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‘The Beautiful Tree-Indigenous Indian Education in the Eighteenth Century’ by Dharampal – Chapter V

In this series of articles, we are introducing the book ‘The Beautiful tree’ by Shri Dharampal, to readers old and new. Shri Dharampal was one of the leading intellectuals & writers of Independent Bharat, whose work was subsequently marginalised & suppressed by the left-leaning academic establishment. We are grateful to for making this treasure trove of books/articles available for the common public.

Chapter V

The undertaking of the survey was welcomed by London in May 1825, when it wrote to Madras: We think great credit is due to Sir Thomas Munro for having originated the idea of this enquiry.

However, after receipt of the survey information and papers, the reply Madras received ridiculed and altogether dismissed what had been reported to be functioning. In the public despatch of 16 April 1828, Madras was told that the information sent, while lacking in certain respects, was yet sufficiently complete to show, that in providing the means of a better education for the natives, little aid is to be expected from the instruments of education which already exist.

Adam’s report on indigenous education in Bengal and Bihar

Thirteen years after the initiation of the survey in the Madras Presidency, a more limited semi-official survey of indigenous education was taken up in the Presidency of Bengal. This was what is known as the celebrated Adam’s Reports, or to give the full title Reports on the State of Education in Bengal 1836 and 1838.58

It consists of three reports: the first, dated 1st July 1836, being a survey of the available existing information regarding indigenous education and its nature and facilities in the various districts of Bengal (pp.1-126); the second, dated 23 December 1835, being a survey of the prevalent situation undertaken by W. Adam in the Thana of Nattore in the district of Rajshahy (pp.127-208, pp.528-578); and the third, dated 28 April 1838, being a survey of the situation in parts of Murshedabad, and the whole of the districts of Beerbhoom, Burdwan, South Behar, and Tirhoot, ending with Adam’s reflections, recommendations, and conclusions (pp.209-467).

Adam’s phraseology and presentation

In spite of the controversies which Adam’s Reports have given rise to the most notable one being his mention of there being perhaps 1,00,000 village schools still existing in Bengal and Bihar in some form till the 1830s the total impression produced by them is one of extensive decay of these institutions.

Largely due to Adams’s evangelical, moralistic tone, reading them is a rather depressing business. Adam himself was no great admirer of the Bharatiya teacher, or the nature and content of Bharatiya education. However, as Adam started from the view that the British Government of the day should interest itself in the sphere of elementary and higher Bharatiya education and also support it financially, he seemed to have thought it necessary to use all possible arguments and imagery to bring home this point.

Under the circumstances, it was necessary for him to dramatize the decay as well as the relative state of ignorance of the teachers, as well as the lack of books, buildings, etc., in order to evoke the desired sympathetic response. Furthermore, it is important to note that W. Adam initially had come to Bengal in 1818 as a Baptist Missionary.

Though he left missionary activity after some years, and took to journalism instead, he remained a product of his contemporary British times, a period dominated by two principal currents of opinion: one which saw the necessity of evangelizing Bharat , advocated by men like William Wilberforce; the other, its westernization, symbolized by men like T.B. Macaulay and William Bentinck. As indicated earlier, both ideas were encompassed in the Charter Act of 1813. Additionally, the reports of Adam, although not formal official documents, were nonetheless sanctioned and financed by the orders of the Governor-General himself.

Naturally, therefore, while they may imply many things as do some of the reports of the Madras Presidency collectors they were nevertheless phrased in such a way as not to lay the blame directly on past government policy and action.

Varied and valuable sociological data

The more important point which comes through Adam’s voluminous writing, however, was his remarkable industry and the detail and variety of data which he was able to collect: first, from the post-1800 existing sources; and second, through his own investigations.

While the controversy about his 1,00,000 village schools in Bengal and Bihar is finally forgotten, the material which he provided (regarding the caste composition of the pupils taught as well as the teachers, their average ages at various periods, and the books which were then in use in the districts he surveyed) will still have great relevance.

Selections reproduced

Some selections from Adam’s material are reproduced in the present work (Annexure D). These include: (i) descriptions of elementary education taken from the first and second reports; (ii) description of higher learning, from the first report, (iii) a section on Medical education taken from the second report, based on investigations in Nattore, Rajshahy; and (iv), some tabulations of the basic data for the five surveyed districts contained in the third report. This latter tabulation is given under the following heads:

  1. Elementary Schools and caste-wise division of students
  2. Elementary Schools and caste-wise division of teachers
  3. Books used in Elementary Schools
  4. Details of institutions of Sanskritic Learning
  5. Books used in Sanskritic Studies
  6. Details of institutions of Persian and Arabic Learning
  7. Books used in Persian and Arabic Studies
  8. Subject and district wise duration of Study

The first report: A survey of post-1800 material

Adam’s first report is a general statement of the situation and a presentation of the data which he could derive from post-1800 official and other sources. His conclusions: first, every village had at least one school and in all probability in Bengal and Bihar with 1,50,748 villages, there will still be 1,00,000 villages that have these schools.59 Second, on the basis of personal observation and what he had learned from other evidence, he inferred that on average there were around 100 institutions of higher learning in each district of Bengal.

Consequently, he concluded that the 18 districts of Bengal had about 1,800 such institutions. Computing the number studying in these latter at the lowest figure of six scholars in each, he also computed that some 10,800 scholars should be studying in them. He further observed that while the elementary schools are generally held in the homes of some of the most respectable native inhabitants or very near them, the institutions of higher learning had buildings generally of clay with sometimes three or five rooms and in others nine or eleven rooms, with a reading-room which is also of clay.

These latter places were also used for the residence of the scholars, and the scholars were usually fed and clothed by the teachers, and where required, were assisted by the local people. After describing the method of teaching in both types of institutions and going into their daily routine, Adam then presented and examined the post-1800 data on the subject, district by district. Table 10 gives an abstract of this examination.

The second report: Survey of Nattore Thana

The second report was wholly devoted to Adam’s study of the situation in the Thana of Nattore in the district of Rajshahy. It was like a modern pilot survey in which Adam developed his methods and fashioned his tools for the more extensive survey which was his primary aim.

The results of this Nattore survey of 485 villages were tabulated, village by village, by Adam. Further details were provided for some of them in another tabulation. The population of this Thana was 1,20,928; the number of families 30,028 (in the proportion of one Hindoo to two Muslims); the number of elementary schools 27, and of schools of learning 38 (all these latter being Hindoo). In 1,588 families (80% of these being Hindoo), children occasionally received instruction at home.

The number of scholars in elementary schools was 262, and education in them was between the ages of 8-14; while the scholars in schools of learning were 397, 136 of these being local persons and 261 from distant places, the latter also receiving both food and lodging.

The average period of study in these latter institutions was 16 years, from about the age of 11 to the age of 27. However, while the number in elementary schools was so low, these 485 villages nonetheless had 123 native general medical practitioners, 205 village doctors, 21 mostly Brahmin smallpox inoculators practicing according to the old Bharatiya method,60 297 women-midwives, and 722 snake conjurors.


The third report: Survey of five districts

The third report of Adam has the most data. In this report, Adam gives the findings of his surveys in part of the district of Murshedabad (20 thanas with a population of 1,24,804 out of 37 thanas with a total district population of 9,69,447), and the whole of the districts of Beerbhoom and Burdwan in Bengal, and of South Behar and Tirhoot in Bihar.

In one thana of each district, Adam carried out the inquiries personally and also gathered additional information. In the rest, it was done for him according to his instructions and proformas by his trained Bharatiya assistants. Earlier, Adam’s intention was to visit every village in person; but he found that the sudden appearance of a European in a village often inspired terror, which it was always difficult, and sometimes impossible, to subdue.(p.214) He, therefore, gave up this idea of a personal visit to every village; in part to save time.

Language-wise division

The total number of schools of all types in the selected districts numbered 2,566. These schools were divided into Bengali (1,098), Hindi (375), Sanskrit (353), Persian (694), Arabic (31), English (8), Girls (6), and infants (1). The number of schools in the district of Midnapore was also given: 548 Bengali schools, 182 Oriya schools, 48 Persian schools, and one English school. Table 11 gives the position, district-wise:

Four stages of school instruction

Adam divided the period spent in elementary schools into four stages. According to him these were: the first stage, seldom exceeding ten days, during which the young scholar was taught to form the letters of the alphabet on the ground with a small stick or slip of bamboo, or on a sandboard.

The second stage, extending from two and a half to four years, was distinguished by the use of the palm leaf as the material on which writing is performed, and the scholar was taught to write and read, and commit to memory the Cowrie Table, the Numeration Table as far as 100, the Katha Table (a land measure Table), and the Ser Table, etc. The third stage extended from two to three years, which are employed in writing on the plantain-leaf. Addition, subtraction, and other arithmetical rules were additionally taught during this period.

In the fourth, and last stage, of up to two years, the writing was done on paper. The scholar was expected to be able to read the Ramayana, Mansa Mangal, etc., at home, as well as be qualified in accounts, and the writing of letters, petitions, etc. Table 12 indicates the numbers, using the various materials on which writing was done in the surveyed areas.

Elementary education for all sections

The first striking point from this broader survey is the wide social strata to which both the taught and the teachers in the elementary schools belonged. It is true that the greater proportion of the teachers came from the Kayasthas, Brahmins, Sadgop, and Aguri castes.

Yet, quite a number came from 30 other caste groups also, and even the Chandals had 6 teachers. The elementary school students present an even greater variety, and it seems as if every caste group is represented in the student population, the Brahmins and the Kayasthas nowhere forming more than 40% of the total. In the two Bihar districts, together they formed no more than 15 to 16%.

The more surprising figure is of 61 Dom, and 61 Chandal school students in the district of Burdwan, nearly equal to the number of Vaidya students, 126, in that district. While Burdwan had 13 missionary schools, the number of Dom and Chandal scholars in them was only four; and, as Adam mentioned, only 86 of the scholars belonging to 16 of the lowest castes were in these missionary schools, while 674 scholars from them were in the native schools.

Teaching of accounts

Regarding the content of elementary teaching, Adam mentioned various books which were used in teaching. These varied considerably from district to district, but all schools in the surveyed districts, except perhaps the 14 Christian schools, taught accounts. Also, most of them taught both commercial and agricultural accounts. Table 13 gives a district-wise statement:

The age of admission in elementary schools varied from 5 to 8 years, and, that of leaving school from 13 years to 16.5 years.

Institutions of Sanskritic learning

The schools of Sanskritic learning in the surveyed districts (in all 353) numbered as high as 190 in Burdwan (1,358 scholars) and as low as 27 in South Behar (437 scholars). The teachers (355 in all) were predominantly Brahmins, only 5 being from the Vaidya caste.

The subjects predominantly taught were Grammar (1,424 students), Logic (378 students), Law (336 students) and Literature (120 students). Others, in order of numbers studying them, were Mythology (82 students), Astrology (78 students), Lexicology (48 students), Rhetoric (19 students), Medicine (18 students), Vedanta (13 students), Tantra (14 students), Mimansa (2 students), and Sankhya (1 student). The duration of the study and the ages when it was started and completed varied a great deal from subject to subject, and also from district to district. The study of Grammar started at the earliest age (9 to 12 years) and of Law, Mythology, Tantras, etc. after the age of 20. The period of study ordinarily lasted from about 7 to 15 years.

Institutions teaching Persian and Arabic

Those studying Persian (which Adam treated more as a school subject than as a matter of higher learning) numbered 3,479, the largest, 1,424, being in South Behar. The age of admission in them ranged from 6.8 years to 10.3 years, and the study seemed to have continued for some 11 to 15 years. Over half of those studying Persian were Hindoos, the Kayasthas being predominant.61

Arabic was being studied by 175 scholars, predominantly Muslims; but 14 Kayasthas, 2 Aguris, 1 Teli, and 1 Brahmin were also students of Arabic. The books used in Persian learning were numerous and an appreciable number for the study of Arabic. Finally, as far as age was concerned, the teachers in all types of institutions were largely in their thirties.

(Note: Minor edits have been made to the content to conform with HinduPost styleguide)

(Click here to read the previous article in the series)


Book: The Beautiful Tree

Author: Dharamapal

Originally published: 1983

Published by: Voice of India

Available on: Amazon, PDF

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