Gurukul Education System is quite possibly the oldest education system in the world. It has flourished in one form or another from at least 15000 BCE. Knowledge production and sharing have been considered one of the most sacred things in Indian culture which gave rise to the institution of learning and knowledge sharing.
The decline of the Gurukul education system is a long-drawn process that has its genesis in the destruction caused by the Mahabharata war, the subsequent rise of various sub-sects, Islamic invasions/colonialism, and finally British colonialism. The indifference of society after independence tells us how indifferent we have become towards a seemingly great education system. But we are bearing a useless current schooling system instead.
The glorious ancient Indian Gurukul System of education declined due to a combination of the following factors including but not limited to:
- Mahabharata War
- Islamic Colonialism
- British Colonialism
But the story doesn’t end there! The Gurukul system which is in decline since at least the 13th century lost its competitiveness even further after the British took control of India. Everything came to a grinding halt after the English Education Act of 1835.
The Mahabharata war proved to be a milestone in Indian history. The intellectual vacuum created after the war resulted in the deterioration of the societal structure which gave rise to darshan that rejected Vedas viz. Buddha darshan, Jainas, Ajivikas, etc.
But as all good things must come to an end, the gurukul system also faced challenges from foreign rulers. Foreign invader brought their education systems with them and forced them on the indigenous population.
Following the destruction of Nalanda, Vikramshila, and Udyantpuri. The continuous persecution and destruction at the hands of Muslim rulers.
A painting titled “The end of Buddhist Monks” shows the destruction of Nalanda by Bakhtiyar Khilji in 1193. Besides Nalanda, he destroyed Vikramshila and Odantapuri universities as well. The destruction has been recorded by Minhaj-i Siraj Juzjani in Tabaqat-i-Nasiri.
The first successful attack by Muslims on India was in 712 by Bin Qasim. But after a brief period of control, most parts of Sindh and Balochistan. For the next 500 years, they couldn’t control any further part due to some decisive victories of the period. The attacks were renewed under Mahmud of Ghazni, but most of these were raids on the periphery of India.
Then Mahmud of Ghor was successful in setting up his base after winning the battle of Tarain in 1192. The reason for sharing this background is to show that only after the 1200s, Muslims were able to set up any base in India albeit a small one.
After winning the debate with “Minute on Education(1835)“, Thomas Babington Macaulay, a British Politician brought radical changes to education in India. After that, the company stopped all funding to the gurukuls. Societal apathy mixed with sustained attacks from Muslim rulers compounded their decline. But it was the British who delivered the death blow to the already dying Gurukul system. Soon it becomes fashionable to send your child to your convent school and the rest is history.
In the aftermath of British policies, the 19th century saw a steep decline in the number of gurukuls all over India. India, from being one of the biggest economies in the world in the 1800s to being one of the poorest in the world in 1914 made education unaffordable to most Indians. So the remaining gurukuls were shut down too.
We analyzed the data collected by various British officers between 1820 – 1880 and published our research titled How many gurukuls were there in India before British rule? We have divided our research into three phases viz the status of education during the initial phase (1770 – 1830), the middle phase (1830 – 1870), and the last phase (1870 – 1947). Also, do check out our critical study of Macaulayism in India
The governments of independent India behaved more or less the same as their predecessors. There was no focus on the government toward the indigenous gurukul education system. The momentum that it gained during the 1880s – 1930s was completely lost after independence.
The status of the gurukul system of education is precisely the same as it was in the 20th century i.e. pathetic. Though there has been a visible change in the number of so-called gurukuls that I wouldn’t even consider gurukul. A residential school doesn’t become a gurukul by default if you start doing yagya every day which sadly is the case with most gurukuls right now.
The number of gurukuls in India has increased a bit in the last decade but most of them are schools rather than gurukuls. According to a study conducted by Vediconcepts in April 2022, the total number of gurukul in India is 4500.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who destroyed the Indian gurukul system?
It is not what you think. Neither the British nor earlier Muslim rulers destroyed the Gurukul Education System, though they acted as a catalyst. The real cause is the deviation of Hindus from Vedic principles.
Is Gurukul illegal in India?
No, opening or running a gurukul is not illegal in India. But due to the apathy of the government as well as society, the gurukul system is in a pathetic state.
If you are interested in reviving the Gurukul education system’s lost glory, consider contacting us.
How did the British destroy the ancient gurukul system?
Even under the Mughals, India had around 35% of village land revenue free and this revenue was used towards running and maintenance of public services like running schools, feeding pilgrims, irrigation, common land, etc.
The British to maximize land revenues brought down common land as much as they could. There was widespread unrest during the initial periods. But to pacify the masses the British government told people that it would create an irrigation department to take care of irrigation, and an educational board to take care of education. etc.
Thus education, health, and most other things which were decentralized were brought under the centralized control of the British. This dried out the funding for common services like gurukul and put them at the helm of the government.