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

RECAP: The Vidyas and Kalas comprised of the education system in ancient India (1500- 600 B.C). In my previous post, I wrote about the 14 Vidyas (knowledge domain), so this post is about the 64 Kalas (skills domain).

The 64 Kalas have always fascinated me because of the following reasons:

  • While the Vidyas form an epistemological foundation of learning, the Kalas comprise of more practical trades and skills. It is a wise system of education that puts the trades on equal footing with traditional academics.
  • The Kalas are considered to be gender neutral skills- they are equally useful for both men and women. Indeed, the male God Ganesha is considered to be a practitioner of all 64 Kalas, including the skill of applying makeup and of interior decoration, ie, skills traditionally attributed to women even to this day.
  • The Kalas are considered necessary in the making of a well-rounded individual. Thus, the ancient Indian education system goes well beyond defining only a theoretical learning experience- learning must be practiced, applied, enjoyed, and situated in society.
  • The Kalas and Vidyas complement each other, for example: the Vidya of the Arthashastra (politics, military strategy, foreign policy, and governance) is complemented by Kalas such as statesmanship and the power of observation, and Kalas such as playing musical instruments and decorating the body are informed by the theories in the Gandharva Veda (performing arts).
  • Most of the Kalas are relevant even today, with some being extremely topical: mixing drinks, slam poetry, etc.

So here- finally- is a selection of the 64 Kalas. To manage the list, I have grouped similar Kalas together and omitted others which are very similar to the list items here. I still need to learn most of these Kalas myself! There are some Kalas I have perfected, though: recitation, writing, and… fashion!!

1. Kalas related to General Education

  • Languages, dialects, and vocabularies
  • Figures of speech, including metaphors and puns
  • Reading
  • Recitation
  • Literary criticism
  • Writing, including ghost-writing

2. Fine Arts

  • Sketching, Painting
  • Decorating the home with flowers
  • Pottery
  • Crafts from paper and other material

3. Trades

  • Gardening, Agriculture
  • Preparation of perfumes
  • Carpentry, Furniture making
  • Knowledge of machinery
  • Architecture
  • Knowledge of metals/ metalwork
  • Knowledge of gems and jewels
  • Writing & deciphering codes (Cryptography?)

4. Music & Dancing

  • Singing
  • Playing musical instruments
  • Acting
  • Dancing
  • Slam poetry, Jamming!

5. Domestic Science

  • Art of cooking
  • Mixing drinks!
  • Sewing and needle work
  • Making the perfect bed!

6. Physical & Mental Exercise

  • Physical exercise
  • Games & Sports, including water sports
  • Indoor games like chess
  • Games of chance, like dice
  • Mathematical & other types of puzzles
  • Statesmanship

7. Fashion & Makeup

  • Fashion: clothing, shoes, jewelry
  • Hairdressing
  • Applying makeup, using beauty products, body painting, coloring nails and hair, drawing decorative symbols on forehead
  • Using flowers to decorate the body

8. Art of Entertaining

  • Manners and etiquette
  • Magic tricks
  • Mimicry and imitation
  • Art of disguise
  • Power of observation (to sum up a person)
  • The power of attracting others (including how to flirt)

9. Training Animals

  • Training birds to talk
  • Training animals

Think about it: Which Kala(s) are your favorite?

4 responses to “Part II: The 14 Vidyas & 64 Kalas of Ancient India”

  1. Arindam Basu Avatar
    Arindam Basu

    Thanks for such an insightful article.


    1. Swati Sengupta Avatar
      Swati Sengupta

      Thanks Arindam!


  2. Welcome, Dear Reader! – Workplace Karma Avatar

    […] 42.  Part II: The 14 Vidyas & 64 Kalas of Ancient India […]


  3. Part I: The 14 Vidyas & 64 Kalas of Ancient India – Workplace Karma Avatar

    […] my next post, I will talk about the 64 Kalas, a mish-mash of the art of communication, the performing arts, and […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: