Guru-shishyaparampara – The Resourceful Code of Indian Traditional Education System

Sudeshna Bhattacharjya Professor, Dept of Sanskrit, Gauhati University
Sudeshna Bhattacharjya

India still rejoices the vibes of the systematic process of knowledge dissemination by the ancient teachers to their students within the frame of a close vicinity that had marked the academic field of this nation since the Upanishadic time. In ancient India the highest teachers were termed as Gurus and they used to teach their students how to live a worthy life in the society. These Gurus used to play a vital role in the society as a whole. They were not like modern teachers who are engaged only in the process of formal education. The Gurus in ancient India used to play multifaceted roles in one person like the role of a motivator, counselor, facilitator and also of a teacher in the truest sense of the terms. Apart from imparting the formal knowledge of various academic arenas to the learners , the Gurus in ancient India, used to take the overall responsibility of making the youth competent enough to get a meaningful existence in every sphere of their life. That is why probably India is the only nation in the world to prove that even in the battlefield, amidst the rattling sounds of the weapons, one needs the association of a Guru to find out the righteous way of life that can elevate the living of the mankind to the level of higher stature. Moreover, through the message of the Shrimadbhagavadgita, India has taught the whole world that even the strongest warrior sometimes becomes confused and helpless and needs immediate motivation before using his stupendous missiles. So in the battlefield of Kurukshetra, even the bravest soul like Arjuna was in need of proper counseling for a holistic purview of human life which he attained in the feet of his Guru Lord Shrikrishna. In the advice of Shrikrishna , there remained more projectile subjects regarding a life of all higher values than the address related to clanking of weapons of the opponents. So Shrikrishna, in Indian tradition is regarded as the supreme Guru and His advice is considered to be the most fruitful one as it could transcend all the barriers of time, space and generations.
One of the seminal characteristics of such an education system of ancient India was the complete freedom from any type of compartmentalization -- sa vidya ya vimuktaye. The freedom of thought and implementation was considered to be the inner essence of the whole education policy of ancient India. The Gurus used to generate in the mind of the learners always a sense of freedom from all types of bondage. So the young hearts of ancient India could think freely, act freely and go by following their own liberated cognitive process in every venture of life. The learners were free enough even to place their queries before their Gurus but in this teaching –learning system the students were there to obey the words of the teachers without a single thought . That is why the students or the learners were called the Shishya meaning who are to be governed as well as antevasi i.e. who stayed neaeby.The system of the society during ancient India was that even in the presence of the parents and the relatives, may one be a prince or a son of the popper, one had to go to a Guru to take formal education and had to undergo all the hardships and rituals equally forgoing the economic or administrative status of one's father in their respective domain. Society was so concerned about the system of education that the wards were allowed to undertake the family life only after the completion of their formal education as well as getting permission from the Guru to do this. The famous aphorism of Panini i.e. khatva ksepe endorses this social norm prevailing in the society and Patanjali , later, in his Mahabhashya has clarified the meaning by saying that in early India when a pupil, without finishing his due course of study and without being permitted by his preceptor, used to embrace his family life had to face a total boycott from the society. Thus khatvaduro jalmah - the familiar phrase referring to this unworthy custom of entering into the stage of family life by a man without finishing his studentship and thereby without taking permission from the teacher, used to be commonly uttered with great contempt and discrimination in the society. This phrase passes the message of alienating such a person as a duffer and worthless individual in the locality. It asserts that such a person of disgrace had to lose his social identity totally . This type of narration can be taken as the strong document of establishing the prime position of a Guru and his teaching in the realm of Indian traditional way of education system in early days. Thus it is clear that the whole structure of the society was governed by the Gurus in ancient India. So the famous Guru-shishyaparampara can be taken as the strongest proof of inclusive education policy which was conceived and developed by the erstwhile stalwarts of our nation. The Gurukula system or the tradition of staying with the teacher and remaining in his custody while learning thereby being associated with him in day to day life, was the base of practical education process prevailed in ancient India. This effective system of education continued till the British arrived here and took over the administration of the country completely.
Going through such a system of education the society of ancient India could produce successful, kings, worthy ministers, ace officers, scholarly professors, benevolent teachers, keen lawmakers, fierce warriors and all other established professional who could lead the society towards positive direction. This system of education could create perfect human beings with their grounded knowledge of the respective professional fields and in each one of them the prevalent system of education could generate the sense of providing true service to the society unconditionally. The famous statement svadeshe pujyate raja vidvan sarvatra pujyate proclaims the supremacy of the teachers or Gurus in the society which was above even than that of the rulers or administers. So in ancient India nothing was left by the Gurus while teaching the students, their penetrating observation could sense even the most subtle essence of the learners and the Gurus always tried their best to kindle in the young minds the urge of offering the self for the service to the nation. In this way the society of ancient India grew and could make a forward place for itself in the world.