Salient Features of Vedic Education

Vedic Education is the system of education prevailed in India during the so called Vedic age in India i.e. fro 1500 B.C. to 600 or 500 B.C. There are different views on the time span of Vedic Age in India. The people who believe that the real starting of Vedic age is the arrival of Aryans during the time of 1700 B.C. However, it is said that Vedic Age starts from 1500 B.C. Vedic Age is divided into two as Early Vedic Age and Later Vedic Age. The vedic period is known as so because the four great Vedas such as the Rig-Veda, Sama-Veda, Yajur-Veda, and Atharva-Veda were written during the period. These four Vedas were written during the early Vedic Period i.e. during the time between 1500B.C. The later Vedic period is believed to be existed between 1000 B.C. and 600 or 500 B.c. The Later Vedic Period is also known as Epic Period, as the two great Epics called The Mahabharata and  The Ramayana during this period. The later Vedic Period is also known as Brahmanic Period, as it is believed that social stratification was at its peak and Brahmins enjoyed the highest status during the later Vedic period.

It is important to know about the philosophical doctrines of an age or country to discuss the features of the educational system of any age or country, as philosophy of an age or country is one of the most influential aspects of any age our region. The word ‘Veda’ is derived from another Sanskrit word ‘ Vid’ which means knowledge. Hence Vedic age can rightly be called Knowledge Age or Age of Knowledge.  This itself shows that it was an era which gave unprecedented importance to education, knowledge spreading, master scholars, intellectual discussions and other academic aspects. If you search for the most important aim of education during any ancient era all over the world, you would see that it was knowledge attainment aim.

Another most important aspect of Vedic Philosophy is the concept of Purusharthas and Four Ashramas. Purusharthas were the objectives human life while Ashramas were the four stages of life. The four Purusharthas or the four major objectives of human life during the Vedic Age were Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. Each of the four Purusharthas has got its own unique identity, and at the same time they are interrelated, too. ‘Dharma’ means Righteousness; ‘Artha’ denotes  worldly wealth; ‘Kama’ is worldly desire and ‘Moksha’ is ‘self realisation’ or reaching a stage on which one becomes free of  the cycle of rebirth. The four Ashramas  or the stages of life during Vedic Age were ‘Brahmacharya’, ‘Grihasthya’, ‘Vanaprastha’ and  ‘Sanyasa’ where ‘Brahmacharya’ is studentship; ‘Grihathya’ is family life; ‘Vanaprastha’ is the time of gradual withdrawel from the worldly wealth and desires and ‘Sanyasa’ is the stage on which one becomes fully away from any sort of worldly desires and greed. During the period of Sanyas, one would be on preparation for realising Moksha.

And an important thing to be noted that whenever it is discussed on Vedic Education, it is often concentrated on later Vedic Period or Brahmanic Age. It is said that there was no social stratification during the early Vedic Age which is the real Vedic Age, and all the people regardless to the cast system were given education. It is said that by the time of the later Vedic Period or Epic Period, social stratification on the basis of cast system emerged and spread in India.It is said that people during the Vedic Age were divided in a hierarchical order into  four casts such as the Brahmins (Hindu Priests), the Kshatriyas (Rulers and Army Men), the Vaishyas (Merchants,Artisans, Farmers andtradesmen), and Shudras (Working Men or Labourers).

Now it is the right time to enter the main topic i.e. the salient features of Vedic Education or the educational system prevailed during the Vedic Age in India.

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Aims and objectives of Education During the Vedic Age:

As per the four major objectives of life during the vedic Age or Purusharthas, the ultimate aim of life during the era was nothing else but reaching the stage of Moksha. Hence the ultimate aim of education during the vedic Age was to help the people in the preparation for Moksha or self realisation. And the main objectives of Vedic Education was related to this ultimate aim of education or life. For realising Moksha, one had to follow Dharma or righteousness in all the walks of life during different Ashramas or stages of life. So one of the major objectives Vedic Age was making the people capable of following Dharma in all his day to day activities and dealings.As mentioned earlier, the Vedic Age had given unprecedented importance to knowledge. Knowledge was considered an important trait which would inspire one to follow ‘Dharma’ throughout his life. Hence knowledge aim was another important aspect of Vedic Education Another objective of education was to enable the people earn necessary ‘Artha’ or worldly wealth so that he could fulfil his ‘Kama’ or the worldly desires.This may be regarded something like the vocational aim of modern times. Another objective education was to create rulers and army men for safeguarding the nation or society.  As the system prevailed was system of kingdom, princes and sons of ministers had to be given administrative skills and clerical skills. Similarly, the sons of army leaders and such people had to be provided war related skills. The Vedic Age always considered character as something greater than external appearance of personality. Character is something which includes internal as well as external traits while personality is considered on the basis of the external appearance or behaviour of a person. So one of the most important objectives of education during the vedic Age was to facilitate character development. It is to be noted that only a person with a very good character can follow ‘Dharma’ in his life.

The aims and objectives of Vedic Education at a glance are

  1. Preparation for Moksha or Self Realisation ( Self Realisation Aim)
  2. Knowledge Attainment Aim
  3. Cultivating Dharma
  4. Vocational Aim or Securing a Job for Earning Artha or worldly Wealth
  5. Preparation for fulfilling ‘Kama’ or worldly desires without giving up ‘ Dharma’
  6.  Creating rulers and army men for safeguarding the society
  7. Character Development Aim

Educational System During Vedic Age:

Though it is believed that there was no social stratification on the basis of caste system during the early Vedic Age, it is said that there was existing the caste system during the later vedic period or Epic period. So the age is also called Brahmanic Period, and the educational system, actually, is Brahmanic Education. This is mentioned here because, when ever there is a comparison between Vedic Education and Buddhist Education, most view that there was education for all during Buddhist Period while education had been given only to the people who belonged to some castes during vedic Age. Actually we always utter Vedic Education instead of calling it ‘ Brahmanic education. There was education for all during the real Vedic Age i.e. early Vedic Age. But education was given only to the people of three castes during the later Vedic Age i.e. to   Brahmins , the Kshatriyas , the Vaishyas, and no sort of education was provided to Shudras. The system of education was ‘Gurukula’ system. It was a single teacher-multi-students system of education in which students used to stay at the home of the ‘Guru’ ( teacher). The teacher was supposed to be a scholar in all the departments of knowledge and a role model for the students to make them capable of practising ‘Dharma’. The Studentship period was known as ‘ Brahmacharya’ during which students had to be away from all the sorts of worldly wealth, bondage and desires. The students had to offer all the sorts of services to the Guru (Master or  Teacher) and ‘Guru Pathni’ ( the wife of the Teacher) such as fetching water, cleaning the rooms in the home and surroundings, washing the cloths of the master and his wife, carrying fire-wood, assisting the wife of the master during the time of preparation of food. Similarly, students have to go and beg alms to meet the livelihood for the master, wife and themselves.

Upanayana Ceremony ( Commencement of Education) During Vedic Age:

There was a sacred ceremony for starting education during Vedic Age.This commencement ceremony or initial ceremony is known as ‘Upanyana’ Ceremony. The commencement of education for children from different castes was at different age levels. Brahmin children were fortunate to start the education at the age of eight years while Kshatriyas could commence the study at the age of eleven years. Vaishyas used to start the education when they became twelve years old. This commencement ceremony itself considered as a symbol of social stratification of the period by some people. This the vedic version of the initial ceremonies for starting education during the Buddhist period, which is known as ‘Pubbaja’, and during the Islamic or Medieval period, which is called ‘ Bismillah’ ceremony. When the child from each concerned caste reached the above mentioned age level, he would come to the home of the master after shaving his head, taking bath, wearing the sacred thread. Then he would sit before the master in a particular manner and recite ‘Swaraswathi Mantra’ ( some Religious Verses in Hinduism) following the recitation of them by the master. It was regarde the second birth of the child, and his new parents would be the master and his wife.

Curriculum of Vedic Education:

The curriculum was consisting of the four Vedas, the Vedangas and other religious scriptures for Brahmins, as they had got the power of practising the religious rituals such as ‘Yagas’ and ‘ Pujas’. The curriculum for Kshatriyas was consisting of administration, war related activities such as archery, horse riding, wrestling, etc., because it was their duty to rule and safe guard the country from enemies. The curriculum for  was Vaishyas was consisting of subjects such as trade, craftsmanship etc.

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Role of Teacher During Vedic Age:

The Guru or the Master enjoyed a very important status during the period, as it was a highly teacher centred educational system. The master was regraded just below to God. People used to offer all the sorts of  respect and honour to the scholars, as the great era itself is called age of knowledge. The masters used to visit the palaces and homes of students where they always used to be welcomed in so warm and grant manner. The parents of the students used to offer valuable things to the masters without being demanded or requested.

Methods of  Teaching During Vedic Age:

Oral method of teaching was prevailing during the vedic Age. The most important method was ‘Sravana- Manana-Nithidhyasana’ ( listening-Byhearting- Reflecting). The teacher will recite some verses or lines which will be listened carefully by the student. Then the student will loudly recite it repeatedly for byhearting it. Then comes the final stage of reflecting what is byhearted by the student. The student wiould think deeply about what had been already learnt , and reach innovative interpretations. The methods such as discussion, question answer method, debate and seminar also were said to be prevailing during the vedic Age

About Hathib KK

I am an Assistant Professor of Education in a reputed BEd. College under the title Keyi Sahib Training College in India.

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