Monthly Archives: August 2013

Ancient Indian Education System (From the Beginning to 10th C. A.D.)

In ancient India a child followed the occupation of his father, either religious or professional and his training in that particular field was provided by his father in his house. Over a period of time two system of education developed, the Vedic and the Buddhist. As the name indicates in the former system Vedas, Vedangas, Upanishads and other allied subjects were taught while in the latter system, thoughts of all the major school of Buddhism was taught. While Sanskrit was the medium of instruction in the Vedic system of education, Pali was the medium of instruction in the Buddhist system of education. But both system offered vocational education apart from religious education of their respective faiths. There was also a purely vocational system of education wherein master craftsmen and artisans taught their skills to students who worked as apprentice under them.

Uniqueness of Ancient Indian Education: From time immemorial, India has explicitly recognized that the supreme goal of life is self-realization and hence the aim of education has always been the attainment of such a fullness of being. But at the same time it was also recognized that different individuals have naturally different inclinations and capacities. Hence not only the highest philosophy but also ordinary subjects like literature and science as also vocational training find a place in ancient education system. The education system of ancient India may claim to be unique in the world in many respects like-

  • The State and the society did not in any way interfered with the curriculum of studies or regulating the payment of fees or hours of instructions.
  • Another special characteristic of ancient Indian educational system was it was fully and compulsorily residential. The student had to live in the house of his teacher for the whole duration of his studies and learn from him not only what was taught but also observe how his teacher responded to different situation arising in daily life and learn from it.
  • Stress was laid on having a personal relation between the teacher and the taught. Each student used to meet the teacher separately and learn from him through separate instruction and guidance.
  • Education was absolute free and the teacher looked after the primary needs of the students including food and clothing.
  • The Indian system of education upheld the dignity of labour. Hence even a student aiming at the highest philosophical knowledge was duty bound to do some manual labour daily such as collecting fuel, tending cattle, etc.
  • Education in ancient India was more of seminar type where students used to learn through discussions and debates.

Aims of Education: The aims of education were to provide good training to young men and women in the performance of their social, economic and religious duties. Also preservation and enrichment of culture, character and personality development and cultivation of noble ideals were the other aims of education in ancient India.

Commencement of Education: In the Vedic system, education of a child commenced at the age of five with the ceremony called Vidyarambha. It was marked by learning the alphabets for the first time and offering worship to Goddess Saraswathi. But it was only after the ceremony called Upanayana that a child used to leave his parent’s home and go to stay in the house of his teacher to commence his study. He was now called Brahmacharin. Upanayana ceremony was held to Brahmin boys at the age of eight, for the Kshatriya boys at the age of ten and for the Vaishya boys at the age of twelve. In the Buddhist system of education, a child commenced his education at the age of eight after an initiation ceremony called Prabrajya or Pabbajja. This ceremony was open to person of all castes unlike the Upanayana ceremony where only the Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishya caste were eligible. After the initiation ceremony the child left his home to live in a monastery under the guidance and supervision of his preceptor (monk). He was now called Sramana and used to wear a yellow robe. In the Vedic system of education a Bramachari after finishing his education was eligible to become a Grihasta or householder, in the Buddhist system of education after finishing his education, a Sramana was given a full status of monkhood or Bhikshu.

Education of Women: A high standard of learning and culture was reached by Indian women during the Vedic age. In addition to training in the arts of housekeeping they learnt music and dancing. Like boys, girls had to undergo the upanayana ceremony. There were two classes of educated women, Sadyodwahas– who prosecuted studies till their marriages and Bramhavadinis who did not marry and pursued their studies though out their lives. Women were also taught the Vedas and Vedangas, but the extent of their study was restricted only to those hymns which were necessary for the Yajna (sacrifice) or other ritualistic operations. Women sages were called Rishikas. The Rigveda mentions the name of some of some of the famous women seers like Ghosha, Apala, Lopamudra, Visvavara, Indrani, etc. who composed hymns. During the Upanishad period we find scholarly women like Maitreyi and Gargi taking part in public debates and discussions with philosophers and sages.

Subject of Study: The main subjects of study in the Vedic system of education were the four Vedas, six Vedangas (phonetics, ritualistic knowledge, grammar, exegetics, metrics and astronomy), the Upanishads, the six darshanas (nyaya, vaiseshika, samkya, yoga, mimamsa and vedanta), puranas (history), tarka shastra (logic), etc.

The chief subjects of study in the Buddhist system of education were the three Pitakas (sutta, vinaya and abhidhamma), the works of all the eighteen schools of Buddhism, hetu-vidya, sabda-vidya, chikitsa-vidya, etc. The Vedas were also studied for acquiring comparative knowledge.

The art of writing was known in India for a long time. Those who wanted to become religious leaders had to learn several scripts. In Jaina works like Samavaya Sutra and Pragnapara Sutra reference to 18 different scripts are available. Buddhist literary works like Lalitavistara and Mahavastu mention different types of scripts in vogue. While the former refer to 64 types of scripts the latter to about a dozen types of scripts. Regarding the curricula of school students, the Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang says that children began by learning the alphabet and then began the study of five subjects like grammar, arts and crafts, medicine, logic and philosophy. This was the general scheme of studies for laymen of all sects. Other subjects of study were law (dharmashastras), arithmetic, ethics, art and architecture (silpasastra), military science (dhanurvidya), performing arts, etc.

Vocational Education: A majority of people earned their livelihood by following various professions. Ancient Indian literature refers to sixty-four arts which include weaving, dyeing, spinning, art of tanning leather, manufacture of boats, chariots, the art of training elephants and horses, art of making jewels, implements and equipment, art of dance, music, agriculture, building houses, sculpture, medical science, veterinary science, the profession of a chemist, manufacture of perfumes and a host of other professions. In the vocational system of education young men used to work as apprentices under a master for a number of years and gained expertise in their respective professions. The apprentices were taught free of cost and provided with boarding and lodging by the master.

Methods of Learning: In ancient India close relationship existed between the pupil and the teacher. The teacher used to pay individual attention on his students and used to teach them according to their aptitude and capability. Knowledge was imparted orally and the different methods of learning were-

  • Memorization– The preliminary stage of learning was learning by heart the sacred text through indefinite repletion and rehearsal by both the teacher and the taught.
  • Critical Analysis– This was another method in which knowledge was comprehended. It was through critical analysis that Sri Ramanuja and Sri Madhvacharya differed from their teachers on the interpretation of the Brahmasutra composed by Sri Shankara and later came out with their own interpretation of the Brahmasutra. Madhvacharya even made his teacher subscribe to his view which shows that gurus were open to new ideas and views articulated by their students.
  • Introspection– Sravana (listening), Manana (contemplation) and Nididhyasana (concentrated contemplation) of the truth so as to realize it was another method to study Brahma Vidya (Vedanta).
  • Story telling– The teacher used stories and parables to explain. This was the method Buddha used to explain his doctrines.
  • Question and Answer method– In this method the pupils used to ask questions and the teacher used to discuss at length on the topics and clear their doubts.
  • Hands-on method– For professional courses including medical science, students/apprentices used to learn by observation and through practical method.
  • Seminars– The students also gained knowledge thought debates and discussions which were held at frequent intervals.

Period of Study: It took 12 years to master one Veda. Hence depending upon the wish of the student to learn as many subjects, the period of study varied. It was 12 years, 24 years, 36 years or 48 years. A graduate was called Snataka and the graduation ceremony was called Samavartana.

 Types of Teachers:

  • Acharya was a type of teacher who taught his pupil Vedas without charging fee from the pupils.
  • Upadhyaya was the one who adopted teaching as a profession to earn his livelihood and taught only a portion of the Veda or Vedangas.
  • Charakas or wandering scholars toured the country in quest of higher knowledge. Thought not normally competent as teachers they were regarded as possible source of knowledge by Satapatha Brahmana. Hiuen Tsang was struck with the knowledge gained by some of the wandering teachers (called Bhikkhus and Sadhus during his times) and who had accumulated a treasure of knowledge by constant travel and who used to gladly impart it to others.
  • Guru was the one who used to lead a gruhasta life and earn his livelihood after imparting education to his disciples and maintain his family.
  • Yaujanasatika were teachers famous for their profound scholarship that students from distant places, as far as from a distance of hundreds of miles would come to seek their guidance.
  • Sikshaka was a teacher who gave instruction in arts like dancing.

 Educational Institutions:

  • The Gurukul was the house of the teacher who was a settled house-holder. After the initiation ceremony a child would leave his natural parents and reside in the house of his preceptor or Guru till the end of his studies.
  • Then there were Parishads or Academies where the students of advanced learning gathered and enriched themselves through discussions and discourses. Being seat of learning they were originally conducted by three Brahmins. But the number gradually increased till it was settled that a Parishad ought to consist of 21 Brahmins well versed in philosophy, theology and law. During first century A.D. association of literati were convened at regular intervals in Tamilnadu which was known as Sangam. The purpose of these gathering of scholars was to adjudge the literary excellence of works submitted for criticism and to set the standard in Tamil style. These gathering were patronized by kings.
  • Goshti or Conferences was a national gathering or Congress summoned by a great king in which representatives of various schools were invited to meet and exchange their views. In one such conference called by king Janaka of Videha, the great scholar Yajnavalkya won a special prize of 1000 cows with horns hung with gold.
  • Ashramas or hermitages were another center where students from distant and different parts of the country flocked together for learning around famous sages and saints. For example the Ashrama of Bharadwaj at Prayag was a very big Ashrama where princes like Bharat used to study. Another Ashrama was that of Naimisha located in the forest of Naimisharanya headed by sage Saunaka. Here ten thousand pupils and numerous learned teachers and scholars held constant discussions and debates on religious, philosophical and scientific topics. Another famous Ashrama was that of sage Kanva on the banks of river Malini, a tributary of the river Saryu.
  • Vidyapeeta was an institution for spiritual learning founded by the great acharya, Sri Shankara in places like Sringeri, Kanchi, Dwarka, Puri and Badri. The Vidyapeeta had a teacher whose influence extended to thousand villages round about and was presided by a Jagadguru.
  • Ghathikas was an institution of highest learning where both the teachers and the taught met and discussed and where by the clash and contact of cultured scholars the highest knowledge could be obtained in religious literature.
  • Agraharas were settlements of Brahmins in villages where they used to teach.
  • Mathas was a place where pupils used to reside and received instructions both religious and secular. These mathas belonged to both Shaiva and Vaishnava sects and were normally attached to some temples or had some temples attached to them.
  • Brahmapuri was a settlement of learned Brahmins in parts of towns and cities or in any selected area where education was imparted.
  • Vihara was a Buddhist monastery where all subjects concerned with Buddhism and its philosophy was taught.

 Famous Educational Institutions:

  • Takshasila: This was a chief center of learning in 6th century B.C. Here sixteen branches of learning were taught in different schools; each presided by a special professor. There were schools of painting, sculpture, image making and handicrafts. But this university was reputed for its medical school. One famous student of this medical school was Jivaka who cured king Bimbisara of Magadha and the great Buddha. Jivaka had studied here for seven years under the Rishi Atreya.
  • Nalanda: Renowned for its cosmopolitan and catholic character, the University of Nalanda was famous for its faculty of Logic.
  • Vallabhi: While Nalanda was the famous seat of learning in eastern India, Vallabhi was the renowned seat of learning in the western India. If Nalanda was specializing in the higher studies of Mahayana Buddhism, Vallabhi was the center for the advanced learning in Hinayana Buddhism. Secular subjects like Arthasastra (economics), Niti Shastra (law) and Chikitsa Sastra (medicine) were also taught here and like Nalanda students from all parts of India used to come here to study. Students who graduated from this university used to be employed in the royal courts as administrators with huge responsibilities. Just like Nalanda University was destroyed by Muslim invaders, Vallabhi also met the same fate.
  • Vikramasila: The University of Vikramasila was renowned for Tantric Buddhism.
  • Ujjain: It was famous for its secular learning including mathematics and astronomy.
  • Benaras was well-known for teaching theology.
  • Salotgi in Karnataka was an important Centre of learning. It had 27 hostels for its students who hailed from different provinces. This college was richly endowed in 945 A.D. by Narayana the minister of Krishna III with the revenues of houses, land and levies on marriages and other ceremonies.
  • Ennayiram in Tamilnadu provided free boarding and tuition to 340 students. Other important centers of learning in South India were Sringeri and Kanchi.

High Standard of Education: The quality of education imparted in ancient India was unparalleled. Hence in spite of various hardship and hurdles students from different parts of the world flocked to Indian universities. Amir Khusrau (1252-1325 A.D.) mentions that scholars have come from different parts of the world to study in India but no Indian scholar have found it necessary to go abroad to acquire knowledge. Indian scholars were in great demand abroad. Caliphs like Al Mansur and Harun Al Rashid (754-809 A.D.) sent embassies to India to procure Indian scholars. Astronomical treatise like Brahmasiddhanta and the Khanda Khadyaka of Brahmagupta and the medical books of Charaka, Susruta and Vagbhatta were translated to Arabic. As a home of knowledge and wisdom ancient India produced scores of scholars on various subjects like Buddha and Shankara (philosophy), Kautilya (political science and administration), Sushruta (surgery), Charaka (medicine), Kanada (physicist; propounder of atomic theory), Nagarjuna (Chemistry), Aryabhatta and Varahamihira (Astronomy), Baudhayana and Brahmagupta (mathematics) and Patanjali (yoga) to name a few. The knowledge of ancient Indians in the field of metallurgy was extraordinary as it is evidenced by the Iron pillar at Delhi which till now has not rusted though exposed to elements since hundreds of years. How such a huge column was casted is still a mystery to scientists. The lofty temples found in Karnataka, Tamilnadu, Odisha and Khajuraho to name a few shows the expertise which ancient Indians had in Structural Engineering. As the whole world knows, the concept of zero was a contribution of ancient Indians.

The Decline: With the invasion of Muslim conquerors nearly all the centers of higher learning of the Hindus and Buddhists were destroyed. Nalanda was burnt to the ground in 1197 A.D. and all its monks were slaughtered. Kanauj and Kashi were looted and plundered. Temples and educational institutions and libraries were put to destruction and they were replaced by mosques. In spite of such merciless and extensive destruction, Hindu educational institutions remained a living reality. They sustained strength from its inherent vitality and vigour and maintained the Hindu education system. Even during the reigns of terror and turmoil, merciless persecution and wanton destruction, the Hindu culture and scholarship continued to survive, though it had to migrate to more congenial regions within the country. (B.N.Luniya – Life and Culture in Medieval India, Kamal Prakashan, Indore. 1978, p. 271).

While the Buddhist system of education was extinguished, the Vedic system of education found patronage in the southern peninsula in places like Hampi, Sringeri and Kanchi. It was under the patronage of Vijayanagara rulers that the Vedic savants Sayana and Madhava wrote commentaries on the Vedas. It was in the south that Ramanujacharya, Basaveshwara and Madhvacharya propounded the philosophy of Vishishtadwaita, Shakti Vishishtadwaita and Dwaita. With regards to the vocational system of education many new crafts and skills were introduced in India after the advent of Muslim into India and till the establishment of British rule in India, many industries like textile manufacturing, ship building, jewelry making and other allied industries flourished which shows the skill and expertise Indians had and in turn the knowledge they had received from their teachers. The products of Indian industries not only fulfilled the needs of Asian and African countries, but were also in great demand in the markets of Europe.

Harshavardhana of Kanauj (606-646 A.D.)

When the Imperial Gupta line ended in 538 A.D. with Kumara Gupta II, many provinces and feudatory chiefs declared their independence and the whole of North India was divided into a number of independent states.

Among them the important ones were the Later Guptas ruling over Malwa region, the Maukharis ruling over the territories corresponded to the present Uttar Pradesh, the Maitrakas who were ruling over Saurashtra and the Vardhanas ruling over Thaneshwar. It was Harshavardhana belonging to the Vardhana dynasty who was destined to be the last powerful Hindu ruler of north India.

According to Bana’s Harshacharita, Puspabhuti was the progenitor of the Vardhana dynasty who began his rule from Sthanisvara (Thaneshwar) which was situated on the banks of river Saraswathi. He was probably a contemporary of the early imperial Guptas. But Puspabhuti or his successor could not retain their newly won independence for long due to the advent of Samudragupta who brought all the kingdoms east of the river Chenab under the Gupta sway. Only after the decline of the Gupta’s did the kingdom of Vardhanas was revived. Harshavardhana’s grandfather Adityavardhana had married Mahasenaguptadevi who was the sister of Mahasenagupta who ruled Malwa from 555 to 580 A.D. Adityavardhana’s son was Prabhakaravardhana who was the first ruler of the dynasty to assume the imperial title ‘Paramabhattaraka Maharajadhiraja’. Prabhakaravardhana had given his daughter Rajyasri in marriage to the Maukhari king Grahavarman. Thus the Vardhanas had marriage alliance with both the Guptas of Malwa and Maukharis of Kanauj.  But ironically there existed hereditary enmity between the Gupta rulers of Malwa and the Maukaris of Kanuaj which latter led to the extinguishment of both the kingdoms.

Accession of Harshavardhana: The Huns though no longer a major danger during the time of Prabhakaravardhana, were still active and continually raided their neighbours. The fact that their raids did not occur in Harsha’s period supports the view that Rajyavardhana II attained success in his campaign against the Hunas when sent by his father Prabhakaravardhana. Bana credits Prabhakaravardhana with several victories against the Hunas and describe him as a ‘lion to the Huna deer’. Prabhakaravardhana had two sons, Rajyavardhana and Harshavardhana and a daughter, Rajyasri. After the marriage of Princess Rajyasri to the Maukhari king Grahavarman, Prabhakaravardhana dispatched his eldest son Rajyavardhana against the Hunas. Meanwhile Prabhakaravardhana became seriously ill and died. Taking advantage of this situation, Devagupta the ruler of Malwa attacked and killed Grahavarman, the Maukhari king and imprisoned his wife Rajyasri. (As mentioned above the Gupta’s of Malwa were the hereditary enemies of the Maukaris of Kanauj). Hearing this news Rajyavardhana rushed towards Kanauj fought against Devagupta and killed him. Sasanka, the Gauda ruler who had allied with Devagupta with a design to annex Kanauj and later Thaneshwar by a ruse invited Rajyavardhana to his tent and murdered him and later retreated back to his kingdom. It was in this critical situation Harshavardhana had to ascend the throne in 606 A.D. at the age of sixteen.

Harsha’s Military Campaigns: Harsha after mobilizing his army, in the first phase rescued his sister Rajasri who after escaping from the clutches of Devagupta tried to end her life. As her husband Grahavarma had died Harsha placed Rajasri on the throne of Kanauj and became a joint ruler. In the second phase he defeated Sasanka at Pundravardhana. But Harsha could incorporate Sasanka’s kingdom and parts of Odisha only after the latter’s death in 623 A.D. In the third phase Harsha marched westwards and conquered Matipura (western Rohilkhand), Mathura, Pariyatra (north Rajasthan), Sindh and parts of Punjab. Kashmir is said to be under his control as from there Harsha is said to have brought Buddha’s tooth relic and enshrined it at a Sanghashrama in Kanauj. Similarly Nepal is also said to be under his sway as its ruler Amsuvarman used Harsha era of 606 A.D. but Harsha’s attempt to expand his territory to the south of river Narmada was checked by the Chalukyan ruler Pulakeshin II. Though Harsha had the title Sakalottarapatisvara i.e. the sovereign of the entire uttarapatha, the whole of north India was not politically united under Harsha as Hiuen Tsang mentions that India of that period had about seventy kingdoms. Harsha’s empire is said to have included the whole of Uttar Pradesh, a major part of Bihar, Bengal and Odisha, with nominal suzerainty over Sindh, Punjab and Kashmir.

His Alliances: Harsha had an alliance with the king of Assam which gave him the help and cooperation of a powerful ruler both in his external and internal affairs. Harsha had alliance with the ruler of Vallabhi to whom he had given his daughter in marriage. He had maintained diplomatic intercourse with the Chinese empire. A Brahmin envoy whom he had sent to the Tang Emperor of China, Tai Tsung in 641 A.D. returned in 643 A.D. accompanied by a Chinese mission bearing a reply to Harsha’s dispatch. Harsha’s diplomatic relations with China were probably meant as a counter poise to the friendship that Pulakeshi II, his southern rival cultivated with the king of Persia about which we are informed by the Arab historian Tabari.

Harsha, a dynamic Administrator: Harshavardhana was a dynamic person. He was so busy that it was difficult even for kings to obtain interview with him. According to Hiuen Tsang, the day of Harsha was divided into three periods. One was devoted to the State affairs and two for religious works. He believed in the utility of inspection tours. These tours were not confined to urban areas but also rural areas. He suspended his inspection work during the rainy season on account of the difficulties of weather and communications. He got prepared temporary buildings for his stay while on tour. When the king halted at any place, the people could interview him and put before him their grievances. The royal chamberlain regulated audience to king. A lot of pomp and show was associated with the king when the king was on the march. He was accompanied by several 100 drummers and the king’s hired porters carried his golden footstools, water pots, cups, spittoons and baths.

Ministers and Advisors: In administration Harsha was advised and assisted by ministers and officials like Mahasandhivigrahika (supreme minister for peace and war), Mahapratihara (head of the palace-guards), Simhanda (commander-in-chief), Mahabaladhikrita (commander of the forces), Mahakshapatalike (chief accounts-officer), Nyayakarnika (judicial-officer), Bhandagaradhikrita (superintendent of stores), Kayastha (scribe), etc. According to Hiuen Tsang Harsha was just in his administration and punctilious in the discharge of his duties. Society was not choked by a grinding bureaucracy or overburdened by a heavy system of taxation. Families were not registered and individuals were not subject to forced labour contribution.

Finance: The main source of income of the State was land-revenue; it was 1/6th of the agricultural produce. There were other taxes also, but they were light and the State’s demands were few. The income of the State was spent under four categories: 1. for the expenses of the state and ceremonial worship; 2. for the advancement of ministers; 3. for rewarding the clever, the learned and the talented; and 4. for acquiring religious merit by spending on the heretics.

Administrative Units: The kingdom was divided into various provinces or divisions called Bhukti. They were further divided into Visayas corresponding to modern districts. Pathaka was a still smaller territorial term perhaps of the size of the present day taluk. The lowest unit of administration was Grama.

Military Administration: Harsha had a well-organised standing army. It had elephants, camels, cavalry and infantry. Cavalry and elephants had separate commanders. The head of the cavalry was called Brihadasvavaru. Hiuen Tsang says that Harsha had 60,000 elephant’s corps and a cavalry of one lakh. Bana says that horses were purchased from places like Kamboja, Sindh, Persia, etc.

Harsha’s Coins: A gold coin found by Dr.Hoernle has been attributed to Harsha. It has on it the legend Harshadeva with the figure of a horseman. Harsha is called Harshadeva not only in inscriptions but also in Bana’s Harshacharitha. About 284 silver coins with the name ‘Sri Siladitya’ was discovered by Sir.Richard Burn.

Patron of Scholars: Harsha is credited with the composition of three dramas- Ratnavali, Priyadarsika and Nagananda. In his court lived the famous literary figure, Bana who wrote Kadambari and Harshacharita. Bana’s brother-in-law, Mayura was a celebrated poet whose work was Surya Sataka, Arya Muktamala and Mayurastaka. Other scholars like Haridatta and Jayasena were patronized by him. Bana mentions more than once that a group of skilled painters painted auspicious scenes. The iconoclastic zeal of the early Muslim invaders has left us not even a trace of these paintings nor the monuments erected by Harsha.

Harsha’s Religion: Prabhakaravardhana was a devotee of the Sun and is said to have offered daily a bunch of red lotuses in a ruby bowl. Rajyavardhana was a Buddhist. Harsha was a devotee of Shiva, Surya and Buddha. He is stated to have erected costly temples for the service of all the three personalities. Harsha’s conversion to Buddhism is attributed by Bana to the influence of the Buddhist ascetic Divakaramitra who lived in the hermitage in the Vindhya forests. It was however Hiuen Tsang who definitely gave both Harsha and his sister their faith in Mahayana Buddhism by his discourse on its doctrines and exposure of the deficiency of Hinayana at the very first meeting between Harsha and him. Harsha’s enthusiasm for his new faith led him at once to organize the grand assembly at Kanauj to give publicity to the masterly treatise of Hiuen Tsang on Mahayana and establish its supremacy over all other creeds of the times. Harsha is said to have prohibited even more rigorously than Ashoka, animal slaughter and meat eating. At Nalanda he erected a bronze temple, 100 feet high, and along the highway built rest houses and hospitals.

The Kanauj Assembly: In 643 A.D. Harsha summoned an assembly at Kanauj. The object of the assembly was to take advantage of the presence of Hiuen Tsang to spread the teachings of Buddha in the country. A large number of kings attended the assembly. There were 3000 Mahayana and Hinayana Buddhist monks, 3000 Brahmanas and Nigrodhas and about 1000 Buddhist scholars from the Nalanda University. The meeting was presided by Hiuen Tsang where a topic on Mahayana Buddhism was discussed. The meeting lasted for 23 days. On that occasion a monastery and shrine was erected on the banks of Ganga and a golden image of Buddha equal to the height of the king was kept in a tower, 100 feet high. A similar but smaller image, three feet in height was carried every day in a procession which was joined by 20 Rajas and 300 elephants. Harsha personally washed the image and carried it in the procession. As he moved pearls, golden flower and other precious things were scattered on all directions. At the conclusion of the assembly, Harsha in recognition to the scholarship of Hiuen Tsang offered him gold, silver, jewels and other valuables including garments. But Hiuen Tsang refused to accept them. Then Harsha placing Hiuen Tsang on an elephant led him in a procession proclaiming that he had established the standard of Mahayana doctrines overthrowing all opposing ones.

The Prayag Assembly: After the assembly at Kanauj, Harsha, accompanied by Hiuen Tsang, proceeded to Prayag (Allahabad) at the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna where he used to celebrate another solemn religious festival at the end of every five years. This assembly was the sixth of its kind during his reign. Harsha summoned his tributary kings, the king of Vallabhi and Bhaskar Varma, the king of Assam; followers of different sects, Shramanas, Nirgranthas, the poor and the orphan and the needy to attend this assembly. On the first day the image of Buddha was installed in a thatched building followed by the distribution of precious articles and clothing of the first quality. On the second day they installed the image of Aditya (Sun-god) and distributed in charity precious things and clothing to half the amount of the previous day. On the third day they installed the image of Shiva followed by distribution of charity and gifts as on the day before. In this way charity was bestowed to each and every one each day until the accumulated money and other goods were exhausted. This assembly lasted for three months.  

Harsha’s Personality: At a very young age Harsha took up the reigns of the kingdom and established a fairly large empire. His was a multi-dimensional personality. Not only was he a good administrator but also known for his political shrewdness. The way he made the ruler of Vallabhi into his permanent ally by giving his daughter in marriage to him is evidenced to it. Similarly though the ruler of Gauda, Sasanka was responsible for the death of his brother, Rajyavardhana, Harsha after rescuing his sister did not took a hasty decision to take on Sasanka given the precarious situation in which he had come to power after the death of his father, mother, brother and brother-in-law. In the cultural field he patronized scholars, liberally endowed the Nalanda University with grants of land and money and gave new lease of life to Mahayana Buddhism which was on its declining phase in India. He was also famous for his religious catholicity, benevolence and charities. At the royal lodge every day rations were provided for 1000 Buddhists monks and 500 Brahmanas.  According to R.K.Mukerjee, Harsha combines in himself some of the attributes and characteristics of both Samudragupta and Ashoka.

Society during the time of Harsha: The Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang who visited India during the rule of Harsha has left valuable accounts of the observation which he had made on the society of those times. According to him people were known for their honesty, courage and love for learning. They were not deceitful or treacherous in their conduct and were faithful in their oaths and promises. They were known for their personal hygiene and used to clean the floors of their houses with cow-dung and strewn it with season flowers. They bathed daily and smeared their bodies with scented unguents like sandal and saffron. They used to wash their hands before meals and fragments and remains of meals were not served up again.

The Nalanda University: India in the 7th century A.D. was the most civilized country in the world. Especially to the Chinese of Harsha’s time India was the sacred land. Traversing deserts and mountain ranges her children visited India in a spirit of veneration in order to study at her universities and partake of her culture. (K.M.Panikkar- Sri Harsha of Kanauj, 1922, p.76) But not only from China but also from countries like Mongolia, Korea, Japan, Java, Tiber, Ceylon, etc., students came to India to study in her various universities including the University of Nalanda. Situated in modern Baragaon, 65 kilometers south-west of Patna in Bihar, Nalanda was an educational institute of higher learning or post-graduate studies. Here education was not confined to religious subjects nor it was connected with one religion or sect. Hindu and Buddhist literature in all their branches and other subjects like logic, grammar, medicine, Sankhya philosophy, occult science, etc. were studied. The university campus had many halls and buildings with storeys where about 8500 students and 1500 teachers lived. The students were provided with free education, food and lodging. The working hours of the university was of eight hours and nearly one hundred lectures were delivered everyday by many teachers, the famous of whom were Dharmapal (who was the Kulapati of Nalanda when Hiuen Tsang was a student there), Arya Deva, Chandrakirti, Chandragomin, Gunamati, Prabhamitra, Buddhakirti, Jinamitra, Sumatisena, etc. Students seeking admission here had to pass a tough entrance examination and only about 20 percent could succeed in clearing it. The university had a big library comprising of three buildings known as ‘Ratna-Sagar’, ‘Ratnadadhi’ and ‘Ratna Ranjaka’. The university was endowed with the revenue of nearly two hundred villages. Towards the end of twelfth century, Muslim invaders set fire to the buildings of the university, burnt the valuable library and ruthlessly butchered the innocent monks, teachers and students. The glorious career of a university famous the world over came to an end.