Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Today it tastes differently...

This is another old story....Of the "Gurukula" period.

For a long long time Gurukula education system was being followed in India. When the child reached its eighth year (Garbhaashtama -eighth year including the period the child was in the womb of the mother) parents used to perform the holy Upanayanam (popularly called Thread ceremony, but it is much more) and leave the child in the custody of the Guru. The child would live in the Gurukula thereafter till completion of education. There was no prescribed fee, but the students did all the work of the Gurukula like fetching firewood, grazing cattle, cooking, washing etc. The Shishyas (students) lived with the Guru and pursued learning in their  chosen stream; some say there are 18 such streams : Rigveda, Yajurveda, Saamaveda, Atharvaveda, Shiksha, Vyakaranam, Chandas, Niruktam, Jyotisham, Kalpam, Meemamsa, Nyayam, Puraanam, dharmasastras, Ayurvedam, Dhanurvedam, Gandharvavedam and Arthashastam. Some others do not accept this classification and give their own classifications and arguments.

In the present collegiate system promotions from Lecturer to Reader to Assistant Professor to Professor is generally linked to length of service or qualifications such as Doctorate or Post-doctoral research. Thus any one can become a Professor on his own strength and need not depend on the service to the society. But in Gurukula system a strict grading system was being followed. Anyone completing his education  (a period of about 10 to 14 years) and starting teaching himself was called Upadhyaya. When his student completes his education and stars teaching, he will become Mahopadhyaya. When the student's student starts teaching he can be called Mahamahopadhyaya. When the fourth generation student starts teaching he would be eligible to become a Upakulapati and then Kulapati, similar to Vice-chancellor and Chancellor. The eligible person at this stage would be about 80 years old and hence Jnanavruddha (elder by learning) as well as Vayovruddha (elder by age). His service to the community is also well documented and available for verification in the form of his Shishyas and Prashishyas. No short cuts and no mere recommendations. Not just own efforts, but team work as well.

There was this young boy who wanted to join a Gurukula. He was an orphan and he had no guardian to admit him in the Gurukula. He would stand before the gate of the Gurukula each morning and wait for the Kulapati. Kulapati would see him but does not say anything. The boy would also see him but does not have the courage to ask for admission. This went on for some time. One day he mustered courage and asked for admission. The Guru told him that the Gurukul was full and it was not possible to take him. He left but reappeared after some days. This went on for some time. One day Gurupatni (Guru's wife) saw this boy waiting near the gate. She asked the Guru as to why the boy was not admitted. Guru told her that if the boy was serious about learning, he would come back. It was the Guru's way of testing the student's keenness to learn. The Guru finally admitted the boy in the gurukul after testing his true interest in learning.

The boy proved to be the best student the Guru ever had. His power of concentration on the subjects taught was extra-ordinary. He excelled at everything. But he was always lost in his own world and thinking about his lessons. It was customary to serve a spoon of Ghee to each student when the students sat for lunch. The Guru ordered Gurupatni to serve this boy a very small quantity of neem oil every day instead of ghee. Gurupatni was not willing but she had to comply with the order because the Guru told her it was for the good of the student. This went on for several years but the student used to eat his food like all others and never complained. Many of his fellow students completed their studies and left. New students joined. But this boy continued to study other subjects and ate his food with a tinge of neem oil every day.

After a long time,  one of the days food was again being served. Guru and other students and this boy, now a young man, were sitting in the line. Being the senior most student now he was sitting next to the Guru. As usual ghee was served to others and a small quantity of neem oil was served to this young man. He took a swallow, stopped in the middle and looked up. "What is the matter?", Gurupatni who was serving the food asked. "Today the food tastes differently", the young man said. "How different?", the Guru asked. "It tastes bitter", the student said. He was asked to push what was already served aside and eat fresh food served with the ghee.

Next morning Guru called Gurupatni and the young man to his study. He told the young man that his studies were completed and he had mastered everything the Guru himself knew. He blessed the young man and sent him away to live his own life.

There is a famous sloka, only a quarter of which is often quoted. It is something like this:

Kaamaaturaanam na bhayam na lajja,
Kshudaaturaanam na ruchirna pakvam,
Vidyaturaanaam na sukham na nidra,
Dhanaaturaanam na nyaayam na dharmam.

Meaning of the first stanza every one knows. The other stanzas mean something like this -  a hungry man does not know ruchi (taste) or level of cooking of the food served to him or he gets. For him overcooked and undercooked are the same. Someone keen on learning  does not think of sleep or sukha (Physical happiness). Those who are keen to make money do not worry about fairness or honesty in their dealings.

Some people also mention the last stanza as "Arthaaturaanam na Bandhurna mitram" which means that for those who are after money, there is no consideration of friends or relatives. Use these in any order you want, meaning is just the same.

For a student physical comforts should not mean anything. Only studies are of paramount importance. Of course, we are talking of Gurukula system which is long forgotten. 

1 comment:

  1. Upadhyaya...
    Mahopadhyaya....
    Upakulapati....
    Kulapati.... many of these terminology were obsolete these days. Sir, you explained the essence of teaching in a simple way...so that it wouldn't be an exaggeration if i call you Jnanavruddha( even though you are not in 80).

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