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Man and animal are basically not very different. Both have the basic instincts of eating when hungry, sleeping, fear and copulation. This is the reason why thinkers and scholars say that there is one basic difference between them: knowledge and learning, both of which have also been given the status of ‘Duty’ or ‘Dharma’.

The Sanskrit saying describing the above goes like this: eating, sleeping, fear and sexual desires are common in a man as well as in an animal. ‘Duty’ is the difference between the two. One who is without ‘Duty’ (Dharma) is similar to an animal.

Both knowledge and learning depend on the natural talent and intelligence of a man, but for acquiring both, having a ‘Guru’ or a mentor is absolutely necessary, and this fact has been accepted right from the Vedic period. The Vedas, in their initial form, praise various deities, accept Indra, Agni (the God of Fire) etc. as mentors, and invoke them, "O Indra! There is no other great scholar like you. You are the one who makes the darkness (of ignorance) vanish from our hearts." In the Atharva Ved, a mentor is deemed to be equivalent to a mother, who bears the fetus (the pupil) for three nights at the time of the ceremony of investiture of the sacred thread for the pupil.

The mentor is also accorded the status of a parent, notably in the scriptures Apastambasutra, Vishnusutra, Ganamatsutra, etc.

The Veds are also taught in the form of Shruti, meaning that they are to be learnt by listening. In the beginning of the Vedic period, all the Vedic literature was learnt by listening to the mentor’s teaching, which is why it was known as ‘Shruti’.

The systems of ‘Varna’ and ‘Ashram’ are the most ancient systems of this nation, and this fact has been referred to repeatedly in all the Sanskrit literature. In the system of ‘Ashram’, the pupil used to stay in the Ashram of the mentor, and complete his education. This system had become fully established during the ‘Upanishad’ period. In a way, the Brahmacharyashram (the state of bachelorhood) was a period for learning, during which the pupil used to stay at the Ashram of the mentor, and during this time, the relationship between the mentor and the pupil was almost the same like father and son.

The teaching profession of those times was not a source of income for the mentor, and so, the mentor taught his pupil with love and caring. Similarly, the purpose of learning was not limited to earn his living for the pupil. So, the mentor used to teach the pupil to always speak truthfully, behave according to the teachings of the religion, give proper respect to the parents and treat them as if they were God, and only follow whatever good he might have found in his (the mentor’s) behavior.

This tradition of learning through the mentor-pupil relationship finds references even in the ancient Indian epics of Ramayan and Mahabharat. Ram, together with his brothers, acquires Vedic knowledge from his Guru Vashishtha, and later obtains the knowledge of weapons from Maharshi Vishwamitra. Maharshi Valmiki writes that Ram got his knowledge after being duly purified.

Similarly, in Mahabharat, we find reference that all the Kauravas and Pandavas learnt the art of war, the knowledge of arms etc. from Guru Dronacharya and Kripacharya. Guru Dronacharya had requested Maharshi Parshuram to be his mentor and oblige him by teaching him the knowledge of weapons.

The importance of Manu Smriti is indisputable among the creators of ‘Smriti’. While describing the importance of the mentor, Maharshi Manu says that both, the one who gives birth, as well as the one who gives knowledge must be deemed to be the fathers of the pupil. He writes for the pupil that he gets knowledge effortlessly as he keeps serving the mentor, just as one gets water while digging in the earth.

Kalidas, the great poet, has described the Ashram of Vashishtha which was in the Himalayas. The pupils of this Ashram used to plant trees and tend to them. Similarly, the famous Sanskrit writer Ban, while describing the Ashram of Maharshi Jabali in his ‘Kadambari’, writes that the Maharshi is the most brilliant among the luminaries, he is the ocean of solace, the submerged volcano which dries the sea (of ignorance), and the revered mentor for learning all types of knowledge.

Ban himself had stayed with his mentor until 14 years of age and obtained knowledge and education. Later, he kept traveling to various ‘Gurukuls’. While describing these ‘Gurukuls’, he writes that there was always clear illumination of knowledge in these ‘Gurukuls’.

The noted Sanskrit prose writer Pandit Ambika Prasad Vyas has also made reference to Ashrams, where the mentor and pupils used to live together and carry on the activities of teaching and learning, and there were the same bonds of love, affection and respect between them, as exist between father and son. It is worth mentioning here that the tradition of mentor-pupil in this nation is very old, and has been amply described in the Sanskrit literature. This tradition has been the main reason behind the fact that the best knowledge in this land has been so humane. Even today, if it is desired that the lacunae and absurdities in the field of education should be removed, it may be advisable to adopt this tradition once again.


Tag Names : Puran,Ved
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