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Oldest University in the World-Takshasila

Takshasila
Takshasila University

Credit :- Universities in Ancient India – D.G. Apte

Takshasila came to be known as a famous centre of higher education because several learned teachers who were recognised as authorities on vari­ous subjects resided at the place.

Administration

There was nothing by way of co-ordination of the work done by teachers nor was there any external authority like the king or the local leaders to direct their activities. Each teacher was an institution in himself and enjoyed complete autonomy in his work. His authority was final in fixing up the duration of the  course,  in directing the courses of studies, in selecting or rejecting students and  in laying down rules for guiding the day-to-day work.

Normally specialisation in various subjects of study took eight years, but the period could be reduced or lengthened in accordance with the intellectual capacity of the students and the amount of energy and application shown by them.

The completion of studies was not marred  by any formal examination nor was there any convocation for conferring degrees. Examinations were treated as unnecessary, because the procedure of teaching subjects was critical and thorough and unless one unit was very thoroughly mastered  by the student, he was not allowed to proceed to the succeeding portions. The students who completed  their  studies did not receive any written  certificates or diplomas because it was believed that knowledge was its own reward and using it for earning bread or for achieving any selfish end was a violation.

Only higher education was imparted in these institution. The process of education which began at home with primary education and widened in extent in the education in the Asramas which imparted what corresponded to secondary education reached its culmination in these places which imparted education at the university level. According to the system prevalent in ancient India, primary education was imparted to children up to the age of eight and secondary education covered from eight to twelve years more.  So the students who came to learn in ancient Indian universities were approximately sixteen to twenty years of age. Takshasila was so well known for its teachers that hundreds of students went to this place in search of knowledge, leaving aside the comforts and safety of their home.  Their parents’ sacrifice in sending them to this place was indeed great, particularly when one takes into consideration the risk involved in long journeys in those days when travel was slow, dangerous and  uncertain.  Numerous  references show that students in hundreds used to flock to this city from distant places like Banaras, Rajagrha, Mithila, Ujjain, Kosala, Madhya Desa and from the Kuru  Kingdoms  in the north. Takshasila  was thus the intellectual capital of India, a central university that exercised suzerainty over the world of letters in India.

Courses Taught in Takshasila

There was a wide variety of courses offered at Takshasila, both in literary and scientific or technical subjects. The terms used to denote these two types of courses were the Vedas and the Silpas. The number of Vedas studied in this university is mentioned as three, but it is difficult to explain why the fourth Veda and most probably the Atharvaveda should have been dropped from the list.  The study of the Vedas probably meant learning them by heart for that was the most important service the Brahmans rendered to the preservation and propagation of the Hindu culture. The term Veda also included the study of its six auxiliary sciences

  1. The Science of correct pronunciation
  2. Aphoristic literature guiding the performance of various rites and sacrifices
  3. Grammar
  4. Astronomy
  5. Prosody
  6. Etymology

The Silpas or crafts were as follows:

  1. Holy tradition and secular law
  2. Sankhya, Nyaya (Logic)
  3. Vaiseshika (Atomic theory of creation )
  4. Arithmetic
  5. Music
  6. Four Vedas
  7. Puranas (Antiquities)
  8. Iti­hasas (History)
  9. Archery and allied Military arts
  10. Conveyancing
  11. Mathematics
  12. Accountancy
  13. Agriculture
  14. Commerce
  15. Cattle breeding
  16. Smithy
  17. Carpentry
  18. Medicine and Surgery
  19. Archery and allied Military arts
  20. Astronomy
  21. Astrology
  22. Divination
  23. Magic
  24. Snake charming
  25. Art of finding hidden treasures
  26. Poetry
  27. Dancing
  28. Painting

Finance

All the necessary financial assistance was supplied by the society to teachers who as a general rule provided free boarding and lodging to all the students. No student was required to pay any fees on a compulsory basis. The non-payment of fees never resulted in expulsion from the institution nor in any differential treatment. Knowledge was considered too sacred to be bartered for money and Hindu scriptures contain specific injunctions against those who charge money to students. A salaried teacher, i. e., a teacher who charges fees on a compulsory basis is to be treated, according to the scripture of Manu, as unfit for company at the table. There were, however, no financial difficulties that affected the smooth working of institutions for higher learning, because every­thing that was necessary became easily available. The spiritual standing and deep knowledge of the teachers inspired many rich persons to give voluntary help in various ways to these institutions. Some wealthy parents also gave generous monetary help. This was given either at the beginning or at the end of the studies of their children. Those who had no convenience could without any restraint, conduct their studies as long as they liked and enjoyed the same rights, privileges and duties as those who were monetarily better placed. A completely democratic spirit thus reigned in these sacred places. The number of stu­dents studying with every guru was large enough to be counted in hundreds, yet all monetary conveniences were supplied in various ways by people who appreciated the selfless work of the teachers, for balanced development in morals and attainment of knowledge of the capable youths of the country. Kings also helped the cause by direct and indirect monetary help without exercising any control over these institutions. It is true that every student at the end of his studies paid something to his teacher by way of Dhakshina, but the sum thus paid was never sufficient to cover the expenses of his education. The Dhakshina offered was simply an indication of the recognition of the deep debt of gratitude that the student owed to the guru.

The community also was conscious of its duty to the cause of education. Moneyed people very often used to make arrangements for the food of the students all throughout their courses of education. Sometimes kings of various places sent students to the university for education and made all the necessary arrangements for boarding and lodging for them at State expense. As the teacher was not a money-monger, even poor families considered it their duty to maintain students studying under him by regularly offering him some part of their cooked food. There were certain occasions when money was offered to the Brahmans who were custodians of learning and knowledge for enabling them to continue their charitable work Poor students after finishing their education approached kings for getting money for the Dhakshina to be offered to the guru and their requests were always granted by kings.

Admission

Admission was free to all castes. There was no restriction about the choice of subjects which was entirely left to students. The accomplishment had not to be used as an instrument for earning one’s livelihood which never was a problem in ancient India. This is how we find a complete democracy reigning in this university. The different classes and castes merged in the democracy of learning. The democracy was strengthened by the existence of a common code of rules and observances prescribed for students irrespective of their social or economic status. The students could be admitted freely to any course provided they had the necessary background.

Some Famous Students from this university

  1. Panini, the greatest grammarian of the Sanskrit language
  2. Chanakya, ( known also as Kautilya) the minister of Chandra Gupta Mourya, who reduced the Nanda dynasty of Magadha to ashes.
  3. Jivaka, the famous physician. He was an expert in medicine and was very well known for his sur­gical operations.

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