Old gurukul Graphic - YouTube

The ancient history of India speaks volumes of the rich traditional and cultural heritage of the country. One of the best-known traditions of the past was the unique Gurukul System of Education.

The word Gurukula or Gurukulam is a combination of two words, Guru meaning teacher and Kula meaning family or home.

Thus, the term gurukula translates to ‘the home of the teacher.’ This is exactly what the gurukula was- A home for pupils or shishyas to learn and acquire knowledge.

One of the earliest mentions of the Gurukul System of Education was in the Vedas and Upanishads. This system of education was in existence since ancient times.

The Upanishads mention the gurukul of Dronacharya in the present city of Gurgaon.

Several scholars and travellers of the ancient period wrote volumes and praises of the education system prevalent in India during the time.

The Gurukul System of education was one of the earliest systems of education in South Asia till the advent of the British school of thought.

What Exactly Is the Gurukul System of Education?

ancient gurukul education

The Gurukul system of education in the Vedic period referred to a residential type of schooling, where the shishyas would reside in or near the Gurus home and acquire knowledge from the teacher.

Not only would the pupils acquire knowledge on various subjects taught, but would also learn the way of life. Everyone was considered equal in a Gurukul.

Subjects Taught in The Gurukul System of Education

It is a wrong notion that only the Vedas and Upanishads were taught as subjects in the gurukul system of education. This system was a comprehensive and all-encompassing system of education.

It included the holistic development of students.  Focus was on the moral, physical and spiritual wellbeing of the students.

The teachings in Gurukuls encompassed all aspects of life, be it in the physical sense or mental. Students were being taught to co-exist with nature.

Some of the subjects taught in the gurukul system of education are

  • Mathematics and fundamentals of mathematics
  • Science
  • Astronomy
  • Languages
  • Early Medicine

With these being taught as subjects in the ancient education system, you may wonder what were the sources of information from where teachers taught and pupils learned.

Like today, students have textbooks to refer to the ancient gurukul system also depended on ancient texts like the Vedas, Upanishads, Dharmasutras and Brahmanas.

Some other sources of learning were the writings of renowned scholars like Aryabhatta and Patanjali. The teacher’s inherent knowledge and experiences were some of the sources of learning in ancient times.

Apart from the knowledge of Mathematics and various sciences, the shishyas were trained in yoga, exercises, physical labour, games, archery, martial arts and sports.

The routine followed in Gurukuls was rigid. Students followed a set timetable. This ensured discipline and regulation in the lives of all the students.

Students were taught society responsibilities.

Therefore, it is safe to say that the ancient gurukul system of education was a way of life.

Gurukul System of Education in The Vedic Period

Though the ancient texts like the Vedas and Upanishads were sources of learning during the ancient system of education, it cannot be said that only the Vedas were taught in the Gurukuls.

The very fact that the Gurukuls existed and flourished during the Mughal rule, goes to show the inclusive character of the Gurukul System of Education.

This system of Education aimed at overall personality development and character formation.

Students would perform tasks that aimed at physical and mental wellbeing. Students were taught how-to live-in society with one another. Teachers monitored and observed the behaviour of students.

The Gurukul System of education in the Vedic period also stressed skill-building. Certain skills like pottery, cooking, cleaning and other art forms were taught to students.

Methods of Learning During the Gurukul System of Education

gurukul system representing image - CollegeMarker

To ensure effective learning, pupils of Gurukuls had to recite the Vedas and other ancient texts daily. This guaranteed memorization of important parts of the texts.

Apart from recitals, students had a hands-on learning experience in Gurukuls. They would cook, clean and engage in certain skills.

Debates were not unknown during this period. Students deliberated and discussed certain topics. Pupils had to analyse and apply critical thinking on subject matters

Process of Admission in Gurukuls

Admission to Gurukuls was possible once the student has undergone the upanayana or the sacred thread ceremony. This usually took place at the age of 8 to 12 years.

After this, students were eligible to reside in the Gurukul. The pupils would generally go on to receive education for around 10 to 12 years.

Education Beyond the Gurukul

The extended part of Gurukuls was what we would call the modern-day universities.

Some of our texts contain information on famous universities like Taxila, Nalanda and Vikramshila. These served as centres for advanced learning.

One of the famous pupils of Taxila was the noted grammarian Panini. He became an expert in language and grammar and wrote the famous book Ashtadhyayi.

The ruins of Taxila were excavated in the mid-19th century in North-Western part of Pakistan. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Gurukul System of Education – Sacred and Respected

eklavya offering his thumb to dronacharya - CollegeMarker

Education during ancient times was sacred. It was a venerated and revered field.  Due to its adulation, no fixed fee was charged to students.

In return for the knowledge acquired from the teacher, the pupils paid Guru Dakshina to the teacher.  It was a token of respect from a student to the teacher, on completing the period of study.

This Guru Dakshina could be in the form of money or a certain task the teacher would require the student to complete.

Speaking of Guru Dakshina, an interesting story in the epic Mahabharatha speaks of Eklavya, a young prince of a jungle tribe.

In this story, Drona asks for Eklavya’s right thumb as Gurudakshina. Eklavya readily cuts of his right thumb and offers it as Guru Dakshina.

This shows the sacred and revered relationship between a teacher and a pupil in ancient times.

Gurukul System in Later Vedic Period

The advent of the Britishers changed the education scene in the country. The Gurukul system ended. The Britishers introduced their centralised system of education.

However, realising the steep decline in the Gurukul system of education and its importance in modern education, the pioneers Dayanand Saraswathi and Swami Shradhanand spearheaded the revival of the modern Gurukul system of education.

In 1886 they founded the Dayanand Anglo-Vedic Public Schools and Universities. The school revived the almost forgotten ancient system of education.

Slowly but surely, the school spread its wings to various parts of the country and even the rest of the world.

Concluding Thoughts

Although almost a forgotten system, the Gurukul system of education has proven to be an effective system of education. This system worked for hundreds of years before the British advent into the country.

It essentially concentrated on the holistic development of every student. Modern scholars believe that students today, lack overall physical and mental development.

Reviving the Ancient Gurukul system of education will work wonders on education today. A perfect balance of modern education along with gurukul education will be a flawless education system.