The Hindu tradition
India is the site of one of the most ancient civilizations in the world. The Indo-European-speaking peoples who entered India in the 2nd millennium BCE established large-scale settlements and founded powerful kingdoms. In the course of time, a group of intellectuals, the Brahmans, became priests and men of learning; another group, of nobles and soldiers, became the Kshatriyas; the agricultural and trading class was called the Vaishyas; and artisans and labourers became the Shudra. Such was the origin of the division of the Hindus into four varnas, or “classes.” Religion was the mainspring of all activities in ancient India. It was of an all-absorbing interest and embraced not only prayer and worship but also philosophy, morality, law, and government as well. Religion saturated educational ideals too, and the study of Vedic literature was indispensable to higher castes. The stages of instruction were very well defined. During the first period, the child received elementary education at home. The beginning of secondary education and formal schooling was marked by a ritual known as the upanayana, or thread ceremony, which was restricted to boys only and was more or less compulsory for boys of the three higher castes. The Brahman boys had this ceremony at the age of 8, the Kshatriya boys at the age of 11, and the Vaishya boys at the age of 12. The boy would leave his father’s house and enter his preceptor’s ashrama, a home situated amid sylvan surroundings. The acharya would treat him as his own child, give him free education, and not charge anything for his boarding and lodging. The pupil had to tend the sacrificial fires, do the household work of his preceptor, and look after his cattle. The study at this stage consisted of the recitation of the Vedic mantras (“hymns”) and the auxiliary sciences—phonetics, the rules for the performance of the sacrifices, grammar, astronomy, prosody, and etymology. The character of education, however, differed according to the needs of the caste. For a child of the priestly class, there was a definite syllabus of studies. The trayi-vidya, or the knowledge of the three Vedas—the most ancient of Hindu scriptures—was obligatory for him. During the whole course at school, as at college, the student had to observe brahmacharya—that is, wearing simple dress, living on plain food, using a hard bed, and leading a celibate life. The period of studentship normally extended to 12 years. For those who wanted to continue their studies, there was no age limit. After finishing their education at an ashrama, they would join a higher centre of learning or a university presided over by a kulapati (a founder of a school of thought). Advanced students would also improve their knowledge by taking part in philosophical discussions at a parisad, or “academy.” Education was not denied to women, but normally girls were instructed at home. The method of instruction differed according to the nature of the subject. The first duty of the student was to memorize the particular Veda of his school, with special emphasis placed on correct pronunciation. In the study of such literary subjects as law, logic, rituals, and prosody, comprehension played a very important role. A third method was the use of parables, which were employed in the personal spiritual teaching relating to the Upanishads, or conclusion of the Vedas. In higher learning, such as in the teaching of Dharma-shastra (“Righteousness Science”), the most popular and useful method was catechism—the pupil asking questions and the teacher discoursing at length on the topics referred to him. Memorization, however, played the greatest role. The introduction of Buddhist influences
By about the end of the 6th century bce, the Vedic rituals and sacrifices had gradually developed into a highly elaborate cult that profited the priests but antagonized an increasing section of the people....