Hindu educational systems, in their spirit and organization, in both their simplicity and their elaboration, formed a worthy predecessor of the modem systems which have grown in our own times. The open air as well as vocational tradition behind the hermitage schools has been noted before, and this is a great heritage we have never abandoned—in both our Sanskrit schools (tols) and our humble village pathashalas.
After the Muslim conquest and the establishment of Moslem rule in India, the Arabic and Persian learning of the new faith found a congenial home in India. With the lavish patronage of most of the Indian Moslem States, Moslem scholars from outside—particularly Iran— found it worth their while to come to India and help in creating a tradition of Islamic scholarship in the country.
For the average Hindu who would be out of place in a mosque school, a system of Persian education was gradually developed mainly at the instance of the Hindus themselves. The Hindu was too cultured to ignore a new system of learning which was imposed upon his country. Moreover, he was practical enough not to neglect the cultivation of the new official language Persian—which opened to him the avenue to employment in the Moslem State.
So, around an Ustad, who was either a Moslem Mulla or a Hindu Munshi developed all over Northern India a system of Maktabs outside the mosques, to which Hindus and Moslems alike would go for a secular education, mainly in the Persian language and literature. Many of these secular schools were maintained in the residence of some local magnate, Hindu or Moslem. He would pay the salary of the Ustad, primarily for his own sons, but incidentally for all likely young men in the neighbourhood as well, who usually got their training free. It was an extension of the old indigenous Pathashala system, the bulk of the teachers’ income being funded by one or more well-to-do individuals of the locality.
This new Islamic learning was making some headway in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and already we find a mild protest against a Persian training aimed at denationalizing the Hindus. In Jayananda’s Chaitanya Mangal (middle of the sixteenth century), we read that among the evils of the Kali age are the following: Brahmans will read Persian, wear a beard, recite Persian verses and move out with a stick.
The two systems—Sanskrit or Hindu, and Persian—Arabic or Moslem although agreeing in their basic pattern, could not come to any constructive rapprochement so far as the ordinary Hindu and Moslem were concerned.
In Europe, the mediaeval system of Christian education through Latin similarly developed around their cathedrals and in their monasteries. This is similar to our mediaeval Sanskrit schools that had grown up around the temples in our holy places—Nadia, Benares, Kanchipuram, Nasik, Dwarka, and Hardwar. These mediaeval universities of Europe were slowly and naturally modernized by the introduction of ‘natural philosophy’ or experimental science in addition to the Trivium and Quadrivium which formed the earlier curricula.
By the time the English were established in India, education in Europe had entered its modem phase. Its outlook was more pragmatic, experimental and materialistic. The advantages of such an education were at once patent in European life with its orientation towards science that was now rapidly advancing. But things were different in this country. Indian life, ignorant and afraid of the new existence, was wistfully looking back to a glorious past that was gone forever. The contrast between Europe and India in this respect is very great. It was a great pity that our Indian Sanskrit schools in the temples and elsewhere could not also be modernized.
Science as a part of general learning came from Europe, and it came at first as an exotic plant, for which the hot-house of universities, teaching through English and organized mainly on Western pattern, was perhaps inevitable. But this exotic plant has taken root; science has become naturalized in India in accordance with the needs of the modem age. It is time it was brought out of the hot-house of its English medium into the open air of training through the Indian languages. That is one piece of urgent reform which in national interest brooks no delay.
Our new education must enable us to know ourselves to the fullest our greatness and our deficiencies. There ought to be greater stress put on the necessity of universities helping our young men to understand the genuine needs of the country—not in a spirit of mere academic detachment but with the idea of being really serviceable to the great inarticulate masses to whom they have an undoubted responsibility. It is not enough for our universities merely to give our young men a sound cultural or technical education and send them out into the world with badges of efficient study of some science or art conducted in a detached spirit. Something more is needed.
Time has come when greater attention should be paid towards making these young men really useful to the country at large. Indian education must be nourished by the fundamental conceptions of Indian life and genius; it must be based on a proper synthesis of the best that the East and the West can contribute. Never has been felt, more than m India of today, the supreme necessity of training, by our universities, in social and rural welfare—covering geography, agriculture, co-operation, industries, village economy, public health and other allied subjects of vital importance which go to the root of our national existence.
What, indeed, could be a more effective eye-opener than the present political and economic debacle with its communalism, ministerial crisis, its profiteering, its administrative graft and jobbery, and its evacuations? All this points to the necessity of turning out a generation of young men made of a sterner stuff—men who would combine in themselves character and efficiency, service and sacrifice, idealism and practical wisdom and, above all, bold self-confidence and unfailing faith in the Almighty.
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