History Optional Paper-1 Solution – 2010: Q.8 (b)

Q.8 (b) How far do you agree with the view that temples in early medieval period were catalysts in spreading education? [2010, 30m]


In early medieval period, three distinct types of educational institutions existed to spread education among the masses:-

a) The Gurukula schools,
b) The temple colleges (or Ghatikas),
c) The Agrahara village institutions.

The temple colleges in early medieval period

The temples of south India in early medieval times were not only religious centres but also played the role of educational institutions. South India with its profusion of temples, big and small, led the way in the development of temple colleges. These were inspired by the example of the Buddhist monastic universities. Inscriptional records indicate that this type of colleges started becoming important from the tenth century A.D. These were generally supported by land-grants and other forms of endowments. Many subjects were taught by learned scholars in the ‘temple-colleges’ which were attached to these shrines.

The temple college at Salotgi

The temple college at Salotgi, in present Karnataka, established by Narayana, minister of the Rastrakuta king Krishna III in the tenth-century (A.D. 945) is an important example. It was associated with the temple of Trayi-purusa.

According to the inscriptional records, the college used to attract students from different parts of the country. It was a residential college comprising of twenty-seven houses designed for providing free boarding and lodging to about two hundred students.

The Vedic college at Ennayiram

Some of the more famous ‘temple-colleges’ are described in the inscriptions of the Cholas of the 11th- 12th centuries A D. One of the best known of this type was functioning in the premises of the Narsimha temple at Ennayiram (erstwhile South Arcot district), established in the eleventh century during the reign of King Rajendra Chola I (A.D. 1023).

The inscription here gives minute details about the number of teaching staff, students, subjects taught, remuneration of the teachers, number of teachers and students for each subject, etc.
The college offered free lodging, boarding and tuition to 340 students and maintained sixteen teachers. The various branches of Vedic studies were taught here, for ex- Rig-Veda, Yajur-Veda, Atharva Veda, Chandogya-Saman, Vajasaneya, Baudhayana Dharmasutra (Griha, Kalpa and Gana), Vyakarana, Prabhakara Mimansa, Vedanta and many others. The scholars of Vedas, grammar and philosophy were paid allowances equivalent to a modern maintenance scholarship to attract meritorious students from all over the country.

A similar type of college was attached to the Vishnu temple at Tirumukkudal, near Chengalput.

The Venkatesh Perumal temple college

The Venkatesh Perumal Temple College at Tirumukkudal, established in the eleventh century, was a much smaller institution than that at Ennayiram, being able to provide instructions to 60 students at a time. Its special feature was a hospital in addition to the usual students’ hostel. The college offered only Vedic courses including grammar, and it is not clear if Ayurvedic studies were included as the provision of a hospital in the college campus appears strongly to suggest.

The temple at Tiruvorriyur

In the thirteenth century the temple at Tiruvorriyur came into prominence as a centre for linguistic studies. The college was dedicated specially to the study of Panini’s grammar for which a separate hall, the Vyakarana-dana-vyakhyana-mandapa, was erected.

Temple College at Malkapuram

The thirteenth century records another temple college at Malkapuram in the Guntur taluk, which had a hospital in addition to a hostel. It accommodated 150 students and offered courses in Vedic as well as secular studies (grammar, literature, logic and Agamas).

Some places such as Nagai in Nizam’s territory and a temple college in Tinevelli district witnessed the establishment of libraries or Saraswati Bhavans or Bhandaras , as such institutions were then called, for the collection and preservation of manuscripts.

By contrast with the South, Northern India almost draws a blank with respect to temple colleges due to their systematic destruction by the invaders. From the general patterns of temple organization and management it appears reasonable to conclude that North Indian temples were equally engaged in the promotion and dissemination of knowledge.

Limitations of the role of Temple in spreading education

1. The available inscriptions are sufficient to suggest that the temples played an important role in the spread of education but there were other institutions also like the Gurukula schools, the Agrahara schools and the Buddhist universities who complemented them in the dissemination of education.

2. Temple colleges provided Brahmanical education. The medium of instruction was Sanskrit. Use of Sanskrit as the medium of instruction distanced the common people from education.

3. Education given by temple colleges was mostly limited to religious subjects.

4. Entry to temple colleges was opened only to the upper caste and Dwija (twice born). So, education became the privilege of only the upper most section of society. Women were also generally excluded from the temple education system.

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