How India slipped from being the world’s educational hub into the pit of illiteracy?! Part I

Nalanda University, another famous university also had students coming to study from far off countries.  The university conducted an entrance exam which was very tough to clear.  Only 20% of the students who appeared for the entrance exam were able to clear it. There were also a bunch of schools which helped students in getting into Nalanda.  The university had around 8500 students and 1500 teachers.  The students of Nalanda were respected and looked up to. This made some of them make fake claims that they were also from Nalanda. By the 7th century there were four other universities in Bihar.

All these universities were largely inspired by Nalanda and worked in collaboration.  However, one among these, Vikramshila emerged as a strong competitor to Nalanda by the 10th century.  A wide range of subjects were taught in Naland; spiritual, philosophical, practical, sciences and arts. Nalanda mainly flourished under the Gupta Empire.

Debating also constituted a vital part of the democratic culture. Logic and debate were significant for India’s philosophical tradition. References to Tarka-Vidya,  the science and art of logic and debate and Vada-Vidya,  the art of discussion can be found in numerical texts such as Ramayana,  Mahabharata,  SkandaPurana,  Yajnavalkya,  Samhita and Chandogya Upanishad.  Nalanda had 3 huge buildings for preserving and acquiring books. The well equipped libraries had 3 buildings namely Ratnasagara, Ratnadadhi and Ratnaranjaka.  Ratnasagara was a nine – storeyed building which stored rare sacred books such as PrajnaParamita Sutra. We were much ahead of the world in terms of education.

Valabhi University was another competitor of the Nalanda University. Valabhi University was situated in Gujarat. Students from all over the country wanted to study in Valabhi.  Some of these students got high government positions after graduating. Vikramshila University was founded in the 8th century by King Dharampala.  The university was a rival to Nalanda, but later collaborated with it.

Ujjaini University was another famous university.  It was very vellum known for its contribution to astronomy and mathematics. The university was equipped with an elaborate observatory and stood on the zero meridian of longitude of those times. If the imperialistic Europe had not assumed control of the scientific discourse of the world, perhaps Ujjain not Greenwich would have been today’s prime meridian.  Brahmagupta was among the most celebrated astronomers of Ujjaini University. He worked on trigonometrical formulae, quadratic equation, arithmetic progression and improved Aryabhata’s sine tables.

In his treatise Brahmasphuta siddhanta, he was the first to treat zero as a number in its own right. He established basic mathematical rules for dealing with zero such as 1+0=1; 1-0=1; and 1×0=0.

Brahmagupta’s works reached the cost of Khalifa – l – Man sur in Bath dad and plated a very important role in making the Arabs conversant with Indian astronomy and Mathematics.  Later this knowledge was transmitted to various parts of Europe.  The tradition of Brahmagupta was continued by Bhaskaracharya, who became the head of astronomical observatory at Ujjaini. He wrote the famous book Lilavati.

Bhaskaracharya had reached an understanding of the number systems and solving equations which could not be achieved in Europe for several centuries. He was the first mathematician to write a work with full and systematic use of the decimal number system. Bhaskaracharya is also considered as the founder of differential calculus and is said to have applied it centuries before Newton and Leibniz.  He too had a profound impact on Islamic mathematicians just like his guru.

Education should impart practical knowledge and it is more to do with observation and learning.  Take pride in the fact that we dominated the education system around the world when there was no internet.  It was all about empirical science and the long list of scholars with unmatched wisdom.

To be continued….

Alok Shetty

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