how obsessed the Indians were with logic, with understanding, with learning the science of knowledge as well. So, in this, you know, the Indians also wanted to know, what was good reasoning, and what was bad reasoning. So, they made rules for all that. But if you reason in this way, it’s good, if you do it in this way, it’s bad, and basically this is how, they became it, led to science, this kind of thinking led to scientific discoveries because they all, they had, they did a lot of thought experiments and they try to answer questions like Who am I, where have I come from, why do we feel that there are two people inside us, one which is doing the actions and one which is observing everything.
So, in trying to answer these questions they stumbled upon important discoveries in science and mathematics. So, for example and also there was no distinction between religion and science, no false barriers. So, when they would try to do a Homa with a perfect square, they would need a perfect square, and in the process of drawing that, they discovered the rules of geometry. In trying to find the best timing, the most auspicious timing, they actually found out the laws of planetary motion and other, you know, the celestial phenomena. So that’s how religion actually led to science for the Indians, and I’ve taken this code from the Nyaya Sutra to show you how scientific it is. “Truth exists, whether or not we humans acknowledge it”. Akshapada Gautama said this in the Nyaya Sutra, he also said all knowledge is not intrinsically valid. So, these are the kind of statements that form the bedrock of science even today, modern science.
Look at what Susruta said in Susruta Samhita. He said, this was an interdisciplinary approach to learning that he took a physician, who has learned one science only, cannot be sure of his own science, and for this reason the physician has to be versed in many Sciences. This is the approach we take today, that you can’t be just looking at one subject. You need to be interdisciplinary if you want to solve the real-world problems. Here’s a map, I have tried to map out the universities in the ancient times until the eleventh or twelfth century and you know it was, there are so many universities you can see that it’s completely, it’s every part of India is covered so far. The oldest one we have found is in Takshasila, which is today in Pakistan, which seems to be at least 6th century BC, but must be definitely older than that. Then we have Sharada Peeth, we have Purushapura, Varanasi. In the Bengal-Bihar side, you see, a cluster of universities Nalanda, Odantapura, Bikrampur, Jagaddala. Then you come to the South, so many Mathas, so many agraharas, there’s Kanchipuram, there’s Kanthalloor sala in Kerala, which was called the Nalanda of the south and actually – it had even more subjects than Nalanda because it even had martial arts, and such subjects as well.
The interesting thing is that the people did not stay confined to their regions. So, the professors and students traveled to the institution of their choice, just like today we have students going to Manipal, going to IIT Kharagpur, wherever they want to study. In those days, they did the same. So, in Nalanda, for example there were two professors Sthiramati and Gunamati, they were the ones who set up Valabhi university in Gujarat and then they went to Nalanda to teach. Then we also had gurus who came from Kanchipuram who moved to Nalanda, we had from Kashmir, there was a professor who taught in Vikramsila. So, we can see that everybody is travelling; and there’s an interesting story from Kathasaritsagara where a Brahman person says that I am going to send my son to study in far off Valabhi, even though I am in Gangetic plain. I think Valabhi is a better place to study and we conjecture that’s because Valabhi was specialized in political science, business and whoever graduated from Valabhi would get into government services very easily. So he was sending his son to Valabhi. That was more than 1500 years ago and also it was important once the students finished their education in any of these universities they needed to travel, their gurus would tell them to travel: go and experience different parts of India, go and experience discomfort different kinds of weather, different people and that was the way practical learning and traveling was very important for the students.
So, this is Bhaskaracharya. The funny thing is that most people are familiar with Newton, Einstein but if you ask them about Bhaskaracharya today, they know nothing about him. Does anyone know which University taught him? Bhaskaracharya? So he was from Ujjayini University. Ujjayini University was a place you went to study if you had an aptitude for Maths, if so, whoever graduated from Ujjayini, they would, they would say, ‘oh he’s a math genius, he’s, he has to be super intelligent’. So, he formulated so many interesting form rules for, you know, solving equations. He was the first one to use a decimal system, you know, and before him, it’s not just him, if you go back, there’s a lineage Brahmagupta was before him, and he was the first to use zero as a number in its own right. So, what to do? How? What happens when you add zero to a number? what happens when you subtract zero from a number? He made all those rules and he followed the Bhaskaracharya, followed in his footsteps and went beyond. He discovered differential calculus. So, he has been, he’s been called one of the most brilliant brains ever in the world. This is quite recognizable, I’m sure.
Nalanda. now when you see Nalanda today, it’s all crumbling ruins. I also visited this place and then the only way we get to know what it looked like is when you read the autobiography of Xuan-Tsang and I-Tsing, so what Xuan-Tsang said is that, it was the most beautiful campus he had ever seen. It had a huge gate all around the campus and when he entered, he said the place was full of lakes, ponds; ponds with lotuses blooming in them and they were these were tall buildings. So, they were, for example, the library was nine storied and he said that if he went to the main building the top story, when you looked out, you would see splendid sunsets, you would see brilliant moonlit nights, and he said that you can see the pride he feels on studying in this place, and then he said that at the entrance there was a big statue of Buddha and there were eight halls in the campus, in the building, and the lecture there would be hundred lectures in a day, and the lecture halls would be full, and students would not miss a single lecture that was the kind of learning, and Nalanda in those days offered a wide range of subjects. So, it had something for everybody. So, a lot of students they were about 8,500 to 10,000 students, and there were 1,500 teachers. So, you can imagine the student- teacher ratio is so good, and not to forget the admission tests, which was so hard that only 20% students would make it, 80% would be eliminated, and probably that’s the reason why we have so many universities adjoining the Nalanda. Vikramsila, they’re all at short distance from each other, possibly they came to, you know, to absorb more students because so many were being eliminated. So, the others to universities came near them and they were also coaching centers. So, outside the village, in the villages surrounding Nalanda, there is, there are records of teachers who were preparing students to crack the entrance examination for Nalanda.
Now, I come to debating, which was an intrinsic part of Indian education. So, you can look I have chosen this picture of Adi Sankara debating with Mandana Misra and look who is the judge it’s a lady who is, who was a renowned scholar in her own right – Ubhaya Bharati – and this was the way knowledge was propagated in India. So, it was not just one man says it and everybody believes it. It would be challenged, there would be debates, where everybody would sit and watch and this is how Sankaracharya and various other gurus did, the same thing. They went all around, in fact, he went right from Kerala – all the way – even Kashmir which I’ll talk about later.
So, here are some debating terms that I thought would be interesting for you, just to show you how developed the art of debating, was how it was placed on a very serious footing, sound footing. So, you just could not go and start debating with somebody. You need to know, needed to know these terms. You also needed to be very familiar with the arguments of your… the person you want to challenge, you should be, you needed to know, how to argue in the place of that person as if you were him which is called purva paksha; arguing from the point of view of your opponent. So, look at these terms –
Sadhya – thesis which is to be developed established.
Siddhanta: proposition tenets or conclusion.
Hetu, Udhaharana, pratyaksha, anumana, pramana.., these were the kind of terms that they use. So, it was, it was a very intellectual exercise, the whole debating tradition and what’s more interesting is that, they actually had criteria for giving points or taking points away. So, the other day when I was talking to my daughter and she was trying to make it seem like she was doing the debating of a very high order in her school and she didn’t know that, it was, it was even higher in India. So, that’s when I had to told her all these things…
So, they had terms like this for deducting points, hurting the proposition:
Pratijna-hani – shifting the proposition.
Pratijna-antara – opposing the proposition.
Pratijna-virodha – renouncing the proposition.
Pratijna-sannyasa – shifting the reason.
Hetavantara (just look at all this) – resorting to the unintelligible.
Avijnatartha – becoming incoherent. Aparthaka.., because you would be, if you try to evade the topic, if you try to become incoherent, you would lose points, and there were many more points, and Vasubandhu is not the only one, there are many many books written on debating.
So, the very significant thing about India was that there was a well-established ecosystem to support learning. So, it was like the whole society knew that we have to take care of teachers and students because that’s the only way education go forward. So, the expenses were subsidized by the ruling Kings. Then Nalanda University was funded by hundred villages so all the revenues of those villages would go for the food, the clothes, the medicines of the students who studied there. It was one of the most well-funded universities and in the other ashramas, which were not very well funded the students had to pay, but even there the poorest students, typically the Brahmins would be the poorest students, would do menial tasks. They would do menial tasks and that would be in lieu of paying the thing for paying the fees, and there was no shame for a Brahmin student to go and solicit financial assistance. So, he could go to knock at any door and he could see would say, ‘look I need to pay my fees, can you help me’, and then some help would be found for him.
The ethos of the times demanded that Brahmin scholars led simple lives and engaged in pursuit of knowledge without amassing riches. So it fell upon the shoulders of wealthy non Brahmin families and farmers to support those who devoted their entire lives to learning and teaching. This has been pointed out by Huan-Tsang also. He said, he was so moved to find Rishis who was so engrossed in learning that they didn’t care about the, what they were wearing, what they were eating, and they just went around teaching whatever they knew, and these people were held in respect even though they were so shabbily dressed. So that was the ethos of the times.
Now I come to the temple universities of India. So, universities… the bigger, the big temples for not just places where people went and worshipped their favorite deity or they perform marriages. There was something more. They also functioned as educational centers because the temples acted like magnets, which would attract the best. So, then, they started building annexes to temples, and they would hold lectures in the Annex, the annex to the temple; lectures, debates., all these things happened in the temples. Eventually they also started having different departments where different subjects would be taught by different people, and on the temples there would be settlements, which were called Agrahara, where the king would subsidize the land for them, and they would live there, the teachers, and they would all have, their houses there look like a campus, and the students could actually go directly to the houses of the Brahmin teachers, and learn from them. They would just sit in the verandah, the teacher would come out, teach them and like that. In every house the same thing would be happening; so, the, this, these were all you can just see how well develop the institution of learning was in ancient India.
So, this is a place in Tamil Nadu, an item which has, which has a bonanza of inscriptions, which is, which really shows you, how institutionalized our to, our universities were. So, it tells you how much land is being given to the teachers. For the first of all, for the temple, for the purpose of teaching, this is for a Vedic bachelor, and it’s talking about how much the allowance would be given to the teachers. So, it says the teachers will get 16 times the meal allowance of the students and it talks about how the students who are studying the higher subjects like Vedanta, Mimamsa will get 66% of the stipend, that the students was the, compared to the students, who are studying the basic subjects. So, all this was well qualified, how much money will be given, what will be, how will you be taught. So, there was no confusion about this, and there are many inscriptions like this found all over South India.
But ennaiyar is one place you should go. So, these are the ruins of Shardapeeth in Kashmir today. You can’t, when you look at Kashmir, you can’t really imagine, a kind of a university like this, but there was a time when Kashmir was known by the University called Shardapeeth, and the whole state was called Sharda desh, because of the temple Sharda temple as well as the University, and this university was so well known for the, for the, rare manuscripts it had in the library, that people traveled from different parts of India, for example, Ramanujacharya came all the way from Kerala to study to refer to the only available manuscript of Bodhayana vritti in order to write the Sri Bhashya, the commentary that he wrote on the Brahmasutras. So, he came all the way from Tamil Nadu to Kashmir to refer to that book. So, this, this was the ecosystem of universities that we had. Today, of course, it lies in ruins because it has been destroyed.
Now I am coming to the knowledge transfers from India to China. A large number of Sanskrit manuscripts were carried to China either by Chinese scholars or by Indian scholars hired by Chinese kings. So, we spoke earlier about Huan-Tsang and the I-Tsing. Those were the scholars who came from China to India. But actually, from India also, a large number of scholars, Sanskrit scholars, went to China and they lived for long years there translating because for the Chinese it was considered to be a very very important job to get the Sanskrit works translated into Chinese as quickly as possible, as many as possible. So, you can literally fill a whole book with the works of translation done by the professors.
So, the first two went to China were Kasyapa Matanga and Dharmaratna. So, they made a very difficult journey, they went across Chinese Turkestan, Gobi Desert and again they had a very difficult journey, and on top of that they had to learn Chinese, which was the child of totally different syntax from Sanskrit. But they did it, and when they did it, it was like this, started a deluge. Oh, so many scholars followed them Sanga Varma, Dharma Satya, Dharma Kala, Mahamalla, Vigna, Dharmapala – a whole lot of them. I could not fill in all of, fit them all here and they were not just from northern India. For example, Dharma Ruchi was a scholar from southern India. He went to China lived there for 20 years and he translated 53 works into Chinese. So, there was people knew that, you know, there is a demand for them in China. So, if they, didn’t, were not happy with what they were getting in India, they would move to China. It was not always a happy outcome because this person poor fellow called Dharmakshema was being wooed by two kings, two Chinese kings, and in the crossfire, he got shot by an assassin. This happened with some other scholars as well.
Amoghavajra was another scholar. He collected 500 texts from different parts of India and went to China and he got many titles from Chinese Kings and he is called the founder of the tantric Buddhism and he had another, there’s another incident with him. When he translated, see… he spent years and years translating. The poor fella took leave to go back to India, the moment he stepped foot in India, he got a message that he needs to go back, because the Chinese king wants him back, and he without seeing his family, he had to go back.
Indian astronomers and mathematicians from the best universities held high positions in China’s scientific establishments. A big example is Gautama Siddha. So his Chinese name was Kutan Siddha. One of the reasons, why you would probably not know, who is who was an Indian professor in China, is that their names should be changed, they would have a Chinese name. So that’s why, we probably don’t know all the Indians who went to China. Kutan siddha, he was called, and he became president of China’s official Board of astronomy in the 8th century. He translated Navagraha calendar to Chinese. He introduced Indian numerals to China and the invention of printing press is attributed to Buddhist scholars who went from India to China. Today we know that printing was invented in China, but the work was done by Buddhist scholars who went from India and printing was used as a means to spread Buddhist thought.
This is a statue of Kumarajeeva; not many of us have heard about him. But he’s well known in China. Kumarajeeva, he basically grew up in Kashmir and culture, and he translated more than 100 Sanskrit works which are considered masterpieces of Chinese literature. The ‘diamond sutra’ which is a valuable work in Buddhism was translated by him and this tattoos in Zhen Jiang in China. He was like one of the viewers, considered a very brilliant person by the Chinese, and so he, they have honored him. But we don’t know anything about him.
Then I come to the knowledge transfers from India to Greece, Islamic world and Europe. I’ve covered China. Now I’m talking about the Islamic world and Europe in this. Dr. Raj Vedam, I heard, has done a lot of work. So, there was a thriving trade between India and the Western Asia, the whole the rest of the world, in spices and textiles, but also in medicines, not people know that, medicines also were being continuously supplied by India, herbs medicines. So, Raj has laid out the trajectory by which I obey the… was transmitted out of India. So, he, this Rishi Kanada, he speaks about Rishi Kanada, who wrote important works in Vaiseshika, the Vaiseshika school of Indian philosophy, who influenced Democritus, because Democritus’s idea seemed very similar to what Kanada wrote. Democritus’ student was Hippocrates who is called the father of Western medicine. So, we can see where Hippocrates is caught his ideas because if you see the Charaka Samhita, you will see that, there is something called an oath that a doctor has to take before he is considered a via, and that is very similar to the Hippocratic oath. So, and of course, Charaka came much before Hippocrates. So, the link would be Democritus.
Raj is also spoken about the Library of Alexandria. So, this library played a very important role in transferring works from east to west. It was situated in such a located, in such a place that, and they were the administrators of this library, went to any extent, beg, borrow, steal., to get the most authentic manuscripts from wherever, wherever they could get there, the best manuscripts and so they got a lot of manuscripts from India, and probably that’s how, that also served as a route for translations to Latin, and other languages. In the in the earlier years of Islam, when the Abbasid caliphs were ruling in Baghdad, that is a time when a number of translations happen. For example, Manka who was in the court of the Abbasid V of Abbasid caliph, Haroon Rashid, that’s what he was called. He translated Susruta Samhita to Persian. The Indian scholars were often invited to Baghdad. So, you know, the works, the famous works of Al Farabi, Al Kindi, Al Farghani, Al Tabari, Al-khwarizmi – who is called the father of algebra, but they all acknowledge that they got knowledge from India. They have actually referred to the books that they got from India, but for some reason all these works are now attributed to Arabs or Europeans. But you can trace it back to India.
So, while the Islamic scholars often credited their knowledge to Indic sources the European scholars frequently plagiarized from Arabic texts without references. The Renaissance was propelled by the works of Arabic scholars, which was passed off as original works by Europeans. So, the Renaissance actually all of a sudden, these works were attributed to European scientists and scholars. But they were actually all translations of Arabic text and where did those Arabic texts came from, come from, they came from India, and one important link is Toledo school of translators. Toledo in Spain, when it was run over by the Christians. So that’s the time they established a school which would spend all day if they put us in an army of scholars whose only job was to translate Arabic works to Latin. So, in the 12th and 13th centuries you will find a whole lot of Arabic works translated to Latin, and even in the Latin that the use, you can see Arabic, so you can make out where it came from, they couldn’t just find the word for it in Latin. So, they let it be in Arabic.
This is a statue of Garcia D’Orta. He was a Portuguese who settled in Goa in 1538 – another big source of knowledge transfer – he collected a lot of information about medicines – Ayurvedic medicines and he wrote this book: ‘Coloquios dos simples e drogas he cousas medicinais da índia’. So, in which he listed all the herbs that Indians are using for various diseases and he said this can be used for this, and this were influenced later works of medicine in Europe.
Now I come to the unhappy part when these glorious universities came to an end. Bakhtiyar Khilji, Bakhtiyar Khilji and… Today if you imagine an army of horsemen coming to a campus killing every professor every student over there, and bodies lying around. Well, that’s what happened. You can’t even think about it, and this happened at a time when there was, there were no electronic storage devices, no cloud. So, we can imagine how much, how much knowledge was lost. So, he destroyed Nalanda, Vikramsila and Odantapuri in one stroke, one after the other, this small group of horsemen. You can of course blame the scholars and professors for not knowing that this was coming. Well, we can, we don’t know what happened. But then they were all sitting ducks, and then in later years, all the other universities were destroyed – Jagaddala, Somapura, Valabhi, Kashmir, and that’s how, you know, when the thing is that, the earlier libraries which were destroyed in Cordoba, Alexandria, Persia and Ghazni did not set off alarm bells in India. They didn’t realize this is coming to India as well. They destroyed all the big libraries there as well, and when they came to India the first thing they did was to destroy the temples and the viharas because they realized, there are also places of learning.
There was an emphasis on Islamic education. Once the Muslim, the Delhi Sultan’s established themselves, they set up centers for Islamic education and Arabic and Persian were imposed. So, the day they tried to destroy the basis of Sanskrit, which was existing over there, and they just wanted to change it all to Arabic and Persian. There was some respite during Akbar’s rule. I mean until Akbar, it was terrible. But when he became, he tried to bring back some strength in the madrasahs, because earlier Hindus were not even allowed to study madrasas, so that this was a time when the Islamic rule was very strong in India. A number of scholars went to the periphery they went to the states where there was no Islamic control. So, they’ve been as far as they could, and that’s how they tried to preserve the learning that we had. They carried their manuscripts, they carried the murtis of the deities and they tried to keep it alive.
When Akbar came, things improved a bit. Again, it all vanished when Aurangzeb came. So again everything, all the gains that our Akbar made were lost, and the interesting thing is that, there was an absence of science education during the Mughal Rule. Earlier during the when the Muslim in the first few centuries of Islam in in Baghdad, you saw, how the Muslims were actually they’re interested in education, and there was a free spirit of debate in those times. But during this time after the when the Delhi Sultans came and when the Mughals got established, especially the during our unzips rule, no science education. They were at the most, they were interested in poetry, that is before, you know, not in orange Apes regime, but in other Muslim ruled kingdoms, there was some interest in poetry. But for some reason science did not figure. The Sanskrit works of scientists and mathematicians of earlier periods began to be forgotten in their land of origin.
The Mughals did not build up on the leading-edge concepts presented by Hindu scholars of an earlier era to become the world leader in science and mathematics while madrassa has proliferated and students became adept in the finer details of the Quran and hadith in Muslim India. The Western world was making advances in science and technology. The Mughals had a golden opportunity: they were, they were ruling at a time when India was the number one country in economy, right. But the Mughal kings missed the opportunity to write the wave of technological discoveries in the West despite rolling over the richest land in the world, and that’s why when the British came, they didn’t find any great scientists in India. They just found, you know, completely dumbed down education system, that is, I’m talking about the higher universities.
Now I come to the colonial period, the British emerged victorious over the Portuguese and the Dutch and all the other Europeans. They all battled among themselves and finally the British were victorious. They spread their tentacles to different parts of the world and, of course, they in India, they were very successful at first. The British did not bother with the education of natives and focused on playing politics with different rulers. So, you see, even in Africa, they didn’t try to learn. There was not interested in education or anything like that. But then they realized the need because now, here, they could, they found, they could not control India. India was a place where they were gain, they wanted to get a lot of wealth from. So, they needed to rule them, they needed to govern them, and that’s why they set up this College Mohammedan College and Sanskrit College in Calcutta, in Banaras. So that they could get a regular supply of Hindu and Muslim law officers, so that, they could govern them, and the interesting thing is that, there was, they were true camps, from the Anglicists and the Orientalists. The Anglicists wanted everything to be taught in English. They said let’s teach them, let’s translate our, there’s no need to translate, let’s just use our English books to teach them, whereas, the Orientalists said that let’s translate our English works into different languages first. Let’s make them like us and then slowly we will bring them into our fold. That’s the, that was the attitude of the Orientalists.
So why did the British impose English on India? First reason was convenience: it started out with that because they didn’t want to learn all the Indian languages, and they couldn’t understand Indian languages. So, it was very convenient to have English speaking menials, English speaking people. So, this says, let’s set up English educational centers. But the most important reason was that ‘these sepoys would become disloyal’. Now they needed an army as well. So, they had an Indian army and they realized that if the suppose started learning in their own languages, there’s going to be trouble, because the Muslims would real that these people are all infidels and we should not be having any business with them, if they kept studying the Islamic literature in their own language. Then they would, they would not be loyal to the British. The same thing with the people who studied Sanskrit because then they would regard them as malicious and unclean people who don’t have Dharma, adharmic people.
So, the British realized the danger of letting the education continue in the regional languages and then with the elite, they realized that if you make them study in English, then familiarly acquainted with the English literature, the Indian would speak of great Englishmen, with the same enthusiasm as the British themselves. By the way, these are not my theories, this is all written down by Macaulay’s brother-in-law Trevelyan. He also played a big role in the educational policy. So, he wrote all this, he said ‘familiarly acquainted with English literature that in Indian would speak of the great Englishman with the same enthusiasm as the British themselves, they would reject the teachings of Brahmin priests, the natives shall not rise against us, because we shall stoop to raise them’. It was a well-thought-out policy, very well thought out and after all, after fifteen-year debate between the Anglicists and the Orientalists, came the McCauley’s minute.
The Macauley memorandum which was circulated in order to come to a decision about what kind of educational institute should they fund. So, they came up with the English Education Act of 1835 after the debate. But we must look at my college minute. I’m sure many of us know it. Let’s read it again: “we must at present do our best to form a class, who may be interpreters between us and the millions who be govern a class of persons Indian in blood and colo,r but English and tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect. To that class, we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.” So now after this was the English Education Act was passed.
English struck its roots in the soil of India. Missionaries schools were set up and, you know, what happened meanwhile, the funny thing is that when all this was happening in India, look at what was happening in England. England was languishing in illiteracy; a miniscule fraction went to school and the only book most literate people had read was the Bible.
Now I’d like to talk about Dharampal. I think some of you would have heard about him, but by and large, most people I speak to haven’t heard of Dharampal. We owe a big debt of gratitude to him, that he brought so many facts to light that we never knew before. So what did the Rampal find? Dharampal went to London on some other work and he happened to spend a lot of time in libraries there and he came across archival material of extreme significance. A series of surveys commissioned by British government in 19th century to assess the level of indigenous education in India. So, we have to give it to a British for being very systematic, a very systematic. So, they first want to know, what is the level of education in India. So, they conducted a series of surveys in Madras Presidency, Bengal presidency, Punjab – various parts of India and they also documented it.
What did they find? They found that every village in India had a pathshala and there were 1,00,000 per challahs in Bihar and Bengal alone! So just imagine it’s mind-boggling, one pathshala in every village, and what was taught. In those parts Allah’s reading, writing, epics, all of them knew Mahabharata and Ramayana, Bhagavata, arithmetic was taught was very compulsory and it literacy was very high, very few illiterates exist. Today they knew their language. if they were in Andhra they knew Telugu, if they were in Tamil Nadu they knew Tamil, that was taken care of. Teachers were very dedicated there, were superior methods of teaching and there was high attendance. All this is reported by the people who did the survey.
Another interesting thing was, the and which broke the stereotype, that we have in the large number of schools sudras very majority, well the Brahmins, and by C’s with by Shias were in minority. So, for example, he found that he’s given percentages, you know, in some schools 70% were sudras, in some schools 50% were sudras, in some schools there were number of girls like in Kerala. There were many schools which had girls plenty of girls. So, the school, at the basic level our education system was intact when the British actually did the survey, the partial a-level, our education system was intact, even though the universities had been destroyed by the Muslim invaders.
Now I’m talking about the poverty and famine, how it became rampant during the British rule. Look at this picture of sadness, how they are people who was becomes, they become skeletons? There we must understand that India was governed for the benefit of Britain. So, everything that India produced food grain, textile, steel, gold, silver, minerals everything was for the benefit of Britain. There was no food for teachers and students in pathshalas. How could education survive? Earlier there was a system where nobody went hungry, they could go and ask for food, they would get food, now there was, they there in some places like Tanjavur mass poverty was created overnight by imposition of 59 percent taxation of gross produce! The district collectors role was to fleece citizens.
So, you will read accounts of how they are going, you know, their mapping India, simply because they want to fleece the maximum revenues out of the place. Temples were not spared, they had to part with your donations and it was a matter of time, before they all fell into despair and this continues even today. The British educational policy sounded the death knell for regional languages. So once English took root, it was a matter of time before regional languages became very down market, very uninteresting for the people. Mother tongues were relegated to second languages. That’s why Mahatma Gandhi said in 1931, that the British left India more illiterate than it was 100 years ago, because now it was only she knew English, you were considered educated. So, if you knew Tamil, Telugu, you know, they felt like they were illiterate useless people, if they were not, if they didn’t know English.
So, it was also a destruction of self-confidence and self-esteem. There was a chance for India to decolonize itself when we became independent. But that also did not happen. Even today, we India looks at itself through alien eyes, which is very sad. So, today we can say that our past heritage lies buried in regional and Sanskrit literature. So, if we really want to know, what we were, what we were capable of, we need to learn our own languages, our mother tongues and Sanskrit, in order to understand what we were otherwise we will just not know. We will just look at ourselves from the perspective of the Western world. I’m often told that my, you know, it’s a lot of people tell me, why do you study history, why do we need to know our pasts, you know, we need to concentrate on today, what can we do today, and look to the future, that’s the thing, I get to hear very often.
So, this puts me in a dilemma because, you know, there is for this meaningless to say that, you know we should, it’s like living with amnesia if you don’t know your past because the past present and future are on a continuum. So, if you just focus on today and tomorrow then we are not going to know our abilities. So, whatever it happened today is the result of what happened in the past and what’s going to happen tomorrow is the result of policies and actions that are happening today. So, it’s in a continuum, makes no sense to say that, we are not going to look at the past because it’s uncomfortable for us or because it’s depressing for us. We need to look at it, in order to know, how to go forward, and one of the quotes that I give to people, when they tell me ‘not to not to pay attention to history’ is this. If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know that, it’s part of a tree. Michael Crichton said that.
So, now, I’m coming to an end, and this is the global IHAR team. I am a part of Indian history Awareness and Research. So, we are a bunch of people from different backgrounds. Dr. Jayakumar Srinivasan and Dr. Raj Vedam were the founders. Dr. Subrata Gangopadhyaya is the president and we all come from different backgrounds: medicine, engineering and we all bring our perspectives to history, but we look at it from an Indic point of view. We don’t want to look at it from a Western point of view anymore. Of course, we find it useful. Let that also be there. But the Indic perspective is very important. If you have any questions you can email me here and you can find my book on Amazon, you can connect with IHAR on Facebook or YouTube. Thank you!