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Dharampal' Writings

Indigeneous Education In The 18Th Century
By Sanjeev Nayyar, March 2004 [esamskriti@suryaconsulting.net]

Chapter :

Courtesy, copyright & author Dharampal

First it was the British who told Indians how they civilized them by bringing education to India. Today Christian missionaries and some Indian Christians (converts) keep on reminding Hindus of the pioneering role played by the Christian community in the field of education. I wondered! If this were true how did knowledge contained in the Vedas, Shastras and on Ayurveda, Astronomy, steel making etc be carried forward through generations. If it is the Christians whom we have to credit with educating us, how did numerous schools of Indian thought come into being and importantly survive for thousands of years. 

Having read Arun Shourie’s book ‘Missionaries in India’ I knew the missionary motive behind educating India but! Did not have knowledge of the system of education that existed in India before the Christians began to rule India. Therefore, I felt inadequate when Christians claimed to have educated India till I read ‘The Beautiful Tree: Indigenous Indian Education in the 18th century” by Dharampalji. The book reproduces Reports of numerous Surveys undertaken in Bengal, Punjab and Madras Presidency by the British (between 1800-1830) to give you the state of education in India around 1800, number of schools/colleges, caste composition of students, how many Hindu & Muslim students, subjects taught and books used.

The book is volume 3 in a series of five books titled “Dharampal. Collected Writings”. Volume 1 is “Indian Science & Technology in the 18th century”. These five books are only available at the Other India Bookstore, Above Mapusa Clinic, Mapusa 403507, Goa, India. Nos 91-832263306, 256479. 

While the bullet point summary explains in detail what the British did a brief outline is. First they criticized the local educational system for its inadequacies, then killed it by withdrawing financial support and lastly used the missionaries to thrust upon us their own system saying it was the best. It is indeed unfortunate that the educational system of today continues to by and large follow the British model. I have realized that the best way to defeat a country is to make her loose confidence in itself by criticizing everything that it stands for. Thereafter, sit back & monitor its performance against the benchmarks that you have set for the conquered. Unless we unshackle ourselves, decolonise our minds we will continue to be ruled by the British inspite of being a free country.

In October 1931 Gandhiji was invited to address the Royal Institute of International Affairs, London where he made two observations. One ‘that today India is more illiterate than it was fifty or hundred years ago’. Two that ‘the British administrators instead of looking after education and other matters which had existed began to root them out. They scratched the soil and began to look at the root, and left the root like that and the beautiful tree perished’. Sir Philip Hartog, a founder of the School of Oriental Studies, London and former vice-chancellor of the University of Dacca questioned Gandhiji and a long correspondence between them took place. In a way this book seeks to substantiate Gandhiji’s remarks with reports of surveys undertaken by the British in the early 19th century.

Whenever someone refers to education I remember the following words of Mark Twain. He said, “I do not allow my schooling to interfere with my education”. Learning is a continuous process and not limited to formal education. I have reproduced excerpts from the book, letters & tables written by the British. This article is dedicated to Mohandas K Gandhi who triggered off a debate on the negative impact of British rule on India’s indigenous educational system. I have used spellings as in the book e.g. the word Hindus was spelt as Hindoos then. Thus, you might find many spelling errors, please ignore but note difference in spellings.

No's Chapter Title Contents
1. Bullet Point Key points.
2. Introduction includes Report on Madras Presidency. Gives state of education in Britain 1700-1800, why did the British study about Indian knowledge-sciences, results of British survey on state of education app1825, compares state of education in India vs. Britain, nos of schools in Madras Presidency with caste break-up, age of enrolment, daily timings, education of girls.
3. Adam’s Report on education in Bengal, Bihar. Through 3 surveys gives you number of schools, languages used, four stages of school instruction, Sanskrit learning and provision of elementary education for all section. Extracts from Adam’s report on the state of medical practice.
4. Leitner on education in Punjab. Gives you the number of pupils in Panjab in 1850-1880, extracts from Leitner’s report that contain classification of indigenous schools, list of Sanskrit books used.
5. British Strategy, Impact. One is comparison of education in Britain & Madras Presidency, two is how were indigenous schools organized, three is British strategy to kill indigenous educational system and four impact of point three.
6. Collectors Reports, Tables Reproduced actual letters & tables written by British collectors, shows Sudras having the highest number of scholars.
7. Madras Presidency Table Reproduced table-giving number of schools with caste composition of scholars.
8. Young India articles 2 articles by Daulat Ram Gupta titled, The Decline of Mass Education in India How Indigenous education was crushed in Punjab.


Bullet Point      

Bullet points summary where I have tried to capture key points made by the author.
• In October 1931 Gandhiji was invited to address the Royal Institute of International Affairs, London where he made two observations. One ‘that today India is more illiterate than it was fifty or hundred years ago’. Two that ‘the British administrators instead of looking after education and other matters which had existed began to root them out. They scratched the soil and began to look at the root, and left the root like that and the beautiful tree perished’.
• Sir Philip Hartog, a founder of the School of Oriental Studies, London and former vice-chancellor of the University of Dacca questioned Gandhiji and a long correspondence between them took place. In a way this book seeks to substantiate Gandhiji’s remarks with reports of surveys undertaken by the British in the early 19th century.
• Today Christian missionaries and some Indian Christians (converts) keep on reminding Hindus of the pioneering role played by the Christian community in the field of education. I wondered! If it is the Christians whom we have to credit with educating us, how did numerous schools of Indian thought come into being and importantly survive for thousands of years. 
• In England at the end of the 17th century there are Charity Schools whose main purpose was that every child was to learn to read the Bible. Around 1802, the monitorial method of teaching used by Joseph Lancaster (and also by Andrew Bell, supposedly borrowed from India, Ibid pg 246, Note on Indian Education by Alexander Walker quote ‘The children were instructed without violence and by a process peculiarly simple. The system was borrowed from the Bramans and brought from India to Europe.
• Three approaches (seemingly different but in reality complementary to one another) began to operate in the British held areas of India regarding Indian knowledge, scholarship and centers of learning from about the 1770s. One they needed to provide a background of previous precedents to the new concepts being introduced by them. It was this requirement which gave birth to British Indology. Two the conquest of the American civilization led to the disappearance of all written records that existed. They did not want a repeat. Three they wanted to spread Christianity. ‘
• For England had few schools for the children of ordinary people till about 1800. In his first report, Adam observed that there exist about 1,00,000 village schools in Bengal and Bihar around the 1830s, not to talk of the rest of India. The content of studies was better than what was then studied in England. The duration of study was more prolonged. The method of school teaching was superior and it is this very method which is said to have greatly helped the introduction of popular education in England but which had prevailed in India for centuries. The only aspect, and certainly a very important one, where Indian institutional education seems to have lagged behind was with regard to the education of girls.
• It was unthinkable for the British that India could have had a proportionately larger number receiving education than those in England itself.
• The British asked its Collectors to collect district wise data on number of schools and type of education that I have reproduced excerpts below.
• The actual situation, which is revealed, was different, if not quite contrary, for at least amongst the Hindoos, in the districts of the Madras Presidency (and dramatically so in the Tamil-speaking areas) as well as the two districts of Bihar. It was the groups termed Soodras, and the castes considered below them who predominated in the thousands of the then still-existing schools in practically each of the areas.’

Madras Presidency 1822-25 (Collectors Reports)
Details of Schools & Colleges
Caste Division of Male school students

Speaking Language Brahmins, Chettris Vysee Soodra Other Caste Muslims Total Male Students
Total 30,211 13,459 75,943 22,925 10,644 1,53,182
% of total 20 9 50 15 6 100


• Adam’s 1st Report on Bengal. Survey of Post 1800 material. His conclusions, one every village had atleast    one school and in all probability in Bengal and Bihar with 1,50,748 villages, there will still be 1,00,000 villages that have these schools. Two on the basis of personal observation & evidence collected he inferred there were app 100 institutions of higher learning in each district meaning app 1,800 such institutions and 10,800 scholars in them.
• Adam said that he found a number of genuine, qualified medical practioners in Bengal who analyzed the symptoms of the disease before suggesting a cure.
• In Punjab there were 3,30,000 pupils in 1850 as compared to 1,90,000 in 1882 as per Leitner’s Report.
• Schools were classified in Sikh, Muslim, Hindu using current descriptions.
• Sanskrit books were used to teach grammar, lexicology, mathematics, medical science, logic, law and vedant.

England-Madras comparison 

  England Madras Presidency
Population 95,43,610 (1811) 1,28,50,941 (1823)
Nos attending schools App 75,000 (note below) 1,57,195 (ref chapter 2)


• About one third of the total revenue (from agriculture & sea ports) were according to ancient practice assigned for the requirements of the social & cultural infrastructure till the British overturned it all. The British increased the quantum of land revenue, made it payable twice a year at fixed timed (irrespective of weather conditions), had to be paid in cash not produce meaning the farmer had to sell his produce in the market to pay revenue exposing himself to the vagaries of market pricing. These moves towards centralization of revenue ensured that there was hardly any revenue to pay for social & cultural infrastructure resulting in its death.
• It was imperative to somehow uproot the Indian indigenous system for the relatively undisturbed maintenance and continuance of British rule. It is the same imperative which decided Macaulay, Bertinck, etc., to deliberately neglect large-scale school education-proposed by men like Adam - till a viable system of Anglicized higher education had first been established in the country.
• Consequences of Killing Indigenous Education System. One, it led to an obliteration of literacy and knowledge of such dimensions amongst the Indian people. Two, it destroyed the Indian social balance in which, traditionally, persons from all sections of society appear to have been able to receive fairly competent schooling. Three it is this destruction along with similar damage in the economic sphere, which led to great deterioration in the status and socio-economic conditions and personal dignity of those who are now known as the scheduled castes; and to only a slightly lesser extent to that of the vast peasant majority encompassed by the term ‘backward castes’. The recent movements embracing these sections to a great extent seem to be aimed at restoring this basic Indian social balance. Four & most importantly, till today it has kept most educated Indians ignorant of the society they live in, the culture which sustains this society, and their fellow beings; and more tragically, yet, for over a century it has induced a lack of confidence, and loss and bearing amongst the people of Indian in general.
• Number of Native Schools/Colleges in Madras Presidency &Number of Scholars. This table is an attachment to a report by J Dent, Secretary, Fort St George, 21/2/1825. Number of Schools 574 Colleges 0, Population 4,54,754, includes male & female. Students are male + female i.e. male 184100 balance is female.

Name of Collectorate No of Schools Madras Presidency Vysea Soodra Other Caste Muslims Total Scholars
Total 12500 42502 19669 85400 27548 13561 188680
% of total   23 10 45 15 7 100


• Sudras made up 45% of the scholars as compared to Brahmins 23%, today is probably the reverse.
• High number of Muslim scholars in Malabar 4318.
• Only 7 % of the total number of scholars were Muslims. Meaning then & today it the Muslims continue to pay less attention to education. Be it England or India does not matter.
• 12500 schools & colleges. The British first killed these institutions, then brought in Anglicized education into India through the missionaries.

Chapter :

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[5] Comment(s) Posted
  1. Comment By - Dr Satya Pal Bindra Date - 02 Oct 2014 Time - 4:43PM
  2. Real Education purpose is to help us light our own lamp to see the truth within us.

  3. Comment By - balayogi venkataraman Date - 13 Aug 2011 Time - 6:41AM
  4. the only way the west can survive further calamities through recession and riots is for the sane elements within USA and UK to ensure stop funding the church and missionaries who are just wasting the hard money of the citizens in third world countries which do not require them or let the governments of USA and UK who sponsored the modern versions of secularism stop the churches and missionaries from transferring funds which do not serve any purpose other than increasing the wealth of some priests in Asia and Africa and also forcing unwilling conversions.In what way converting people to Christianity help Christianity.If this madness is not stopped then nature herself will reduce the number of Christians and Churches through Egypt,Middle EAST ,Pakistan etc

  5. Comment By - ashwani kumar parmar Date - 30 Jul 2011 Time - 11:19PM
  6. you are doing a great job

  7. Comment By - Anil Kumar Jha Date - 31 Jan 2011 Time - 7:50PM
  8. Fantastic!


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