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Education in India

Ancient, Medieval, And Early Modern India

In the early Vedic period (beginning c. 1200 B.C.E.), an elite controlled the teaching of the four Vedas, the hymns and ritual practices of Aryan people who had migrated into north India in the previous century. Daughters as well as sons of higher-status families probably memorized these hymns and learned their meanings and associated ritual practices. Rishis, sages or seers who mostly belonged to the Brahman varna or caste, produced, transmitted, and controlled access to this knowledge. The Sanskrit of the Vedas was the language of classical learning, and proto-Hinduism was religious orthodoxy in the Vedic period. Respected teachers (gurus) taught apprentices pronunciation of the Vedas and all that it implied, as well as phonology, metrics, elementary grammar, and etymology, in return for the students' mundane services. This education was extra-institutional and closed to people of low status before the end of the Vedic period. In the modern era, nineteenth-and twentieth-century Hindu teachers of indigenous curricula frequently looked back to an idealized Vedic model for pedagogical inspiration.

In the sixth and fifth century B.C.E., historical founders Nigantha Nataputta (or Mahavira, the "Great Hero" of Jainism), and Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha, the "Enlightened One") created heterodox belief systems that monks elaborated, preserved, and taught to initiates. Buddhist monks congregated in monasteries (viharas), and provided itinerant teaching for laypeople. Elder monks taught the disciplines of the Sangha (the monastic order) as well as discourses on doctrine, spiritual exercises, and advanced philosophical ideas. Female converts created nunneries with similar practices. The Nalanda Mahavihara in Bihar and other great monasteries were centers of learning that included secular arts and sciences as well as theology. Mahaviharas flourished in northeastern India with royal support until they were destroyed at the beginning of the thirteenth century. In southern India, education was likewise linked to the ideas of Buddhist, Jaina, and Hindu teachings. Itinerant teachers carried ideas and the Sanskrit language to the south, where a Tamil prose and poetry tradition flourished from around 100 C.E. onwards.

Arab and Central Asian peoples brought Muslim educational models to the subcontinent in both the medieval and early modern periods. Within decades of the Prophet Muhammad's death in 632 C.E., Arab mariners began to trade, reside, and intermarry with local women in south India. Turkic peoples and other Central Asians raided northern India around 1000 C.E. and thereafter established several foreign-conquest empires. Muslim rulers promoted urban education by endowing libraries and literary societies. They also founded primary schools (maktabs) in which students learned reading, writing, and basic Islamic prayers, and secondary schools (madrasas) to teach advanced language skills, Koranic exegesis, prophetic traditions, Islamic law (shari a), and related subjects. Often attached to mosques, Islamic schools were open to the poor but were gender segregated, often only for boys. Muslim girls of affluent families studied at home, if they received any education beyond learning to recite the Koran. From the beginning of the Mughal empire in India in 1526 until the end of Mughal political presence in 1848, Persian was the court language, and elite boys could attend Persian schools to learn literature, history, ethics, law, administration, and court protocol. Subjects such as medicine, mathematics, and logic also formed an important part of the curriculum in centers for Islamic learning. More intimate settings for the spread of ideas were the retreats (khanqah) of famous Sufis (Muslims who professed mystic doctrines). These new educational models did not necessarily displace older ones, although state patronage patterns shifted. Sanskrit academies continued to teach young male Brahmans literature and law; apprenticeship and commercial schools taught boys the skills needed for business. Education for girls was the exception rather than the rule.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Dysprosium to Electrophoresis - Electrophoretic TheoryEducation in India - Ancient, Medieval, And Early Modern India, Colonial India, Independent India, Bibliography