Such terms as knowledge, awakening, humility, modesty, etc. are often used to characterize education in the Vedic period. Ancient texts refer to the uneducated person as an ignorant beast. Education is regarded as the source of light. The main features of Vedic education can be briefly enumerated as follows:
1. Knowledge, the Third Eye
Education is knowledge. It is man’s third eye. This aphorism means that knowledge opens man’s inner eye, flooding him with spiritual and divine light, which forms the provision for man’s journey through life.
Through education, the development of every aspect of human life becomes possible. Knowledge protects an individual like a mother, inspires him to follow the path of good conduct as a father does, and gives the pleasure that one’s wife provides.
The word ‘Veda’ originates from the root which bears the meaning of knowledge. Sayana declares that the Veda is a means to the obtaining of the adored that which is worthy of worship, as well as a means to the banishment of the undesired, the evil.
Knowledge of the four Vedas (Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, and Atharvaveda), along with the knowledge of Shruti, Smriti, etc., provided an individual, with new knowledge which broadened his intellectual horizon.
2. Alms of Education
In the Vedic period, education had an idealistic form, in which the teachers (acharyas) laid stress upon worship of God, religiousness, spirituality, formation of character, development of personality, creation of an aptitude for the development of culture, nation and society.
It is in this context that Dr. Altekar said that the objectives of education in ancient India were worship of God, a feeling for religion, formation of character, fulfilment of public and civic duties, an increase in social efficiency or skill, and the protection the propagation of national culture.
These objectives and ideals took an individual along the path of spiritual development in their fundamental form, these objectives and ideals were
(i) Emphasis upon Knowledge and Experience
The Gurukuls laid emphasis upon knowledge and obtaining of experience. During the Vedic period, the practice of distributing degrees did not exist. Students exhibited the knowledge obtained through discourses and discussions conducted in a concourse of scholars.
In the Vedic period, Nature was regarded as divine and worshipped. During this period, many hypotheses concerning spirituality took birth. Knowledge came to be seen as the instrument of salvation.
Fire sacrifices, fasting and taking of vows became a part of life. Education was given the objective of inculcating control over these aspects and learning right conduct based on them.
(iii) Sublimation of Instincts
Man is the virtual slave of the instinctive drives embedded in his psyche, and when he is obsessed by his senses, he often adopts the wrong path.
The objective of education was to sublimate these instinctive tendencies, to turn the mind away from material knowledge, and centre it upon the spiritual world, thus establishing control over materialistic and base tendencies.
(iv) Fulfillment of Duty
Great importance was attached to developing such qualities as discipline, obedience, performance of holy duties, rendering help to others, fulfillment of social responsibilities, etc. Through such education social skills were developed in the students.
In addition, education was also provided for earning a livelihood and for this, one or more skills were taught. Dr. Mukeijee says that this education was not exclusively theoretical or literary. It was related to one or the other manual skill
(v) Growth of Character and Personality
The objective of education was the formation of character and personality of children. It was achieved through an appropriate environment, lessons on right conduct, and teachings based on the life, character and ideals of great persons.
Education aimed at developing the virtues of self-control, self-respect, love, cooperation, sympathy, etc. in the students.
3. The Method of Education
During the Vedic period, the Gurukul method prevailed, in which the student lived in the house of the Guru, instead of living with his parents. Along with his colleagues, he led a celibate life and obtained education in the house of the Guru.
Initially, in the Vedic period, it was the teacher who occupied the primary place, but in the later period, it was the student who occupied the central place in education, the process of education passed through the three stages of comprehension, meditation, and memory and midi-dhyaasana.
The Gurukuls were the centres of education, in which education was imparted only by individuals of character and ability. The student remained with his Guru for 12 years. There were parishads or committees to satisfy the student’s thirst for knowledge. Congresses of scholars were also organized from time to time. In these, awards were also given to prominent scholars.
4. The ‘Upnayana’ Ritual
The word ‘Upnayana’ means to take close to, or to bring in touch with. A ceremony called the Uphayana ceremony was performed before the child was taken to his teacher.
This ceremony was performed at the ages of 8-11 and 12 for the Brahmins, kshatriyas and vaishyas, respectively. The ceremony signaled the Childs’s transition from infancy to childhood, and his initiation into educational life.
In this context, the term ‘Upnayana means putting the student in touch with his teacher with the passage of time, the ceremony came to be confined to the brahmin class only.
5. Celibacy or Brahmacharya
Every student was required to observe celibacy in his specific path of life. Purity of conduct was regarded as of supreme importance. Only the unmarried could become students in a Gurukul.
On entering student life, the student was made to wear a special girdle called a ‘makhla’. Its quality depended on the casteof the student. Brahmins wore a girdle of moonj grass, the kshatriyasof string gut-taanta-and the vaishyas a girdle made of wool.
The clothes worn by them were also accordingly silk, wool, etc. The students were not allowed to make use of fragrant, cosmetics or intoxicating things.
6. Alms System
The student had to bear the responsibility of feeding both himself and his teacher; this was done through begging for alms, which was not considered bad, since every domestic knew that his own son must be begging for alms in the same way at some other place.
The reason behind the introduction of such a practice was that accepting alms induces humility. The student realised that both education and subsequent earning of livelihood were made possible for him only through society’s service and its sympathy.
For the poor students, begging for alms was compulsory and unavoidable, but even among the prosperous; it was a generally accepted practice.
7. Service of the Teacher
Every student was required, while residing in the Gurukul, to serve his teacher compulsorily. Any violation of the Guru’s instructions was regarded as a sin, and subject to stern punishment.
The student’s duties included obtaining such daily necessities as water, a twig for brushing the teeth, etc., for his guru the teachers also ensured that the students should not be distracted from their studies while performing such duties.
During the vacations in which the student returned home he was not required to perform any service for the teacher.
The work of teaching began early in the morning. After performing their ablutions, students participated in some religious rituals, such as havans.
Subsequently, they were put to the task of studying. In the afternoon, after partaking of lunch, the students returned to their studies. At sunset, some more religious rituals were performed. They denoted the end of the day’s routine.
The education of that period encompassed the necessary activities of life. Students were given education about animal-husbandry, agriculture and other professions. In addition education in medicine was also imparted.
According to Dr. Alteker, purpose of education was not to provide general knowledge. Out a variety of subjects, but to produce specialists of the best kind in various spheres
9. Education for the Individual
In the Vedic period, every teacher devoted himself to the integral development of each student. He aimed at the physical and intellectual development of his wards.
The maximum attention was devoted to the individual development of every student, but there was no provision for the education of the incapable and the handicapped, especially those who were lacking in mental and moral qualities or were known for moral turpitude.
10. Duration of Education
In the house of the teacher, the student was required to obtain education upto the age of 24, after which he was expected to enter domestic life. Students were divided into three categories:
(a) Those obtaining education upto the age of 24-Vasu.
(b) Those obtaining education upto the age of 36-Rudra.
(c) Those obtaining education upto the age of 48-Aaditya.
Although the education of this period was dominated by the study of Vedic literature, historical study, stories of heroic lives and discourses on the Puranas also formed a part of the syllabus.
Students had necessarily to obtain knowledge of metrics. Arithmetic was supplemented by knowledge of geometry. Students were given knowledge of the four Vedas-Rig-Veda, Yajurveda, Samaveaa and Atharvaveda.
The syllabus took within its compass such subjects as spiritual as well as materialistic knowledge, Vedas, Vedic grammar, arithmetic, knowledge of gods, knowledge of the absolute, knowledge of ghosts, astronomy, logic, philosophy, ethics, conduct, etc. The richness of the syllabus was responsible for the creation of Brahman literature in this period.
The foundation of the education imparted in this ancient period was inherent tendency or aptitude (abhivrati). It is written in the Atharvaveda “O Lord Indra! Fill us with that ability which a father imparts to his son.
“It is also stated in the Sabra Bhashya, “How a child learns is apparent from the fact that the child of a Brahmin learns the Vedic aphorisms while still at home.
The imprint of these aphorisms upon his mind is indelible.” Along with education, the performance of certain rituals was also regarded as essential. It was after these rituals that the child embarked upon a study of the subjects of his choice, though he was also required to study some others subjects.
In this connection Sanat Kumar inquired of Naarad what he had studied. Naarad replied, “I have read the Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, Atharvaveda, the fifth Ved, history, the Puranas. I also know the Vedic grammar, the Veda of the Vedas.
I am also read in rules pertaining to service of one’s father, arithmetic, the science of time, knowledge of gods, the absolute, ghosts, metrics, etymology, astronomy, knowledge of snakes and ‘devas’, dance, music-recreation and creation of fragrance.”