Educational Samskaras (विद्याभ्याससंस्काराः)

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Initiation into education is the most important milestone after the achievement of physical development in a child's life. Impartment of education was the most important step in the development of character of a person. The direct aim of all education, whether literary or professional, was to make the student fit to become a useful and pious member of the society. Most samskaras of the childhood mark the stages of physical development. The educational stage is characterized by the transformation of an individual from a child with gaining more consciousness and knowledge. It is the stage when human brain was considered to be appropriate to step towards the cognitive developments and gain the strength of knowledge and virtue and not the physical strength alone.[1][2]

परिचयः ॥ Introduction

After the early childhood stage, there is a transition period when a child is introduced to the dimensions of the spiritual world along with the existent physical world. Time has now come for the child to be introduced into social order (varna system). Initiation into a system where the worth of guiding light then be it the teacher or guru itself, or the anecdotes or incidents or any other thing to learn a lesson in life. Initiation of a child into the system of education was not just to bring out an educated person well trained in the vocations of life, rather it was to create responsible social beings who could neither fail on the parameters of material existence nor could falter on the spiritual path, which ultimately acted as guiding light for him.[1]

Even today, time is decided for the beginning of the education of the child, the multiple steps before bringing the child into the mainstream education are followed. The child even today has to undergo the different phases of cognitive development. Thus, the Samskaras associated with education have gained focus and importance as subject of study given the intellectual progress and development of human being over few millennia.[1] Rituals connected with the student's life are many, both in school and college, and several aspects of educational theory and practice are illustrated by their study.[3]

Samskaras Related to Education

The Sutra literature furnishes ample evidence on the ancient Indian education system. It should be noted that they sum up the entire previous development in this matter and codify pre-existing traditions, unwritten laws and customs in the texts on which they are essentially based. They essentially systematized education by way of creating a social legislation; codifying the rigid system of rules, regulations and restrictions that were involved in imparting education to preserve the age-old vaidik parampara.[4]

Such a rigorous system enabled India to achieve high material prosperity by the excellent arrangements it made for training young men in commerce, industry and fine and useful arts. The general principles of education, which underlay the system, e.g. intellectual freedom, individual attention to students, the monitorial system, gurukula ideal, plain living and high thinking, mass education, combination of useful and liberal education, the location of educational institutions away from the din and dust of the city-life, free education, etc. are inherently sound and capable of yielding excellent results even in modern times when applied with due regard to changed circumstances.[3]

There are quite a few samskaras prescribed in Sanatana Dharma that pertain to education. Here we may note a list of rituals connected with various kinds of education many as described by Dr. A. S. Altekar.[3]

  1. Vidyarambha (विद्यारम्भः)
  2. Upanayana (उपनयनम्)
  3. Vedavratas (वेदव्रतानि)
  4. Upakarma (उपाकर्म)
  5. Utsarjana (उत्सर्जनम्)
  6. Samavartana (समावर्तनम्)
  7. Ayurvedic Upanayana (आयुर्वेदीय उपनयनम्)
  8. Dhanurvedic Upanayana (धनुर्वेदीय उपनयनम्)
  9. Churrika-bandha (Military Convocation)

Significance of Educational Samskaras

Garbhadhana and other pre-natal samskaras focused on removing the problems associated with the veerya (seed or semen), the kshetra (womb), and the developing foetus. The Jatakarma and other childhood samskaras marked the developmental milestones of a child. It is evident that both the above mentioned sections of samskaras dealt with the biological and physiological aspects of a human being. We did see the minor rite of Medhajanana during Jatakarma was to arouse the intellectual consciousness of the new-born; however the goal of education samskaras was purely aimed at the intellectual and thereby the psychological development of a child, not just physical strength alone. It is clear that upto 5 or 6 years of age the child's physical needs were a priority and from about 6 years the priority shifted to psychological and social development of a child. Many qualities of a student such as character, personality, moral values, ethics, social duties, discipline, mental strength, intellect etc., are developed in this stage of life from seven years of age to early youth.

Upanayana or the ceremony of initiation was though recognised as the most important education rite, education instead began little earlier with other less known rite called Vidyarambha Samskara. Upanayana marked the beginning of the first significant phase of life or the entry into the Brahmacharyashrama, the Vidyāraṁbha marked the entry into the system of education, to make him familiar with the basic of learning or education or even the language.[1]

Ultimate goal of education was regarded as the study of Vedas and life long Brahmacharya led to moksha.

Special Vratas for Special Subjects of Study

Students were prescribed to keep some vratas (observances or vows) through certain periods of time before the different texts of a course in Vedic studies could be taught to him.

The Brahmachari starts his career by taking on the Savitri Vrata (सावित्रीव्रतम्) as a part of the Upanayana ceremony. Brahmacharya literally means "attendance on Brahma or Veda” and involves the observances which the student has to keep through certain periods of time before the different Vedic texts which he has to learn can be taught him. Thus the study of the Veda is opened by the Savitri vrata. Based on the varna of the student, the Savitri taught to him varies with different Chandas. This Vrata might last for a time period ranging from three days to one year. According to Paraskara [ii, 4, 3, 6], the Savitri Vrata may last for one year, six months, twenty-four days, twelve days, six days, or three days. Many observe a period of three days for this first of the Brahmacharin's vratas. During this time, the student had to live on special food, which was not to be either pungent or saline, or milk, and to beg that food from different women both from the household as well as the neighborhood. Manu [ii, 50] mentions that the pupil must beg food first from his mother, then from his sister, then from his own maternal aunt and then from a female who will not disgrace him by a refusal.[5]

Period of Studentship

All the Sutras are agreed as to the length of the period of studentship. It is to consist ordinarily of twelve years for the mastery of each Veda. The longest period of Brahmacharya was forty-eight years, allowing twelve years for the study of each Veda. But all did not want to master the Vedas hence the term ended at different intervals. The smaller periods stopped at thirty-six, twenty-four and eighteen according to the circumstances of the student and his parents. The last but one period was the most common type’ of Brahmacharya and in the majority of cases education finished at twentyfour.[6]

Āśvalāyana, in his Gṛhyasūtram (22.3,4) prescribes twelve years of Brahmacaryam for each Veda, i.e. forty eight years for four Vedas or till completion and its origin is in Gopathabrāhmaṇam (2.5) –

द्वादशवर्षाणि वेदब्रह्मचर्यम्। ग्रह्णान्तं वा। आश्वलायनगृह्यसूत्रम् ॥dvādaśavarṣāṇi vedabrahmacaryam। grahṇāntaṃ vā। Āśvalāyanagṛhyasūtram ॥

But at present there is no time limit. The study of Vedas have become rare and there is no fixed course of education. The Samavartana Samskara which marks the end of education is now drowned into insignificance and is incorporated either in the Upanayana or the Vivaha ceremonies.[6]

Marriage after Education

Ancient system of education, held that marriage and studentship were incompatible and that the student ought not to marry during the course of study. Brahmachari primarily refers to a person leading a celibate life in order to realize his educational ideals and ambitions.[3]

When early marriage became common, the Kesanta or Godana began to be considered as marking the end of Brahmacharya. In the Sutra period the shortest period of Brahmacharya was twelve years. According to this calculation, the student career ended at the age of eighteen. But this was not the general custom. Only those students, who were in sure need of the family, took leave of their gurus at this early age. Later on, however, owing to the emergency of child-marriage, it became a common practice to close the Brahmacharya period with the Keshanta or Godana.[6] But it was not without the permission of his teacher that a Brahmacarin could end his studentship. A student was supposed to seek the formal permission of his teacher before he could end the first phase of life and get ready to enter the second phase, that is Gṛhastha Āśrama.[1]

Yajnavalkya himself says 'having unfailingly maintained his studentship he shall marry a girl endowed with good qualities 26 In such a case we have to assume that no member of the upper caste used to marry before twentieth year. We may note in this connection a few of the early injunctions:

(a) Manu ordains: 'The vow (of studying) three Vēdas under a teacher must be kept for thirty-six years, or for half that time, or for a quarter, or until the (student) has perfectly learnt them.' '(A student) who has studied in due order the three Vēdas or two or even one only, without breaking the (rules of) studentship, shall enter the order of householders. 27

(b) Bōdhāyana says: 'The (term of the) studentship for (learning the) Vēdas, as kept by the ancients, (is) forty-eight years or twenty-four or twelve years for each Vēda or at least one year for each Kanda or until (the Vēda) has been learned: for life is uncertain. ›28

(c) According to Gautama: 'One should keep his studentship over one Věda, for twelve years; or twelve years for each Věda; or overall, till they have been got up."

Related Terminology

One of the important Samskaras, Upanayana signifies the transition of a child to a student. One who undergoes Upanayana is called Upaneeta and one who conducts the samskara is called Upanetr (father or Guru).

Brahmacārī: The boy who underwent this Saṃskāra is called Brahmacārī (Brahma means Veda, one who learns Veda is called Brahmacārī). A Brahmacārī would get eligibility to perform any Vedic rite.

Dvija: Upanayanam is a Saṃskāra to be performed on the boys belonging to the Traivarnas, i.e. Brāhmaṇa, Kṣatriya and Vaiśya. People belonging to the above three varnas are called Dvijas, which literally means twice-born - one a natural birth and second a symbolic birth caused by the Upanayana ritual. The first birth is given by father and mother whereas, since Gāyatrī Devi (whose Mantra is preached to the boy during Upanayanam) and the Ācārya (the teacher who performs the Upanayanam) are considered as mother and father during Upanayanam, the Upanayanasaṃskāra is considered as another birth. Thus the people of the first three varnas are called Dvijas after the Upanayana samskara. Yajnavalkya smrti clearly mentions that

मातुर्यदग्रे जायन्ते द्वितीयं मौञ्जिबन्धनात् । ब्राह्मणक्षत्रियविशस्तस्मादेते द्विजाः स्मृताः । । १.३९ । । (Yajn. Smrt. 1.39)[7]

But how does the Upanayana ritual cause a new birth? The passage in Shatapatha Brahmana explains this as follows.[8]

तदपि श्लोकं गायन्ति। आचार्यो गर्भी भवति हस्तमाधाय दक्षिणम्। तृतीयस्यां स जायते सावित्र्या सह ब्राह्मण इति। (Shat. Brah. 11.5.4)[9]

Meaning: When the preceptor places his hand on the student, he (the preceptor) puts the student within himself as if in a garbha (womb). On the third day the student is "delivered" or "born" and at that time the speech or Savitri Mantra should be imparted immediately to the Brahmin at once.[8]

The Acharya placing his right hand upon the head of the pupil symbolizes the imparting of the very core of his own personality to the student. The Acharya bears this "garbha" transforming the pupil by his inner splendour and he is "delivered" as a Brahmana. Soon after the Brahmana or Vatu is given the Savitri Mantra by the pupil's father or Acharya.[10]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Chahal, Mandeep (2020) Ph.D Thesis Titled: Samskaras in the Grihyasutras historical account of Jatakarma Upanyana Vivaha and Antyeshti. (Chapter 3)
  2. Shukla, Sacchidanand (2008) Hindu Dharm ke Solah Sanskar. Delhi: Prabhat Prakashan.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Altekar, A. S. (1944) Education in Ancient India. Benares : Nand Kishore and Bros., (Pages 265 - )
  4. Mookerji. Radha Kumud, (1947) Ancient Indian Education (Brahminical and Buddhist) London: MacMillan And Co., Ltd. (Page 173)
  5. Mookerji. Radha Kumud, (1947) Ancient Indian Education (Brahminical and Buddhist) London: MacMillan And Co., Ltd. (Page 182-190)
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Pandey, Raj Bali. (1949) Hindu Samskaras, A Socio-religious study of the Hindu Sacraments. Banaras: Vikrama Publications. (Pages 187-240)
  7. Yajnavalkya Smrti (Achara Adhyaya Brahmachari Prakarana)
  8. 8.0 8.1 The Upanayana ritual in the Satapathabrahmana by Dr. N. K. Sundareswaran, University of Calicut
  9. Shatapatha Brahamana (Kanda 11 Adhyaya 4)
  10. Murthy, Narasimha. H. V. (1997) A Critical Study of Upanayana Samskara. Mangalore: Canara College (Pages 64 - )