Education, especially Vedic and Vedantic, along with allied subjects, was a prime focus of the rulers of the Tamil Kingdoms. This book highlights the educational initiatives during the reigns of the Pallava, Pandya, Cola, Vijayanagara, Nayaka and other kings.
The inscriptions across the Tamil country talk about Sanskrit education in detail. Agraharas, ghatikas, temple-colleges and mathas were the main educational institutions propagating Sanskrit texts. The teachers were handsomely paid and bhatta-vrtti was the norm of the day; villages were donated to them –either as ekabhoga or as agrahara (brahmadeya). There were poets and composers among the rulers, as an embodiment of their dedication to education. The numerous grants act as authentic sources of information on the reigns of these rulers, scholars, composers and educational institutions across many centuries-beginning from the Pallava times.
Giving a deep insight, this book is an invaluable source of information for students and researchers in the ancient and medieval history of India.
Chithra Madhavan completed her MA and MPhil from the Department of Indian History, University of Madras and her PhD from the Department of Ancient History and Archaeology, University of Mysore. She is the recipient of two post-doctoral fellowships from the Department of Culture, Government of India and from the Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi. She is the author of five books – History and Culture of Tamil Nadu (in two volumes) and Vishnu Temples of South Indian (in three Volumes). She has co-edited a book South Indian Heritage-An Introduction containing approximately 500 articles on various aspects of the heritage and culture of South India. She has contributed about a hundred articles on temple architecture and allied subject to the multi-volume Encylcopaedia of Hinduism.
Epigraphy is a subject not merely of great academic interest, but has been the backbone of history. It has helped scholars and governments in diving deep into the history of the past and fixing the dates of many a dynasty, kingdoms, besides shedding light on many land grants and what not! It is rather a cause for concern that the number of epigraphists is remaining vacant for several years.
The rock edicts are the best evidences when it comes to fixing the dates of several scholars, poets, philosophers in India, where there is a dearth of historical recordings and “where people believe more in the world to come than in the one they live in”. “Hindu literature is remarkably deficient in works of history. But the value of inscriptions, has of late years, been more and, more recognized as one of the chief sources from which trustworthy materials may be drawn for supplying that deficiency” thus said Lewis Rice who was commissioned in 1870 to translate the inscriptions photographed by Major Dixon under Governor-General Lord Canning. One verse of Mukundamala of Kulasekhara, who has been identified with the Srivaisnava saint Kulasekhara Alvar, a king of Tiruvanchikulam in Kerala, is found in an inscription dated thirteenth century (Epigraphia Indica, VII: 197f) in Tamil characters in as far a place as Pagan in Burma. It indeed speaks volumes of the popularity of the work and its author. For, Kerala is in the southernmost tip of the Indian sub-continent and Burma is beyond the north-east. If the same verse is found in a palm-leaf manuscript or a copper plate, it could be construed that it was carried to that place by some traveler or scribe. But when it is found on a rock edict, it is a sure sign of its popularity. The historicity attached to it can never be wiped off or altered. That is the value of the inscriptions.
Under the inspiration and guidance of His Holiness, the Paramacarya of Kanci, the Uttankita Vidya Aranya Trust brought out the first volume, in 1985 of the inscriptions, sixteen of them, pertaining to Vidyaranya who was a philosopher-statesman responsible for the establishment of the Vihayanagara empire at Hampi. The further editions of volumes II (ed. K.G. Krishnan, Chief Epigraphist), vol. III (eds. K.G. Krishnan and J. Sundaram) furthered the noble cause of preserving for posterity the Sanskrit inscriptions (with English translation), belonging to the period 257 BCE-CE 320 and CE 320-600, respectively. Such editions are to be viewed as priceless possessions since they play a significant role as milestones for the journey on the sands of time.
Epigraphical studies may be classified under three categories. The first one is the publication of all inscriptions of a particular region, or of a particular period, or of a particular dynasty of rulers like the Pallavas and Colas. Such a study helps in preserving for posterity such inscriptions which have weathered the vagaries of time, which are most likely to be lost due to neglect or even with white-washing, painting, etc. The second category comprises such attempts, like that of Lewis Rice, which bring out English translations too, thereby opening the scope of the inscriptions to a wide circle of scholars, who, in the absence of the knowledge of the script, will have an authentic translation to study. The third category envisages not merely a study but an analysis of the contents of the inscriptions belonging to several centuries. Its task is all the more difficult.
The book Sanskrit Education and Literature in Ancient and Medieval Tamil Nadu by Chithra Madhavan belongs to the third category mentioned above, inasmuch as it is a study of the contents of the inscriptions so far as Sanskrit education is concerned in Tamil Nadu in the ancient and medieval period. Chithra Madhavan, undertook this study as a Post-Doctoral Fellow under the Indian Council of Historical Research. I have known Chithra Madhavan for the past twenty-five years. She is not merely a distinguished historian but is also very keen in taking these historical facts to the common man by reaching out to society. I have seen her delivering lectures to the general public with a sole motive of arousing their interest in knowing and preserving our rich archaeological heritage. This book, I am sure, is yet another feather on her cap. The topic itself is such that it will remove many misgivings about the understanding of the education scenario in Tamil Nadu in the ancient and medieval period. “Vedam niranda Tamil Nadu” proclaims Subramania Bharatiar, the celebrated patriot-poet of India, in one of his songs. This book provides ample testimony, as it were, to Bharatiar’s statement. If the “Contribution of Tamil Nadu to Sanskrit Literature” by C.S. Sundaram studies the literary works, this book goes deep into the inscriptional evidences to shed more light on Sanskrit education in this part of the country. Chithra has systematically arranged her findings under headings such as Pallava, Pandya, Ay, Cola, Hoysala, Vijayanangara, Nayakas and later Pandyas.
I am privileged to write the Foreword for this edition. I am sure this book will a useful possession of not only the general readers but in particular of the research scholars in history, Sanskrit, epigraphy, archaeology and social science.
If this book enthuses the present generation of research scholars to take to epigraphic studies seriously, then the hard labour of Chithra Madhavan will be amply rewarded.
I had selected the topic Sanskrit Education and Literature in Ancient and Medieval Tamil Nadu: An Epigraphical Study for which the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), New Delhi, had granted me a General Post-doctoral Fellowship. I would like to thank ICHR for selecting me for this fellowship which enabled me to take up a detailed study of this topic that covers the period from the time of the Pallava dynasty starting from c. fifth century CE to the time of the Maratha rulers of the eighteenth century CE.
I thank Dr. K.V. Raman, Professor and Head (retd.), Department of Ancient History and Archaeology, University of Madras, for all his help and encouragement at every stage of my research. I am very fortunate to have had the benefit of his scholarly advice.
My very sincere thanks to my parents for their sustained support over the years. I specially thank my mother Smt. Charu Madhavan for translating many of the Sanskrit inscriptions for me. I am lucky to have had the support of my sincere well-wishers Shri L.J. Krishnamurthi, Smt. Shobha Jayaraman and Dr Padma Seshadri and my heartfelt gratitude to them for the same.
I am extremely grateful to Dr C.S. Radhakrishnan, Professor and Head, Department of Sanskrit, Pondicherry University, Puducherry, for writing the foreword to this book. To have a scholar of his eminence contribute the foreword is truly an honour for me.
I wish to thank Shri M.N. Srinivasan for the rare photographs of the unamanjeri copper-plate inscription of the sixteenth century CE.
Particular thanks are due to Shri Susheel K. Mittal, Director, D.K. Printworld, New Delhi, for the interest and enthusiasm with which he has brought out this book.
The literary and epigraphical wealth of Tamil Nadu are the most authentic and important sources of information about various spheres of activity in the ancient and medieval times. This is true of the field of learning and literature also. A study of the literature of the earliest historical period of the Tamil country known as the Sangam age –c. third century BCE to c. third century CE –clearly reveals that a lot of focus was given to learning and literature. Education, which must be at the bottom of any secular or aesthetic achievement of any people, was not merely known and encouraged but was a widespread social activity. The importance given to education in the Sangam age is seen from the Tirukkural which states “the wealth which never declines is not riches but learning”.
In the subsequent ages, during the times of the Pallavas, Pandyas, Colas, Vijayanagara and Nayaka, and also of the rule of the lesser chieftains, the encouragement given to education was one of the major duties of the kings. This study focuses on the Sanskrit education and literature from the Pallava times, mainly Vedic and Vedantic in nature, besed on the information gleaned from epigraphs. The lithic epigraphs etched on the walls and pillars of temples as well as the copper-plate grants provide plenty of data on the subjects taught and works written in Sanskrit during times bygone. In addition to these important inscriptions, there are many Sanskrit texts which have come down to the present day, clearly showing the high standard of Sanskrit of those times. Many of the kings of the important dynasties as well as some of the lesser chieftains were extremely erudite and composed poems and dramas in Sanskrit themselves. While many of these texts are still studied by Sanskritists, many unfortunately have been lost in the tide of time and only the names of some of these works, by way of inscriptional evidence, survive till today to remind us of their copious literary output.
Whether they were by themselves scholars or not, it was an important duty of these rulers to patronize the learned of their land by giving them grants of land and money so that they could continue with their work of studying and teaching without hindrance. Such royal donations to promote individual learning are seen from many an epigraph in Tamil Nadu. The land given to the learned brahmanas were called bhatta-vrttis. One of the earliest inscriptions (c. fifth century CE), the Omgodu grant of Pallava Vijayaskandavaraman is a clear example of a bhatta-vrtti; although the technical phrase bhatta-vrtti is not used in this grant, it is however a gift to a brahmana in recognition of his learning. The practice of endowing such bhatta-vrtti is continued from the Pallava times, down the centuries including the Vijayanagara period. The inscriptions which give the details of the bhatta-vrtti also provide a lot of information about the qualifications of the bhattas who were found worthy enough to receive a piece of land or sometimes brahmana donees of the grants were extremely well-read. They are described as masters in the Vedas, Vedangas (consisting of Chandakalpa, Vyakarana, Jyotisa, Nirukta, Siksa and Chandoviciti), Itihasa, Purana, Samkhya, Yama and Niyama.
The titles borne by these Sanskrit scholars like Caturvedin, Trivedin, Somayajin, Vasantayajin, Bhatta, Sarvakratuyajin, Agnicit Sadangavid and Kramavid reveal their scholarship in their chosen fields of study. Incidentally, the inscriptions of Tamil Nadu, starting from the time of the Pallavas, reveal that many such learned bhattas migrated from different parts of India to the Tamil country, settled down here and received munificent grants from the local rulers.
While an endowment to one or a few brahmana scholars was known as a bhtta-vrtti, settlements of a whole village by a large number of brahmanas was known as an agrahara. The brahmadeya (villages given to scholarly brahmana) is also variously known by other names – agrahara, agara, caturvedimangalam and brahmapuri – each having its own meaning and significance which ultimately goes to prove that they mainly contained brahmana population. It is interesting to note that many of the agraharas and caturvedimangalams were named after the rulers or their consorts or other members of their families and that over time, the same villages had their names changed, when other dynasties came to power in subsequent times, to that of the then ruling monarch or members of his family. Among the agraharas too, it is known that some, when endowed to individual brahmana scholars, are called by the name ekabhoga. Regarding the ekabhoga village, the Mayamata, one of the authoritative textbooks on the Silpasastra, gives the following description: “A plot of land granted to a single brahmana for his sole enjoyment and having on it his mansion and the houses of his dependents and farmers is called an ekabhogam.” Similarly, grants of land to two or to three scholars only are also known from the inscriptions. Land which is thus enjoyed by two or more parties goes by the name gana-bhogya and tri-bhogya. In some cases, two or more villages were clubbed together to form a brahmadeya or agrahara. These villages, granted to the learned people, were usually very fertile lands, located near a main water source such as a large tank or river.
The boundaries of the brahmadeyas or agraharas, thus donated, were very carefully demarcated. It is interesting to note that the ceremony of letting loose a she-elephant to go around a plot of land intended to be granted to anyone is an ancient institution: it is referred to in the Leiden grant also as Karini-parikramana vispasta sima catustayam; a she- elephant is let loose, her wandering path is carefully marked and after she returns to the place from which she started, the plot of land enclosed by the path of the elephant is granted to the done. In most cases, the villages were given in perpetuity as sarvamanya, to be enjoyed by the done and his descendants; with the grant of the village go the rights over the village granted.
All these grants of lands to the learned were made for the dissemination of the Vedas and allied branches of learning; at the same time the kings also considered it a meritorious deed which would secure for them good health, strength, wealth and victory. Phrases like asmad-ayur-bala-vijay-abhivrddhaye (increase of the king’s life, strength and victory), asmad ayur arogyabhivrddhaye (augmentation of the king’s longevity and health) and ayur-bala-vijaya-aisvaryabhivrddhaye (increasing the king’s life, strength, wealth and victory) are commonly seen in the Pallava grants in connection with the donation to brahmanas.
In the Pallava times, other than the agraharas, the inscriptions mention the educational institution called the ghatika or ghatikasthana, the best known of which was situated in the Pallava capital Kancipuram. The yeoman service to Vedic education rendered by the ghatika and its connection with royalty is also seen. The famous vidyasthana at Bahur (near present-day Pondicherry) was also a great educational centre of the Pallava times.
Subsequently, in the period of the Colas, the large “temple-colleges” served as important centres of learning. The Vaisnava temples at Ennayiram (of the time of Rajendra Cola I), tribhuvanam (of the reign of Rajadhiraja Cola I) and Tirumukkudal (of Vira-Rajrndra’s time) were excellent centres that promoted Vedic education along with other subjects.
The mathas too played a prominent role in the spread of learning and it is surprising to see that even veterinary science was encouraged and practiced. The Amarakosa, the Sanskrit lexicon, defines a matha as “a place where pupils (and their teachers) reside” (mathascchatradi nilayah). According to P.V. Kane, “The mathas were primarily intended for the instruction of pupils or the laity by some great teacher in the tenets of a sect or in the doctrines of some philosophy or in some branch of learning such as grammar, Mimamsa, astronomy and the like.
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