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Part I: The 14 Vidyas & 64 Kalas of Ancient India

I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time! Like most Indians, I had been introduced to the concept of the 14 Vidyas and 64 Kalas, but did not know much else till I started researching earlier this year.

Like in the other great civilizations of the world, knowledge played an important role in ancient Indian civilization. Between the Vidyas (fields of education) and the Kalas (communication, performing arts, domestic sciences), it is amazing to think that such a comprehensive system of education existed as far back as 1500 B.C. While education was primarily based around religious texts, its remit covered politics, economics, medicine, astronomy, language and linguistics, and the arts.

The 14 Vidyas constituted of a study of the 4 religious texts (the Vedas), 4 supporting texts (shown in blue font to differentiate), and the 6 Vedangas, or 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 (study of politics, military strategy, foreign policy, and governance)
  6. Dhanur Veda (treatise of archery, and, by extension, other military techniques)
  7. Gandharva Veda (study of 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, personal, rituals that can be performed by the individual at home)

The Vidyas constituted of the basic education system in ancient India. Think of the Vidyas as the equivalent of the modern day high school curriculum. In this, the 14 Vidyas were similar to the 6 Arts of the Zhou Dynasty of ancient China. After reaching basic awareness, students could go ahead to specialize in one or more Vidyas.

Under the Gurukul (The Creed of the Teacher) system, education in ancient India was free for all. Wealthy families were expected to pay for their wards. 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. 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 talk about the 64 Kalas, a mish-mash of the art of communication, the performing arts, and the domestic sciences.

Categories: Read It Elsewhere Theories

Swati Sengupta

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