Children in Vedas

Dr. Shashi Tiwari, General Secretary, WAVES –India & Former Prof. of Sanskrit, Maitreyi College, University of Delhi

Great seers, thinkers, warriors, visionaries graced India from the very beginning. It can be assumed that they were bright from their childhood. It is true that narration of bright children is not done separately in abundance, but undoubtedly ancient Vedic literature is not without their mention.


There is an inspirational story in the Kaṭha Upaniṣad about a little boy named Nachiketā. He was the son of Vājaśravā Uddālaka Ṛṣi who once organized a great sacrifice ‘yajn᷈a’ called ‘Sarvamedha’ to please the deities for accumulating good deeds. He announced that after the sacrifice, he would be donating the bulk of his wealth including cattle to learned Brāhmaṇas as dakṣiṇā. The sacrifice was duly performed, but when time came for the donation, Vājaśravā kept some healthy cattle for himself and his son; and in place of them tried to donate those that were old, infirm and yielded no milk. Nachiketā was observing this. He got disturbed to see the unholy act of his father. He realized that these gifts would have the opposite effect on his future goal. Being adolescent son, he was not able to stop him. So he asked his father with the intention to remind him the law of complete and pure charity. He said, “O Father! To whom you would gift me in charity?” This made Ṛṣi very angry, but he decided not to say anything. When Naciketā repeated the question thrice, Uddālaka lost his temper and said, “I give you to Yama, the Lord of Death.” Yama is the king of death and resides in yamapurī. Hearing this, Nachiketā went to Yama’s kingdom. He decided to obey his father’s command.  He firmly said to himself, ‘I should fulfill my father’s wish, even if it means leaving my home’. When Ṛṣi realized his mistake and tried to stop Naciketā, he did not stop. He reached Yama’s kingdom and was told by Yama’s guards that he had gone out for three days. Naciketā decided to wait at his doorstep till he returned. He waited for three days without food, water and shelter. When Yama returned and saw little Naciketā at his doorstep, he felt sorry for keeping a Brāhmaṇa boy waiting without any welcome or rest. Not welcoming a guest means just like committing a sin in Indian tradition.Yama was very pleased with the clear thinking and honesty of the young boy. He served Nachiketā with all honour and food, but even then he was not completely satisfied, so he said, “Dear child, I have offended you by keeping you waiting for three days. To wash my sin, I request you to ask for three boons.


Naciketā declared, “My first wish is, when I return home, may my father welcome me lovingly. My second wish is to get that knowledge by which I can be worthy of living in the heaven. My third and last wish is to achieve Atmajn᷈ānam- knowledge of the ātman from you.” Yama granted the first two boons immediately and tried to convince Naciketā to give up his third desire for higher knowledge. Instead of that, he offered him long life, gold, pearls, coins, horses, elephants and even the happiness of Swarga – heaven.  “No, I do not wish for anything else,” replied Naciketā firmly. He described all worldly objects as perishable until Lord of Death is the ruler. Finally, Yama granted him the third boon too, and the courageous boy was enlightened with the knowledge of the ātman. Naciketā came to know about the soul, life and death in his early age. Finally, he went back to his father’s house and imparted the knowledge, he obtained from Yama, to many disciples.

Naciketā as a brightest child of Vedic era inspires us to be kind to all creatures, to respect parents, to be strong-willed, to cross all obstacles with firm determination, to avoid worldly temptations, and to strive for eternal happiness.


Satyakāma Jābāla is mentioned in the Chāndogya Upaniṣad. Satyakāma in his childhood used to live in a small hut with his mother Jābālā. He had a strong wish to study, so, he desired to go out in search of a teacher ‘guru’ who would guide him in the path of self-realization, to achieve the goal of mystic life. He enquired about his Gotra from his mother. In fact he wanted to know the name of his father as in those days generally teachers accepted students only after knowing their family’s introduction.

So upon learning about her son’s wish to study, Jābālā told him, “O my Son! I don’t know your family name. I used to work earlier in many houses of different persons. I don’t know when I got pregnant. When asked by the Guru, tell him what I have told you”. Later Satyakāma left with her mother’s blessings. He reached to the āśrama of sage Gautama and requested him to make him his pupil. On seeing the boy, Ṛṣi Gautama asked him,Before I make you my pupil, I need to know about your family.” Satyakāma had no idea about his family except his mother. He said, “I asked it to my mother. She said: ‘Child, when you were born, I used to be very busy serving guests. I had no idea about your father. My name is Jābālā and your’s is Satyakāma. So call yourself Satyakāma Jābāla.” On hearing it, the Ṛṣi said with smile, “I admire you for saying the truth. I am sure you must be born of a noble gotra. I shall accept you as my student. Go and get me some samidhā. I shall initiate you in brahmacharya”. He then initiated him in meditation to calm down his mind and to experience his inner self which was like the vast ocean.The sage was pleased with his love for truth.

One day Gautama told him that before he could teach him, Satyakāma should take the herd of 400 weak cows of the āśrama and return only when it had multiplied to 1000. After that Gautama would impart him higher knowledge. Without uttering a single word, Satyakāma left with the cows. He took them to the forest. Satyakāma built an āśrama for himself in the forest and looked after the cows with loving care. All the time he carefully practiced the duties of a brahmacharī. He was no longer lonely and became friends with nature; every living creature became part of his family.


After many years, the herd grew to 1000. Every cow was strong and healthy. It was time for Satyakāma to return to Gautama’s āśrama. All the gods and deities were happy with Satyakāma’s obedience and dedication to his guru. Along the way, he was blessed with knowledge by fire, a bull, a swan and a Sun bird. Now enlightened, Satyakāma reached the āśrama. Gautama saw the glow of enlightenment on his face. He was also very happy that Satyakāma had looked after the cows very well. He then accepted Satyakāma as his pupil and blessed him with Brahmavidyā. Guru said, “Brahmaivedamsarvam’ (Brahman is in everything). Brahman is realized by knowing yourself, at everywhere, in everything, and in every being. You are eternal and radiant because he is in you. This is Brahma-vidyā”. Satyakāma is regarded as an ideal of truth, dedication, obedience and true service to the guru in Vedic traditions.

Thus, Vedic ideals should be implanted in the early age to get strong foundation of character and intelligence for all human beings.





How to Integrate the Ancient Educational System with the Modern Educational System

– Dr. Raj Kumar, Assistant Professor, Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, MA.

The most important aspect of the ancient educational system was the “teacher” or “Guru”. The role and definition of Guru in ancient days was different from modern day spiritual Guru. The Guru was one who not only imparted his experimental and theoretical knowledge to his students; he was also responsible for spiritual and astral development of his students. Place of “Guru” is higher than God in ancient texts. According to Advyatarka Upaniśad (16th Verse) the definition of guru is as follows:

गुशब्दस्त्वन्धकारःस्यात्‌  रुशब्दस्तन्निरोधकः।

Guśabdastvandhakāraḥ syāt ruśabdastannirodhakaḥ

Andhakāranirodhitvāt gururityabhidhῑyate।।

 Meaning: ‘Guru’ word is a mixture of two syllables – “Gu” means ignorance (andhakar or dark) and “Ru” (nirodh, or to remove) means to dispel or to restrict or to obstruct. The guru is seen as the one who “dispels the darkness of ignorance”. One must have faith in his Guru. No one can get happiness or achievements without having faith in his Guru. Ramcharitmānas also put “Guru” as a person who holds high esteem.

Guru ke vacana pratῑti na jehῑ  Sapanehu sugama na sukha sidhi tehῑ

māta pitā guru prabhu ke vāṇῑ  vinahi vichār kariha subh jāṇῑ।।


Ancient Indian education is also to be understood as being ultimately the outcome of the Indian theory of knowledge as part of the corresponding scheme of life and values. Moral education was a perennial aim of Vedic education. The principles of Vedic education have been a source of inspiration to all the educational system of the world.

The modern education system in India is established by British, primarily introduced by Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay in 1830s, and later by Wood’s Magna Carta of Indian education in 1854. Teaching was confined to the class rooms and connection with the nature was broken, and also the close relationship between student and teacher was lost. Modern education is based on western system of text books and examination. There are primarily two motives of introducing textbooks culture in India; a) to stop producing new knowledge and make students think that they are mere consumers of the knowledge which the textbook writer wants to convey, b) reducing teacher’s authority on knowledge. Teachers lost the right of deciding what to teach and how to teach. They also follow the matter given in a text books. Examination was introduced to our education system so that students are limited to learn only those things which are supposed to be covered in the exam, not the complete things. This practice eventually narrows the area of knowledge. To pass exam students just memorize the content, without understanding, just to clear the exam.

National leaders, social reformers, and educated people alarmed by the erosion of educational system which also leads to the erosion of Indian culture. Organizations like Brahma Samaj (Raja Ram Mohan Roy), Prarthana Samaj (Atmaram Panduranga), Arya Samaj (Swami Dayanand), and Ram Krishna Mission (Swami Vivekanand), interpreted rationally and advised people to remain firmly rooted to the Indian culture and not get swayed away by the glamour and materialism of alien culture. Swami Vivekanand said, “Each nation like each individual has a theme in this life, which is its centre, the principle note, around which every other note comes to form the harmony. If any nation attempts to throw off its national vitality, the direction, which has become its own through the transmission of centuries, nation dies.

At present, we have lost the root of morality in modern education. There is no sense of discipline, behavior is irresponsible, less decision making ability and too much influence of materialistic mode of life among the students and teachers of our time. Alienation of modern generations from their roots and culture alarmed Gandhiji and he said, “My real education began after I had forgotten all that I had learned at school”. There is no doubt that modern education has given to India the key to the treasures of scientific and modern democratic thought. It is the west that has led the world in advancement in technology and science. It also opened the doors for liberal and rational thinking. It widened the mental horizons of the Indian intelligentsia during last two centuries. But somehow it got derailed and makes mind just a store-house of knowledge and discourage creative thinking. For building an ideal education system for today, we need an amalgamation of eastern culture and western methods which promotes liberal thinking and advancement in science and technology for the future.


Although there is wide gap of education between ancient Indian education and modern education system, there is enough room where both can be integrated in theory and practice. Some prime elements are as follows: a) more preference should be given to character, truth, non-violence, spiritualism rather than wealth and materialism. b) The sense of discipline and cordial relation between teacher and students. For this, the teacher should enforce fair practices, presenting themselves as a respectful, create a culture of integrity in their classrooms, and show genuine interests in their students. Students should impart discipline, preservance, honesty, and good social values. c) Manan (meditation) and Nididhyananna (realization) techinques should be imparted in education to helps student in self motivation and concentration. d) “Simple living and High Thinking” should be the motive of student life. e) Education should be given to make student self sufficient. Education should include project based natural learning, individual and group accountability, challenging environment, collaborative learning, critical thinking, communication and research skills. After education students should be able to lead a sustainable life and encourage their neighbourhood and friends to have the same. f) Education system should be such that it not only preserves but spreads the culture, which should be amalgamation of social practices, traditional beliefs, and daily activities (should not include karamkānda or superstitious beliefs and traditions). g) It should infuse a sense of responsibility and social values. And h) the teacher should encourage self motivation in their students to inculcate responsibility and focus towards getting true knowledge, not to just become literate.

The ultimate aim of education should not be to fulfill the desires of life in the world, but for complete realization of self to achieve complete liberation, and Vedic education trained students to be truthful. It is important to remember that those who pursue the path of truth are never defeated.

सत्यमेवजयतेनानृतं सत्येनपन्थाविततोदेवयानः।
येनाक्रमन्त्यृषयोह्याप्तकामा यत्रतत्सत्यस्यपरमंनिधानम्॥

Satyameva jayate nānṛtaṁ Satyena panthā vitato devayānaḥ

yenākramantyṛṣayo hyāptakāmā yatra tat satyasya paramaṁ nidhānam।।  

(Mundaka Upaniśad 3-1-6 )

Characteristics of Ancient Indian Educational System

– Dr. Raj Kumar, Assistant Professor, Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, MA.

It is sad to see the status of the current educational system. Whether it is student-teacher relationship, related to fee, control of the state or central government, mental/ethical development of students, imparting social responsibilities or providing pure knowledge…..everywhere you will find flaws and need some serious introspection. These are the few reasons why we have fewer enrollments in higher studies (out of ~ 140 million High school students in India only 1.8 million students opt for postgraduate or MPhil or PhD). Other issues are: having less trained workforce and unemployment rates among higher educated personnel (among literates unemployment rate is higher among better qualified, unemployment rate is 7.23% among illiterate and 10.98% among literate (2011 census)). Although the primary objective of modern educational system is to satisfy modern societal needs, but it is not able to address this adequately. So I thought to look into what kind of education system was available in ancient times, and how that system operated.

The ancient education system can be best described by the following verse from Vishṇu Puraṇa.

तत्कर्मयन्नबन्धायसाविद्यायाविमुक्तये। आयासायापरंकर्मविद्यऽन्याशिल्पनैपुणम्॥

Tatkarmyannabandhāyasāvidyāyāvimuktaye।  Āyāsāyāparṁ karmavidya’nyāśilpanaipuṇm।।

 (Vishṇu Puraṇa 1-19-41)

That is action, which does not promote attachment; that is knowledge which liberates. All action is a mere effort/hardship; all other knowledge is merely another skill/craftsmanship.

The above quotation is the best portraiture of the Indian educational system in the past, and the Vedas form the basis of such a system. The word ‘Vidya’ is derived from the root vid, to know, which the same root as Veda is. Since the entire educational system is based on the Veda, Vidya garnered by Veda enables a person to know the truth regarding the universe and the individual relationship with the universe. The Rishis understood that student should have self motivation to succeed, and teaching should suit the natural inclination of a student. It’s the duty of a Guru to test the student and impart knowledge in the subject of his/her liking. That’s why in ancient times a teacher/guru provided only suggestions/advice to his students, and students needed to put their hearts and minds behind that to assimilate the knowledge.

This educational system teaches consciousness, self-control and purity of thought and action. A person who is not selfish and well-educated leads a pure life, conquers avarice by generosity or hatred by love. Such a person does not bother about caste, creed or color. All these distinctions come when education leads to the patch of commercial contracts, but when it inculcates purity, selflessness and self-realization, then it makes individual to realize the ideals of uplifting. It is clear that this system is based on the idea of attaining perfection without degrading self or humanity as a whole. This system is based on three fold system of Vidya; a) Parā-Vidyā, b) Aparā-Vidyā, and c) Kāla. Parā-Vidyā helps one to attain pure-consciousness, Aparā-Vidyā teaches the law of nature and the cause of other phenomenon, and Kāla deals with kauśala (applied science) (Ramdasi PhD thesis).


Vedic education starts with an intimate relationship between teacher and the student. The relationship between the teacher and his students starts with a religious ceremony called Upanayana. By Upanayana ritual teacher impregnates his student with his spirit, and start students new birth. After this student is known as Dvija (born afresh; Agarwal, 2011). In this education system, student finds his teacher, live with him as family member, and treated by teacher as his son in every way. The school was in natural surroundings, Hermitage, away from urban distractions, and function in solitude and silence. In the words of Rabindranath Tagore: “A most wonderful thing was notice in India is that here the forest, not the town, is the foundation head of all its civilization. Wherever in India its earliest and most wonderful manifestations are notices, we find the men have not come into such close contact as to be rolled or fused into a compact mass. There, tree and plants, river and lakes, had ample opportunity to live in close relationship with men. In these forests, though there was human society, there was enough of open space, of aloofness; there was no jostling. Still it render it all the brighter. It is the forest that nurtured the two great ancient ages of India, the Vedic and the Buddhist. As did the Vedic Rishis, Buddha also showered his teaching in the many woods of India. The current civilization that flowed from its forests inundated the whole India.

Every education system is always associated with the social life of the time. In ancient time, the society was divided into four categories or Varṇās; the Brahmaṇa, the Kṣatriya, the Vaiśya and the Śudras. Education was given in the beginning mainly to the first three Varṇā of the society.  Initially, everything was taught to all the three classes. During the Vedic ages, persons of the same family group followed different occupations according to their individual taste. As time passed on and Varṇās were required to do some imparted duties (mainly in post-Vedic era or Upaniśad era), subjects got divided according to Varṇās. Birth not occupation then came to be regarded as the basis of the caste system. The Brahmaṇas learnt the Vedic texts, the Kṣatriya learnt the Veda, science of warfare and Arthsastra, and Vaiśya were taught commerce, agriculture, etc. Śudras were not entitled to formal education, they are apprenticed under the skilled individual in their trade and craft. In fact, for a time being they were also allowed for formal education. In the Baudhāyana Grihya Sutra, ŚudraRathakār was allowed to have the Upanayana Sanskar (Bakshi et al., 2005). Budhayana says: “Let him initiate a Brahmaṇa in Spring, a Kṣatriya in Summer, A Vaiśya in Autumn, a Rathakār in the rainy season or all of them in Spring”.

वसन्तेब्राह्मणामुपनयीतग्रीष्मे राजन्यं शरदि वैश्यं वर्षासुरथकारमिति।  सर्वानेववा वसन्ते।

Vasante brāhmaṇāmupanayῑtagrῑṣme rājanyaṁ śaradi vaiśyaṁ varṣāsurathakāramiti। sarvānevavā vasante।।

(Baudhyana Grihya Sutra 2-5-6)

Notably, ŚudraRathakār is defined in this book as an offspring of a Vaiśya male and Śudra female.

In addition to this four Varṇās, there are four Āśramas which an individual is expected to experience in his/her lifetime; the Brahmacharya, the Grhastha, the Vanaprastha, and  the Sanyasa. These Varṇās and stages of life give us an idea of the aims and ideals of the ancient Indian education system.

Education was free and it was the teacher’s responsibility to take care of the primary needs of the students. Debate, discussion and seminar are essential parts of learning involving listening, contemplation, comprehension, self study and recall (Ramkumar, 2014). Rote learning was the technique used for elementary education. At the secondary level Vedic studies and writing was introduced, and higher education consisted of advanced study of the metaphysical subjects. Several schools were operated those days such as Pariśad, Tola, Forest colleges, Court schools, Temple colleges, Mathas, Ghatikas, and Agraharas ( Teachers had designation according to their methods of teaching: Acharya (teach Vedas without charging fees), Upadhyaya (taught a portion of Veda or Vedangas as his profession), Charakas (wondering teachers), Guru (imparting education to his disciples), Yaujanasatika (teachers with their profound scholarship), and Sikshaka (teaching arts like dancing) ( schools specializing in subjects like philosophy, law, the sacrificial ritual, astronomy, grammar and logic appear to come into existence since 500 B. C. Under the Brahamic auspices, universities like Takhsila were established. University curriculum included physical sciences, arts, literature, philosophy, logic, mathematics, astronomy, medicine and theology. In the course of time distinction between Arts and Science were drawn and practical pursuits were included in the arts. In later Vedic era, they evolved and expanded the curricula in all the fields of knowledge. With the expansion of education system, enrollment increases, which necessitated in development of various branches of specialization. This also amalgamated various school systems to create universities like Takshila and Nalanda (Sakunthalamma, 1994). These universities had various departments with specialties. In those days the departments were –

  1. Agnisthana: This was the place where fire worship and other prayers took place. Probably here the performance of religious rites and rituals were taught.
  2. Brahmasthana: This was the department of the Veda.
  3. Vishnusthana: In this department Rajnti, Arthanti and Vārtā were taught.
  4. Mahendrasthana: This was the department where military sciences were taught.
  5. Vaivasvatasthana: This department is for Astronomy.
  6. Somasthana: Department of Botany.
  7. Garudasthana: This was the department which dealt with the transport and conveyance.
  8. Kartikeyasthana: In this department the science of organization of military, patrolling and battalions, and the army was taught.

The examination was an oral one. The student was required to give oral answers in a congregation of scholars. If he satisfied them, he was given a degree or title, somewhat similar to the PhD dissertation defense today. The consensus of the scholar’s opinion was essential for obtaining such a title.

There are evidences that girls were admitted in the Vedic schools or Charanas (Agarwal, 2011). A Kathi is a female student of Katha school. There were hostels for female students and they were known as Chhatrisala. Though the state did not include education as one of the subjects under its administration, the head of the state and other wealthy merchants, etc., encouraged these activities with their endowments. After the student completed his course (in general, 12 years of learning), the school organized Samavartna Sanskar, which is similar to convocation today. Taittirῑya Upaniśad’s verse 1.11.1 describes address of Guru to his students, in which he exhorts to speak truth, practice social ethics and not to neglect the pursuit of knowledge. They were also advised not to forget the debt to the Gods and ancestors. According to Taittrῑya Upaniśad’s verse 1.11.2, students were specially asked to see God in their mother, father, teacher and guest. Students were also advised to give gifts to their teachers sincerely and according to their means. Finally the teacher ended his address with the words that what all he said was the import of the Vedas, the divine scripture, which was to be meditated upon.


Sankuthalamma V. (1994). The trends of education in ancient India. PhD thesis, Shri Venkateshwara University, Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, India.

Agarwal, V. (2011). Principles of Education. Chapter 1. Lakshay Publication, India.

Ramkumar, A. M. (2014). “Gurukul to University”: Ancient education system and the present day. Golden Research Thoughts, 3, 1-5.

Ramdasi, N.R. Visualising Indian heritage digital library metaphor. Research paper of PhD thesis. C- Dac, Pune.

Bakshi S.R., Gajrani S., and Singh, Hari (2005). Early Aryans to Swaraj. Volume-3, 25 – 26.