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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 coordination 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.

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

Any formal examination did not mar the completion of studies, 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 the student very thoroughly mastered one unit, he was not allowed to proceed to the succeeding portions. The students who completed their studies did not receive any written certificates or diplomas. It was believed that knowledge was its reward and using it for earning bread or for achieving any selfish end was a violation.

Only higher education was imparted in these institutions. The process of learning began at home with primary education and widened in extent in the education in the Asramas. Asramas gave secondary education reached its culmination in these places which imparted training 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. The risk involved in long journeys in those days were 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 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 classes were the Vedas and the Silpas. The number of Vedas studied in this university is mentioned as three. 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

The society supplied all the necessary financial assistance 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 swapped 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 the 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 readily available. The spiritual standing and in-depth knowledge of the teachers inspired many wealthy persons to give voluntary help in various ways to these institutions. Some affluent parents also gave generous monetary support. The assistance was provided 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. These students enjoyed the same rights, privileges and duties as those who were monetarily better placed. An utterly democratic spirit thus reigned in these sacred places. The number of stu­dents studying with every guru was large enough to be counted in hundreds. 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. Every student at the end of his studies indeed paid something to his teacher by way of Dhakshina. 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 throughout their courses of training. 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 low-income 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 provided to the Brahmans who were custodians of learning and knowledge for enabling them to continue their charitable work. Poor students post finishing their education, approached kings for getting money for the Dhakshina to be offered to the guru and kings always granted their requests.

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. The different classes and castes merged in the democracy of learning. The justice was strengthened by the existence of a standard code of rules and observances prescribed for students. The students could be admitted free to any course provided they had the necessary background.

Some Famous Students from this university

  1. Panini, the most celebrated grammarian of the Sanskrit language
  2. Chanakya, (also known 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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