We come across this question “How many gurukuls were there in India before Britishers?” a lot. We have done a lot of research in the field of the gurukul system of education in ancient India and we have quite some data to answer this question.
Based on the data collected by Thomas Munro in Madras presidency, W. Adam in Bengal presidency and G. Leitner in Punjab, and G.L. Prendergast in Bombay presidency we can say that the number of gurukuls was NOT 7,32,000 as answered by Google and outlined in this blog post. Even though similar posts consider the data collected by the above-mentioned sources but they fail to capture their real essence. Let’s look into what that means and what should we do about it.
Am I a Macaulay kid(Macaulay ki aulad)?
Far from that. “Macaulay ki aulad” or “Macaulay putras” phrases are used for someone who is Indian in color but British in taste as outlined by Macaulay himself. Please hold on for a moment before passing judgment on me until you read the whole post.
Saurabh Kumar Shahi writes “While the hoax died its natural death, it exposed the intellectual bankruptcy of the saffron soldiers” while reviewing the book “Macaulay: Pioneer of India’s Modernization” by “Zareer Masani” and referring to a counterfeit letter that was being circulated in which “Macaulay is astonished at the richness of the Indian culture”. You can read more about it here.
Even though I felt a little offended by his statement in the blog, I couldn’t help but agree. We are so inward-looking that we do not hesitate to share anything and everything that glorifies our culture without checking any authenticity. Not much intellectual work has been done in finding the glorious past of India. Whatever we know or share is the work done by those very people who we hate to the core.
If we’d done the same work ourselves, just imagine how much more we’d have unearthed given that we are cultural insiders. Some of those people who hated India and its culture to the core undertook this job(the intellectual work) just to denigrate it.
Why do I say that there were NOT 7,32,000 gurukuls in India before the British?
The reason for saying this lies in common sense besides the following reasons:
- The below-shown maps clearly show that the British controlled only a small portion of the territory till the first half of the 19th century and most of the data was collected during that interval.
- “In this first report, he (W. Adams) observed that there exist about 1,00,000 village schools in Bengal and Bihar around the 1830s. This statement appears to have been founded on the impressions of various high British officials and others who had known the different areas rather intimately and over long periods; it had no known backing of official records.” notes Dharampal in his book “The Beautiful Tree”. So this was an impression rather than a statement that literally didn’t mean there were 100,000 gurukuls.
- Thomas Munro, Governor of Madras presidency had observed earlier than Adam that “every village had a school”.
- G.L. Prendergast noted, “that there is hardly a village, great or small, throughout our territories, in which there is not at least one school, and in larger villages more”.
- Observations made by Dr. G.W. Leitner in 1882 show that the spread of education in Punjab around 1850 was of a similar extent.
So the impression that we get from the above-mentioned statements is that there were gurukuls in most villages if not all. But there are three things to keep in mind:
- These were not supported by data because the kind of survey we know now did not exist back then(they were conducted for the first time ever, anywhere in the world).
- These were not official statements though made by very high-ranking officers in the British govt.
- These were mostly the impressions of British officers, who were trying to learn about India.
What does the data say?
- It gives us the impression that British officers saw a widespread system of education(Gurukul system) that was being run organically with societal support.
- There were gurukuls or pathshalas in almost all of the villages.
What does the data NOT say?
- It doesn’t say there were 7,32,000 gurukuls or even villages at that time in India.
- These are the impressions of British officials who have seen a much less developed system of education in their own country and are interested in learning about Indian society in general.
First photo Source: By Edinburgh Geographical Institute. – Imperial Gazetteer of India, Secretary of State for India, OUP, 1907
Second photo Source: By HistoricGeek2345 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
The below-mentioned table gives the number of villages in the last decade NOT the British period. Even though British
|# of Villages||649,481||50,588||68,038||70,838|
|Source||2011 Census||1991 census||Wikipedia|
|Cut off year||2011||1991||2015|
How many gurukuls were REALLY there?
There is no simple answer like 7,32,000 gurukuls and neither I want to quote a random number. I don’t know how Bhai Rajiv Dixit arrived at this number but we can’t substantiate this number from any source. We do not have data for all of India except Madras presidency, Bengal presidency, and later(in around 1882) areas of Punjab. But we can surely say there was enough gurukul to keep the system/society running even after long-sustained attacks by Muslim rulers.
Perhaps we are forcing too much blame on the British(Not to mean that they didn’t destroy, they did). Further studies need to be conducted in the period of Islamic invasions(712 – 1191), scattered Muslim rule(1191 – 1526), and then a little bit of established Muslim rule(1526 – 1707). This period was not only detrimental to our gurukul system but to the whole society.
If you want to get hold of the whole picture, you should start with our post on the ancient Indian Gurukul education system and then the history of the gurukul system which we’ll be posting shortly.
What should we do?
I don’t want to blame Bhai Rajiv Dixit. He has done phenomenal work in many fields, particularly in the swadeshi field. But we should not hang on to every word. Every person has their limitations. Moreover, we have a responsibility to take care of the legacy of Rajiv Dixit further.
So working on the primary sources, deriving important insights from them, and then sharing them with others is the way to go. If we can’t furnish proof of what we say, that says a lot about our intellectual capacity. Let’s do some work ourselves.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many gurukuls were in India in 1811?
According to W. Adams, “there was a gurukul or pathshala in every village of about 100,000 villages in Bengal and Bihar”. Nearly the same impression is conveyed by Thomas Munro after he conducted his survey of Madras’s presidency.
We have published detailed research about the status of gurukul education in India when the British took control of India.