Indians across various walks of life bemoan the loss of traditional knowledge and skills – whether it is arts, crafts or the traditional professions. A big obstacle is the difficulty for younger children to be exposed to these traditional skills at an early age as part of their education itself. There are so many of these skills across India – patachitra, shilpa shastra, Kuchipudi, ghoomar – innumerable to be listed here, which are dying out simply because children are unable to learn these young.
An important constraint is that children have to learn these skills from practitioners, which takes time away from regular 5+3+2+2 education, thereby putting these students at a disadvantage in later life.
One stream of learning which has been continued unbroken through the 70 odd years of independent India is Vedic learning in pathashalas. Let us look at the experience of these pathashalas and possible suggestions to solve them.
Veda Pathashalas are integrated environments that include boarding, lodging, cooking arrangements, teachers and a goshala with cows to supply essential needs of a Vaidika lifestyle.
At present, the Maharishi Sandipani Rashtriya Ved Vidya Pratishthan, Ujjain, operating as an independent body under the Ministry of HRD, has a budget to pay stipends to teachers and students, conduct seminars and symposia and conduct examinations and give certificates of Veda Bhushan and Veda Vibhushan for students at 10th std & 12th std level.
However, donations to Veda Patasalas and Goshalas are not eligible for tax rebates under 80(G). Neither is any corporate donation to such institutions eligible to be characterized as Corporate Social Responsibility according to Schedule VII of the Companies Act, 2013.
Making these two sources of funding available, by simple clarifications in the form of GOs, will make it easier for Veda Pathashalas to raise funds without having to rely on public funding. Rs 18,000 crore + funds are available for CSR each year, on average. A small fraction – Rs 72 crores annually – is sufficient to put 12,000 students through a high quality residential education in a Veda Pathashala system.
Currently, the MSRVVP provides a certificate of Veda Bhushan, equivalent to X Standard and Veda Vibhushan, equivalent to XII Standard, which can be used to obtain admission to college.
However, the only courses that are available relate either to Veda, Vedanga or Sanskrit studies. This restricts career options. Students who wish to opt for other careers have to additionally prepare for the NIOS secondary and senior secondary certificates on their own.
There is a proposal for a Bharatiya Shikshan Board, which has been in the works for several years now.
A solution would be to make two Boards available
- A Board functioning directly under Ministry of HRD, which will teach Maths, Science, Social Sciences, Languages primarily and allow students to choose Vedic Studies, Pauranika Studies, Yoga, Ayurveda, Music, Dance, Crafts and other traditional Indian knowledge studies as a curricular option. For example, a student can take Maths, Science, Social Science, English and Yoga instead of a second language. Another student would finish school with Maths, Science, Social Science, Telugu and Kuchipudi as subjects.
- A Board functioning under MSRVVP that would include Maths, Science and reduced course loads in English and Social Science. This will help students finishing Veda Bhushan and Veda Vibhushan have a wider choice of options when studying in college. Degrees and careers in Science, Economics, Commerce then become possible for these students.
Formal Board creation and offering Board affiliation for larger Veda Pathashalas would help in making the Veda Bhushan certificate as valid as a X Standard School Leaving Certificate. Without this validity for official purposes, it is difficult to have the Aadhar metrics updated at the 15th year of age for these students and they exist as persona non grata in our society.
Balancing Needs of a Modern Society against demands of Vedic Learning
In order to function in today’s world, all students need to know basic mathematics, science and social sciences. A Secondary School level proficiency is all that is required. So, it is essential that all students completing their studies from Veda Patahshalas are equipped with this level of proficiency.
However, the NIOS examinations are conducted as per expectations for students studying in a regular school for 10 years.
A full Vedic education for a student from the 7th year to the 18th year to train them as a Krishna Yajur Veda Ghanapathi involves at least 10 full years of preparation, with not more than 20 days of breaks per year. Each day of learning starts at 4:30 AM and goes on until 9 PM. Breaks are usually given only for basic ablutions, food and the three fold prayers or sandhyavandanam. Children do not have more than 1 hour of rest and recreation on an average day.
Examinations at each stage are conducted on the full corpus of the specific branch of Vedas that the student is specializing in, which the student is expected to have committed to memory in its entirety. Combining both systems without coordination places a load on students that many baulk at. It is due to this reason that many students of Veda Pathashalas completely avoid these subjects, setting them up for difficulties in navigating a life in modern society later in life.
If the responsibility of testing and certifying X Std level proficiency is given to MSVRRP, they might conduct examinations at a higher frequency and at an appropriate level. Also, giving these as an option will help traditional Patahshalas to get affiliated with regular schools and teachers to make the learning process smoother.
Even after all of these reforms, the learning load for a Vedic student will be higher than regular school-going children, but that can be one of the aspects that parents and students accept.
There is only one office for the MSRVVP in Ujjain. The sole website is in English and Hindi alone. Meetings of the Board are held in Ujjain or in Delhi.
We would suggest that branches for the MSRVVP be set up in cultural capitals across the country in Pune, Kanchipuram, Ayodhya and in Kolkata. This will help in creating regional databases of institutions, conduct operations in different Indian languages and be accessible to people in each region.
These reforms and suggestions have been made after deliberation by experts in Vedic education and parents of Veda Pathashala students.
These reforms, if applied to Veda Pathashalas, can be successfully replicated to many traditional subjects – Agama Schools, Shilpa, Natya, Sangita and traditional crafts.
Note: The above article was co-authored with Prof Venugopalan, Sanskrit Scholar, Vedic Pundit, Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Viswa Mahavidyalaya University (SCSVMV), Member, Projects Committee, Governing Council & General Body, Maharishi Sandipani Rashtriya Ved Vidya Pratishthan.