Ancient Indian Education

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In ancient India, a child of age seven had a ceremony performed on him --- a thread ceremony. Roughly equivalent to the Bar Mitzvah, it indicates that the child is now ready to begin the course of education which would lead him to adulthood. And he did this at the Gurukul.

A Gurukul (literally "Teacher's home") was where children would go, and stay, until they were 25 yrs old. They would learn from their teacher (their "Guru"), work for him (everything from picking firewood to collecting alms), and so on. This was one-to-many education ... one teacher, in all subjects.

The teacher would not normally recieve any fees, but 'gurudakshina' would not be refused --- this is a voluntary fee, given to the teacher at the end of the student's education.

The most famous gurudakshina ever given was that of Eklavya, in the story of the 'Mahabharatha'.

Eklavya was a tribal, living in a jungle in India. In a clearing in his jungle, the guru Dronacharya would teach children of the king in the art of fighting ... especially the art of archery. Eklavya begged the great and renowned guru to teach him, but he refused. His knowledge was for the sons of great and rich kings, not of poor tribals.

Eklavya was disheartened, but not for long. He made a statue of Dronacharya, and in front of that statue he would practice for hours and hours. It was difficult, but after months of such practice, he became an excellent archer.

One day, while practising, a dog appeared suddenly from a behind a bush, and began to bark at him. Irritated at the dog, he turned a fired a number of arrows at it ... but so expertly that they filled it's mouth, and prevented it from barking, without drawing even a drop of blood. The surprised dog rushed back to it's master ... Dronacharya and his royal pupils! They looked at the arrows in his mouth in astonishment. This was clearly the work of a great archer.

Dronacharya and his students followed the dog back to the archer ... and when the Guru saw Eklavya, his jaw dropped in surprise. As for Eklavya, he dived to touch his master's feet. When he recovered his speech, Drona asked "Who taught you this, boy?" Eklavya replied, "You did, Guruji", and told him of the statue in front of whom he had practised. Meanwhile, Drona's best pupil, Arjun, came up to him - "Guru, you promised that I would be the best archer in the world! But this jungle brat is better than me!" Drona assured him that all would be well, and went up to Eklavya. "If it is true that I taught you", he said, "I demand a gurudakshina!"

"Anything I have is yours, Guru! You have but to say the word!"

"Very well! I want your right thumb as my gurudakshina!", thundered Drona

His pupils were aghast! They knew that without his right thumb, Eklavya would never be able to shoot a single arrow again!

But Eklavya did not hesitate. Pulling out his knife, he cut off his right thumb, and laid it before his teacher, thus shocking him for the second time that day.

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