The Resources Required for a Modern Gurukulam

Indigenous Education Apr 28, 2021

‘Gurukulam’ means a large walled enclosure with rows of classrooms and associated offices; institutions like schools, colleges, or universities, and recognized by the government. Such misconceptions exist today because we have all grown up for the past two centuries with the notion that education is available only in government regulated schools and colleges, and that the goal of learning is to obtain a certificate conferred by them.

Large Gurukulams like Nalanda, Takshashila, Vikramashila are some of the names that come to mind when we talk about the ancient education system. This is because information is readily available on these in the popular media. Besides, the fact that they are comparable in form to the European Universities, have made them popular.

However, it is important to note that in the period before the foreign invasions, it would not have been possible to provide education to all the citizens of akhanda bharat through a handful of such large Gurukulams. Therefore, we have to come to a conclusion that villages, towns and cities must have had educational activities other than or as a feeder mechanism to what was provided in the large Gurukulams.

There is also some information in Dharmapal’s book ‘Beautiful Tree’ about the presence of over six hundred thousand Gurukulams or patha-shalas. But these pathashalas were documented by British officials who would have counted only the distinct institutions or places of mass learning in their census, and not the institutions such as a family, clan, or community where education was passed on from one generation to the other with regard to their occupation, farming, business, arts, commerce and so on.

Thus, it becomes very clear that a larger and distinct educational activity that was different from what has been recorded in history existed in akhanda bharat. The phrase ‘educational activity’ has been used intentionally here, and not a ‘system of education’, since ancient India, prior to the advent of the British, did not have the concept of education being officially designed and administratively controlled by a ‘System’. The word ‘System’ in the context of education does not appear in the vocabulary of any Indian language in pre-British India.

It is true that kings patronized scholars, but it was not the duty of the royal administration to provide education to their subjects. This provision was made by the institutions of family or ‘kulam’, and this conforms to the popular belief that Gurukulams provided education.

Guru’s ‘kulam’ is Guru-kulam

The word ‘guru’ is defined as ‘father’ in Sanskrit lexicons. This is an original connotation, and is extended to mean, in common parlance, anyone who teaches, nurtures and promotes the welfare of a child like a father does. There are the terms ‘pancha-mata’ and ‘pancha-pita’ to identify five individuals acting like the mother, and five like the father.

The term ‘guru-varga’ in the Padma Purana, lists over 12 familial relatives to be gurus, which proves that the family itself was the ‘Gurukulam’, both by definition and practice. Therefore, learning that is imparted in the family or lineage itself was termed as ‘Gurukula-education’, and that ‘Guru-kulam’ is nothing else but ‘pitru-kulam’ or father’s house.

As a supplement to the learning that was obtained in the said ‘kulam’s or families, higher learning was made available in institutions like Takshashila built for the purpose and aptly given the same name – Gurukulam. But the name Gurukulam cannot be given only to such institutions. We have to remember that in the original sense, the family home is the Gurukulam.

What are the resources?

What are the resources that are required for a Gurukulam ? Before attempting to answer this question, we must have a proper definition of a Gurukulam. As discussed earlier, if we consider family as Gurukulam, then all the resources found in the family must be considered as the resources for the Gurukulam. Rural homes, along with their back and front yards, the portico, and animal sheds, also had large work areas to cater to their traditional family occupations, and this naturally served as learning centers and practical laboratories too. In short, it can be said that the resources required in the traditional Bharatiya home constitute the very resources required for the Gurukulams.

But in the current context of megacities with large multistoried buildings, congested homes, separation of occupation from the family home, the home cannot be called a Gurukulam. Home, classroom and laboratory have all been separated. Hence, construction of artificial laboratories has become essential even in today’s schools.

Following the Macaulay prescribed education system up to High School has produced a uniform curriculum along with the same laboratory facilities throughout, with the same experiments being conducted in all the laboratories with their limited capacities.

If we were to implement Gurukulam-education, which is a ‘free and experimental method of learning’, but proceed by retaining uniformity among Gurukulams, then what will emerge are Gurukulams taken out from the same mold of the existing schools, with limited education, and experiments. This will derail the very purpose for which we have embarked on the revival of the Gurukulams.

Thus it would be detrimental to prepare and enforce a predetermined set of resources, and resource persons to apply to all the Gurukulams. Since what is taught in a Gurukulam is determined by its unique circumstance of time, place and purpose, thereby making each Gurukulam naturally distinct in its very form. Keeping this uniqueness in mind, catering to a variety of resources becomes inevitable.

What is essential?

The question, “What is essential for a Gurukulam” would beget the one-line answer, “Only the Guru is essential, nothing else is.” Inasmuch as there is a need for Gurukulams which replace and resemble existing schools, they ought to be known by the name ‘Abhinava Gurukulam’, meaning modern Gurukulam, and an inventory can be prepared of the resources needed in such a modern Gurukulam. The said catalogue may have three sections – वस्तु, विषय & विचार /vastu, vishaya and vicāra (material, subjects and thoughts)

1. वस्तु /vastu (Material)

‘Abhinava Gurukulams’ must possess five distinct departments.

  1. Paatha-shala
  2. Paka-shala
  3. Prayoga-shala
  4. Gow-shala
  5. Atithi-shala

This pancha-shala or the five-home complex, forms the foundation of the modern Gurukulam. These may be kept apart, or may also contain one or more of the others.

For example, the Paatha-shala may have separate compartments constructed for the purpose, or may be front-yard of Guru’s home can be used as classroom. There may be a need for at least two acres of land to bring such a five-home school complex to reality and use.

To include Gow-shaala and other activities related to it, like agriculture and others, there may be the need for over 5 acres of land. The design of the laboratory will be as per the theme chosen by the Gurukulam.

For example, yaaga-shaala itself would become the laboratory in the Gurukulam that has chosen the study of Veda and Vedanga. Here, the essentials to cater to this laboratory, one would require a forest area to collect samit, darbha grass etc, a garden with flowers for the puja, a place to manage the family of cows, and so on. Since Vedic education would include practicing the method of plucking and collecting samit, the art of milking the cow etc, the gow-shaala and agricultural fields would also be categorized under laboratories here.

If the Gurukulam were formed for kalari martial arts as a part of dhanurveda, then a metal foundry for the weapons, a gymnasium/wrestling arena etc would become essential laboratories.

If there was to be a teaching of Ayurveda texts, the laboratories would include the woods for collection of herbs, a pharmacy to manufacture medicine, a clinic and others.

A library, a computer lab and the like would be part of the Patha-shala. In this way, the structure of the school and the laboratory would differ in the different Gurukulams.

Besides land, building and other components, financial arrangement should also be made for the maintenance of the Gurukulam. The revenues might accrue from the Guru-dakshina tendered by past students after some ten years of the Gurukulam’s existence. But an initial amount to meet the expenses of the first ten years should be arranged to begin with. Since the Guru is resident in the Gurukulam (and hence the name), the teachers have to be provided living accommodation, and must be paid a monthly dakshina (honorarium) equivalent to the prevailing cost of one tola (10 grams) of gold. Neither the giver nor the receiver should feel that the payment is a salary or that this is an employment.

2. विषय /vishaya (Subject)

Though during the five or six years of primary education, the main subjects of study can be languages, literature, music, mathematics, physics or chemistry, and others, any one subject or art should be chosen as a matter of main study. Here, art does not mean only music, dance or other ‘fine’ arts. Agriculture, Commerce etc also belong to the Art (Kala) category. The objective must be the study of one shaastra and two ancillary subjects.

Shaastra does not mean only Dharma-shastra. Let us remember that the suffix shastra is carried by subjects such as Physics, Astronomy, Mathematics etc, and Shastra means Sciences.

एकं शास्त्रमधीयानो न विद्याच्छास्त्रनिश्चयम् ।
तस्माद्बहुश्रुतः शास्त्रं विजानीयाच्चिकित्सकः ॥ - (सु. संहिता 1-4-7)

(ekaṃ śāstramadhīyāno na vidyācchāstraniścayam ।
Tasmād bahuśrutaḥ śāstraṃ vijānīyāccikitsakaḥ ॥ - Sushruta Samhita 1-4-7)

Translation: One who has specialized in only one shastra must not draw conclusions while examining things. Thus, the physician (before proceeding into treatment) must be well versed with many shastras.

Though Sushruta is talking about doctors here, this applies everywhere. Those who have read more than one science, i.e. widely-read, are called ‘bahu-shruta’scholars. Those with expertise in one subject but lacking in this ‘bahu-shruta’ quality will experience a setback in higher education, research etc. Therefore, learning content must include more than one shastra at a young age. But most Importantly, as six limbs of veda are inter-related, fulfill a area of study and all of them are useful for the learner until his death, we need to choose such inter-related sciences from the beginning in the curriculum.

Modern educationists call this as ‘Multidisciplinary Approach’, and the recent National Education Policy also recommends this to be included in school pedagogy.

3. विचार /vicāra – Thoughts

Adoption of a purpose or a proper perspective is very important when we apply ourselves to any task. All effort will lack direction when one is not aware of the purpose, or is not clear about what one is aiming to achieve. If the perspective and its reason are clear, implementation will follow on the desired lines. This constitutes a well-reasoned foundation or ‘adhishthāna’ .

अधिष्ठानं तथा कर्ता करणं च पृथग्विधम् ।
विविधाश्च पृथक्चेष्टा: दैवंचैवात्र पञ्चमम् ॥18-14

(adhiṣṭhānaṃtathā kartā karaṇaṃca pṛthagvidham ।
Vividhāśca pṛthakceṣṭā: daivaṃ caivātra pañcamam  ॥ -bhagavadgītā 18-14)

Translation: - The basis, as well as the agent, and diverse instruments, and distinct activity of various kinds and Destiny, which is certainly the fifth [factor].

For action to yield a successful result, five factors are mentioned by Sri Krishna in the above verse, among which ‘adhishthāna’  is number one. If the Basis is in the form of thought, it’s called as वैचारिक अधिष्ठान / vaicārika adhiṣṭhāna.

Out of these five aspects, “adhishthāna’’ consists of Purpose (uddeśya), Mission (dhyeya) and Clarity (spaṣṭatā) about the Mission.

  1. Purpose (uddeśya): There must be a specific purpose behind the creation of a Gurukulam, including the results expected from it. The purpose may be individual or societal.
  2. Mission (dhyeya): Besides the purpose, there should be a long-term and noble mission to guide the individual or the team running the effort.
  3. Clarity: (spaṣṭatā) There must be clarity about aspects such as, what result is expected, whether the fruit of labour is complementary to the noble mission, how helpful are the means employed and the efforts, in achieving the purpose and in fulfilling the mission.

The Purpose may be individual, familial or social, and can be realized in a certain length of time. But the Mission has no such limitations such as time. In other words, purpose or ambition may have an individualistic orientation, whereas the Mission will have a societal or wider orientation. However, both these orientations will have to be complementary to each other.

For instance, let us consider a youngster who invents a computer-based instrument, and wants to obtain a patent. What returns does he expect?

His expectations will be that his invention be accepted, that it will get a patent, that it will pave the way to name and fame, and opportunity and cooperation to take up more large projects. With the money that the sale of the invention brings, he would want to buy a house, provide ample comforts for his parents, look after his children well and similar familial, social and professional outcomes, all from that single patent. This is the Purpose (uddeśya) part of the “adhishthāna’’.  Apart from this immediate and Individual purpose, he has to have a Mission (dhyeya).

As overseas companies are dominant in the manufacture of computer related products, the import of equipment is rather expensive, given the high costs imposed by the companies and the import duties on them. If the above-mentioned patent is obtained, these problems are ameliorated, and this leads to use of indigenous products thereby aiding self-reliance at a national level.

If an individual Indian obtains a patent in the hardware sector, it could inspire others, lead to a revolution where the Government will suitably make laws, provide the resources and so on, and result in India’s hardware sector grow to a level of being a supplier of hardware to the rest of the world in the next couple of decades. Thus, when many people with foresight try a variety of tasks, it will result in widespread changes, even globally. This is the Mission aspect that we should bear in mind.

The individual who attempts for a copyright for his small product and has small material expectations thereupon, must have a larger and longer Mission that has national or global ramifications. His clarity regarding how his personal gains help in the advancement of the mission, what to favour when there is conflict between his individual goals and long-term missions, and similar considerations will constitute the (spaṣṭatā) rationality aspect of his resource handling. Thus, our adhishthāna has to have all three dimensions that are uddeśya, dhyeya & spaṣṭatā.

Approach or intention.

Gurukulams may study ancient shastras, not only with the intention of preserving ancient learning or to celebrate the glorious past, but also to develop a vision about how to apply ancient knowledge suitably to future development. Whatever has no future utility is only of historical significance. Hence learning needs to be farsighted and clear-sighted.

The whole purpose of Education can be put into two categories.

1. Enhancement of abilities

2. Instillation of Samskara

Hence, apart from focusing on what to learn/Teach, we need to create modules or adopt a pedagogy which enhances the ability to learn anything along with making sure that the necessary sankara get instilled in children.

Thus, वस्तु, विषय & विचार /vastu, vishaya and vicāra (material, subjects and thoughts - are the three resources that are essential for the founding of a modern Gurukulam.


Originally in Kannada by: Dattaraj Deshpande of Bharatiya Shikshan Mandal

Translated into English By Team of Vidya Chintan

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