I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time! Though I was introduced to the concept of the 14 Vidyas and 64 Kalas at school, I didn’t really know much about them until I started researching earlier this year.

Like in the other great civilizations of the world, knowledge and learning played an important role in ancient Indian civilization. Based on the Vidyas (knowledge) and the Kalas (skills), a comprehensive education system existed as far back as 1500 B.C. While education was primarily based on religious texts, its remit covered politics, economics, medicine, astronomy, linguistics, and the arts.

The 14 Vidyas (knowledge domain) consisted of a study of the 4 religious texts (the Vedas), the 4 supporting texts (shown in blue below to differentiate), and the 6 Vedangas (supplements to the Vedas):

  1. Rig Veda (hymns for the Gods)
  2. Sama Veda (melodies & chants for the hearth & home)
  3. Yajur Veda (litanies)
  4. Atharva Veda (magic/ witchcraft/ folk healing)
  5. Arthashastra (politics, military strategy, foreign policy, and governance)
  6. Dhanur Veda (archery, and, by extension, other military techniques)
  7. Gandharva Veda (performing arts)
  8. Ayur Veda (medicine)
  9. Shiksha (phonetics)
  10. Vyakarana (grammar)
  11. Nirukta (etymology)
  12. Chhandas (poetic metre)
  13. Jyotishya (astronomy)
  14. Kalpa (daily rituals to be performed by the individual at home)

The Vidyas formed the foundational education system in ancient India- think of them as the equivalent of present day high school through undergrad education. In this, the 14 Vidyas were similar to the 6 Arts of the Zhou Dynasty of ancient China. After completing this foundation, students could go on to specialize in one or more Vidyas.

Under the Gurukul system (Gurukul: ‘under the care of the teacher’), education in ancient India was free for all. Though the majority of students came from high caste families (who were also usually the richest families), talented students from poor families were welcomed into the schools as well. Wealthy families were expected to pay for their wards as also sponsor poorer students. In this, the Gurukul system was similar to the ancient Roman education system that rewarded ‘ingenium’, the gift for learning. 

In my next post, I will write about the 64 Kalas, the skills domain of the ancient Indian education system.