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

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 VoiceOfDharma.org for making this treasure trove of books/articles available for the common public.

Chapter IV

The available papers connected with this survey include the instructions of the Government, the circular from the Board of Revenue to the district collectors conveying the instructions and the prescribed form according to which information had to be compiled, the replies of the collectors from all the 21 districts of the Presidency, the proceedings of the Board of Revenue on the information received while submitting it to Government, and the Madras Government’s proceedings on it.

These are all reproduced as Annexure A (i)-(xxx). It would have been useful for a more thorough analysis, and for a better understanding of the situation if the details from which the collectors compiled their reports could be found. A reference to the records of a few districts, preserved in the Tamilnadu State Archives does not, however, indicate any additional material having survived in them.

If any Taluka records still exist for this period it is quite possible they may contain more detailed data about particular villages, towns, colleges, and schools.

In addition to the instructions conveyed in the Minute of the Governor-in-Council, and the text of the letter from Government to the Board of Revenue (both of which were sent to the collectors), the prescribed form required from them details of the number of schools and colleges in the districts, and the number of male and female scholars in them. The number of scholars, male as well as female were further to be provided under the following categories: (i) Brahmin scholars, (ii) Vysee scholars, (iii) Soodra scholars, (iv) scholars of all other castes, and (v) Mussalman scholars. The numbers under (i) to (iv) were to be totaled separately.

To these were added those under (v), thus arriving at the total number of Hindoo and Mussalman scholars, in the district, or some part of it. The category of all other castes, as mentioned earlier, evidently seems to have implied all such castes considered somewhat below the Sat-Soodra category. This included most such groupings which today are listed among the scheduled castes.

It may be noted from the documents that while a reply was received from the collector of Canara, he did not send any data about the number of schools, and colleges, or any estimation of the number of those who may have been receiving instruction in the district, through what he termed private education. Apart from the statement that there are no colleges in Canara, etc., he was of the view that teaching in Canara could not be termed public education; as it was organized on a somewhat discontinuous basis by a number of parents in an area by getting together and engaging the services of a teacher(s) for the purpose of teaching their children.

The major difficulty for the collector, however, seemed to be that the preparation of the necessary information would take up a considerable time; and, that even if it were collected, no just criterion of the actual extent of schools as exist in this zillah could be formed upon it.

He hoped, therefore, that his letter itself would be considered as a satisfactory reply. It may be added here that Canara (from about 1800 onwards, and till at least the 1850s), even more than the northern areas of coastal Andhra, was the scene of continual opposition and peasant resistance to British rule.

Besides, it also generally happened that whenever any such data was ordered to be collected (and this happened quite often) on one topic or another, the quality and extent of the information supplied by the collectors varied a great deal. To some extent, such differences in these returns arose from the varying relevance of an inquiry from district to district. A more important reason, perhaps, was the fact that because of the frequent change of collectors and their European assistants, many of them (at the time such information was required) was not very familiar with the district under their charge.

Furthermore, quite a number were for various reasons, too involved in other more pressing activities, or, mentally much less equipped to meet such continual demands for information.

The information from the districts, therefore, varies a great deal in detail as well as quality. While the data from about half the districts were organized taluka-wise, and in some even pargana-wise, from the other half it was received for the district as a whole. Three districts Vizagapatam, Masulipatam, and Tanjore added one further category to the prescribed form provided by Government, viz. the category of Chettris or Rajah scholars between the columns for Brahmin and Vysee scholars. Further, while some of the collectors, especially Bellary, Cuddapah, Guntur, and Rajahmundry, sent fairly detailed textual replies, some others like Tinnevelly, Vizagapatam, and Tanjore left it to the data to tell the story.

A few of the collectors also mentioned the books used in the schools and institutions of higher learning in their districts. The collector of Rajahmundry, being the most detailed, provided a list of 43 books used in Telugu schools. He also identified some of those used in the schools of higher learning, as well as in the schools teaching Persian and Arabic.

Total schools, colleges and scholars

Table 1 gives the total number of schools and institutions of higher learning, along with the number of students in them in their districts. The data is taken from the reports of the collectors.

Incidentally, the collectors of Ganjam and Vizagapatam indicated that the data they were sending was somewhat incomplete. This might also have been true of some of the other districts which were wholly or partly under Zamindary tenure.

Two of the collectors also sent detailed information pertaining to those who were being educated at home, or in some other private manner. The collector of Malabar sent details of 1,594 scholars who were receiving education in Theology, Law, Astronomy, Metaphysics, Ethics, and Medical Science in his district from private tutors.

The collector of Madras, on the other hand, reported in his letter of February 1826 that 26,963 school-level scholars were then receiving tuition at their homes in the area under his jurisdiction. More will be said about this private education subsequently.

The reports of the collectors were ultimately reviewed by the Government of the Presidency of Madras on 10 March 1826. The Governor, Sir Thomas Munro, was of the view that while the institutional education of females seemed negligible, that of the boys between the ages of 5 to 10 years appeared to be a little more than one-fourth of the boys of that age in the Presidency as a whole.

Taking into consideration those who were estimated as being taught at home, he was inclined to estimate the portion of the male population who receive school education to be nearer to one-third than one-fourth of the whole.

Caste-wise division of male school students

The more interesting and historically more relevant information, however, is provided by the caste-wise division of students. This is true not only as regards boys but also with respect to the rather small number of girls who, according to the survey, were receiving education in schools.

Furthermore, the information becomes all the more curious and pertinent when the data are grouped into the five main language areas Oriya, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, and Tamil. These constituted the Presidency of Madras at this period, and throughout the nineteenth century. Table 2 gives the caste-wise number of school-going male students in each district of the five language areas.

It has generally been assumed that the education of any kind in Bharat, whether in the ancient period, or just at the beginning of British rule was mainly concerned with the higher and middle strata of society; and, in case of the Hindoos (who in the Madras Presidency accounted for over 95% of the whole population), it was more or less limited to the twice-born.

However, as will be seen from Table 2, the data of 1822-25 indicate more or less an opposite position. Such an opposite view is the most pronounced in the Tamil-speaking areas where the twice-born ranged between 13% in South Arcot to some 23% in Madras, the Muslims form less than 3% in South Arcot and Chingleput to 10% in Salem, while the Soodras and the other castes ranged from about 70% in Salem and Tinnevelly to over 84% in South Arcot.

To make the foregoing tabulation more easily comprehensible the caste-wise data may be converted into percentages of the whole for each district. Table 3 shows the result of such conversion.

In Malayalam-speaking Malabar, the proportion of the twice-born was still below 20% of the total. Because of a larger Muslim population, however, the number of Muslim school students went up to nearly 27%; while the Soodras, and the other castes accounted for some 54% of the school-going students.

In the largely Kannada-speaking Bellary, the proportion of the twice-born (the Brahmins and the Vysees) went up to 33%, while the Soodras, and the other castes still accounted for some 63%.

The position in the Oriya-speaking Ganjam was similar: the twice-born accounting for some 35.6%, and the Soodras and other castes being around 63.5%.

It is only in the Telugu-speaking districts that the twice-born formed the major proportion of the school-going students. Here, the proportion of Brahmin boys varied from 24% in Cuddapah to 46% in Vizagapatam; of the Vysees from 10.5% in Vizagapatam to 29% in Cuddapah; of the Muslims from 1% in Vizagapatam to 8% in Nellore; and of the Soodras and other castes from 35% in Guntoor to over 41% in Cuddapah and Vizagapatam.

Schools classified according to the language of instruction

Some of the districts also provided information regarding the language in which education was imparted, and the number of schools where Persian or English were taught. The number of schools teaching English was only 10, the highest being 7 in the district of North Arcot. Nellore, North Arcot and Masulipatam had 50, 40 and 19 Persian schools respectively, while Coimbatore had 10, and Rajahmundry 5. North Arcot and Coimbatore had schools which taught Grantham (1 and 5 respectively) as well as teaching Hindvee [a sort of Hindustani] (16 and 14 respectively), and Bellary had 23 Marathi schools.

The district of North Arcot had 365 Tamil and 201 Telugu schools, while Bellary had nearly an equal number of schools teaching Telugu and Kannada. Table 4 indicates this data more clearly.

Age of enrollment, daily timings, etc.

As mentioned earlier, the data varies considerably from district to district. Many of the collectors provided information regarding the age at which boys (and perhaps girls too) were admitted to the school, the usual age being five. According to the collector of Rajahmundry, the fifth day of the fifth month of the fifth year of the boy’s age is the lucky day for his first entrance into school, while according to the collector of Cuddapah, the age for admission for Brahmin boys was from the age of five to six and that for Soodras from six to eight.

The collector of Cuddapah further mentioned two years as the usual period for which the boys stayed at school. Nellore and Salem mentioned 3 to 5 or 6 years, while most others stated that the duration of study varied from a minimum of five to about a maximum of 15 years.

While some collectors did not think much of the then-current education in the schools, or of the learning and scholarship of the teachers, some thought the education imparted useful. The collector of Madras observed: It is generally admitted that before they (i.e. the students) attain their 13th year of age, their acquirements in the various branches of learning are uncommonly great.[40]

From the information given, it seems that the school functioned for fairly long hours: usually starting about 6 A.M., followed by one or two short intervals for meals, etc., and finishing at about sunset, or even later. Table 5 charts out the information which was received on these points from several collectors. The functioning of these schools, their methods of teaching, and the subjects taught are best described in the annexed accounts of Fra Paolino Da Bartolomeo (A.D. 1796) and of Alexander-Walker (ca 1820).41

Books used in schools

The main subjects reported to be taught in these Bharatiya schools were reading, writing and arithmetic. The following lists of books used in the schools of Bellary, as also of Rajahmundry may be worth noting, and may to some degree indicate the content of learning in these schools.

Names of the books in use in the schools in Bellary district[42]

A. Most commonly used

  1. Ramayanum
  2. Maha Bharata
  3. Bhagvata

B. Used by Children from Manufacturing Classes

  1. Nagalingayna-Kutha
  2. Vishvakurma-Poorana
  3. Kumalesherra Kalikamahata

C. Used by Lingayat Children

  1. Buwapoorana
  2. Raghavan-Kunkauya
  3. Geeruja Kullana
  4. Unbhavamoorta
  5. Chenna-Busavaswara-Poorana
  6. Gurilagooloo, etc.

D.Lighter Literature Read

  1. Punchatantra
  2. Bhatalapunchavunsatee
  3. Punklee-soopooktahuller
  4. Mahantarungenee

E.Dictionaries and Grammars used

  1. Nighantoo
  2. Umara
  3. Subdamumburee
  4. Shubdeemunee-Durpana
  5. Vyacurna
  6. Andradeepeca
  7. Andranamasungraha, etc.

Names of the books in use in the schools in Rajahmundry[43]

  1. Baula Ramauyanum
  2. Rookmeny Culleyanum
  3. Paurejantahpatraranum
  4. Molly Ramauyanum
  5. Raumayanum
  6. Dansarady Satacum
  7. Kreestna Satacum
  8. Soomaty Satacum
  9. Janakey Satacum
  10. Prasunnaragara Satacum
  11. Ramataraka Satacum
  12. Bahscara Satacum
  13. Beesanavecausa Satacum
  14. Beemalingaswara Satacum
  15. Sooreyanaraina Satacum
  16. Narraina Satacum
  17. Plaholanda Charatra
  18. Vasoo Charatra
  19. Manoo Charetra
  20. Sumunga Charetra
  21. Nala Charetra
  22. Vamana Charetra
  23. Ganintum
  24. Pauvooloory Ganintum
  25. Bhauratam
  26. Bhaugavatum
  27. Vejia Valousum
  28. Kroostnaleelan Velausum
  29. Rathamathava Velausum
  30. Suptama Skundum
  31. Astma Skundum
  32. Rathamathava Sumvadum
  33. Bhaunoomaly Paranayem
  34. Veerabhadra Vejayem
  35. Leelansoondary Paranayem
  36. Amarum
  37. Sooranthanaswarum
  38. Voodeyagapurvem
  39. Audepurvem
  40. Gajandra Motchum
  41. Andhranamasungraham
  42. Coochalopurksyanum
  43. Resekajana Manobharanum

Institutions of higher learning

While several of the collectors observed that no institutions of higher learning were then known to exist in their districts, the rest reported a total of 1,094 such places. These were enumerated under the term colleges (as mentioned in the prescribed form). The largest number of these, 279, were in the district of Rajah mundry with a total of 1,454 scholars, Coimbatore came next with 173 such places (724 scholars), Guntoor had 171 (with 939 scholars), Tanjore 109 (with 769 scholars), Nellore 107, North Arcot 69 (with 418 scholars), Salem 53 (with 324 scholars), Chingleput 51 (with 398 scholars), Masulipatam 49 (with 199 scholars), Bellary 23, Trichnopoly 9 (with 131 scholars), and Malabar with one old institution maintained by the Samudrin Raja (Zamorin), with 75 scholars.

In most other districts where no such institutions were known, the collectors reported that such learning in the Vedas, Sastras, Law, Astronomy, Ganeetsastram, Ethics, etc. was imparted in Agraharams, or usually at home. The data regarding such privately conducted learning in Malabar may be indicative of the extent of such learning in other districts also (discussed in a subsequent section). Table 6 indicates these and other details more clearly.

In most areas, the Brahmin scholars formed a very small proportion of those studying in schools. Higher learning, however, being more in the nature of professional specialization, seems in the main to have been limited to the Brahmins. This was especially true regarding the disciplines of Theology, Metaphysics, Ethics, and to a large extent of the study of Law.

But the disciplines of Astronomy and Medical Science seem to have been studied by scholars from a variety of backgrounds and castes. This is very evident from the Malabar data: out of 808 studying Astronomy, only 78 were Brahmins; and of the 194 studying Medicine, only 31 were Brahmins. Incidentally, in Rajahmundry, five of the scholars in the institution of higher learning were Soodras.

According to other Madras Presidency surveys, of those practicing Medicine and Surgery, it was found that such persons belonged to a variety of castes. Amongst them, the barbers, according to British medical men, were the best in Surgery.[44]

Besides the account provided by the Samudrin Raja regarding the functioning of the institution supported by his family in Malabar,[45] the collectors of Guntoor, Cuddapah, Masulipatam, Madura and Madras also wrote in some detail on the subject of higher learning. According to the collector of Madras: Astronomy, Astrology, etc. are in some instances taught to the children of the poorer class of Brahmins gratis, and in certain few cases, an allowance is given 5proportionate to the circumstances of the parents or guardians. The collector of Madura on the other hand mentioned that:

In agraharam villages inhabited by Brahmins, it has been usual from time immemorial to allot for the enjoyment of those who study the Vaidams and Pooranams (religion and historical traditions) an extent of maunium land yielding from 20 to 50 fanams per annum and in a few but rare instances to the extent of 100 fanams and they gratuitously and generally instruct such pupils as may voluntarily be brought to them.46

The collector of Masulipatam made a similar observation and stated:

If the boys are of Vydeea Brahmins, they are, so soon as they can read properly, removed direct from schools to the college of Vadums and Sastrums.

The former is said to be the mother of all the sciences of Hindoos, and the latter is the common term for all those sciences, which are in Sanskrit, viz law, astronomy, theology, etc. These sciences are taught by Brahmins only, and more especially Brahmins holding Agraharams, Mauniums, Rozunahs, or other emoluments, whose duty it is to observe their religious obligation on all occasions.

In most of the towns, villages, and hamlets of this country, the Brahmins are teaching their boys the Vadum and Sastrums, either in colleges or elsewhere in their respective houses.47

The more descriptive accounts, however, were from Cuddapah and Guntoor. The collector of Cuddapah stated:

Although there are no schools or colleges supported by public contribution, I ought not to omit that amongst Brahmins, instruction is in many places gratuitously afforded and the poorer class obtain all their education in this way. At the age of from 10 to 16 years, if he has not the means of obtaining instruction otherwise, a young Brahmin leaves his home and proceeds to the residence of a man of his own caste who is willing to afford instruction without recompense to all those resorting to him for the purpose.

They do not, however, derive subsistence from him for as he is generally poor himself, his means could not of course give support to others, and even if he has the means his giving food and clothing to his pupils would attract so many as to defeat that object itself which is professed.

The Board would naturally enquire how these children who are so destitute as not to be able to procure instruction in their own villages, could subsist in those to which they are strangers, and to which they travel from 10 to 100 miles, with no intention of returning for several years.

They are supported entirely by charity, daily repeated, not received from the instructor for the reasons above mentioned, but from the inhabitants of the villages generally. They receive some portion of alms daily at the door of every Brahmin in the village, and this is conceded to them with a cheerfulness which considering the object in view must be esteemed as a most honorable trait in the native character, and its unobtrusiveness ought to enhance the value of it.

We are undoubtedly indebted to this benevolent custom for the general spread of education amongst a class of persons whose poverty would otherwise be an insurmountable obstacle to advancement in knowledge, and it will be easily inferred that it requires only the liberal and fostering care of Government to bring it to perfection.48

The collector of Guntoor was equally descriptive and observed that though there seemed to be no colleges for teaching theology, law, astronomy, etc. in the district which are endowed by the state yet,

These sciences are privately taught to some scholars or disciples generally by the Brahmins learned in them, without payment of any fee, or reward, and that they, the Brahmins who teach are generally maintained by means of maunium land which have been granted to their ancestors by the ancient Zamindars of the Zillah, and by the former Government on different accounts, but there appears no instance in which native Governments have granted allowances in money and land merely for the maintenance of the teachers for giving instruction in the above sciences. By the information which has been got together on the subject, it appears that there are 171 places where theology, laws, and astronomy, etc. are taught privately, and the number of disciples in them is 939. The readers of these sciences cannot generally get teachers in their respective villages and are therefore obliged to go to others.

In which case if the reader belongs to a family that can afford to support him he gets what is required for his expenses from his home and which is estimated at three rupees per month, but which is only sufficient to supply him with his victuals; and if on the other hand, his family is in too indigent circumstances to make such allowance, the student procures his daily subsistence from the houses in the village where taught which willingly furnish such by turns.

Should people be desirous of studying deeper in theology, etc. than is taught in these parts, they travel to Benares, Navadweepum,[49], etc. where they remain for years to take instruction under the learned pundits of those places.[50]

Some books used in higher learning 

The books used in these institutions may be assumed to have been the Vedas, the various Sastras, the Puranas, the more well-known books on Ganeeta, and Jyotish-shastras, and Epic literature. Except in the report from Rajahmundry, there is no mention of any books in the reports from other districts. According to Rajahmundry, some of the books used there were:

Names of the books in use in the colleges in Rajahmundry[51]

Vadams etc

1.Roogavadam               1.Ragoovumsam

2.Yajoorvadum                1.Coomarasumbhavem

3.Samavadum                 1.Moghasundase

4.Sroudum                      1.Bharavy

5.Dravedavedum             1.Maukhum

or Nunlauyanum               ———





  1. Sanskrit Grammar Siddhanda Cowmoody
  2. Turkum
  3. Jeyoteshem
  4. Durmasastrum
  5. Cauveyems

Besides, as Rajahmundry had a few Persian schools,[52] it also sent a list of Persian and Arabic books studied. These were:

Names of the books in use in the Persian schools in Rajahmundry

  1. Caremah Aumadunnanmah
  2. Harckarum in Persian
  3. Inshah Culipha and Goolstan
  4. Bahurdanish and Bostan
  5. Abdul Phazul Inshah
  6. Calipha
  7. Khoran

Private tuition (or education at home)

Several collectors, especially the collector of Canara, who did not send any statistical returns at all, mentioned the fact that many of the boys and especially the girls received education at home from their parents, or relatives, or from privately engaged tutors. Many also stated that higher learning is being imparted in Agraharams, etc.

However, it was only the collectors of Malabar and of the city of Madras who sent any statistical data on the subject. The collector of Malabar sent such data with regard to higher learning, while the collector of Madras about the boys and girls who were receiving education in their homes. Both the returns are reproduced in Tables 7A & B.

Regarding the data concerning higher learning from Malabar, it is reasonable to assume that though learning through private tutors did exist in most other districts, it was carried out in Malabar to a far greater extent due to its rather different historical and sociological background.

As will be noted from Tables 7A & B, those studying in this fashion at this period (1823) were about twenty-one times the number of those attending the solitary college supported by the more or less resourceless family of the Samudrin Raja. The Malabar data also shows 194 persons studying medicine. As indigenous medical practitioners existed in every other district and perhaps in every village some of them still in receipt of revenue assignments for their services to the community it can logically be assumed that similar teaching in Medical Science existed in most other districts too.

What number and proportions in the various disciplines were thus educated privately in the other districts, however, is a speculative question. Still, it may not be too erroneous to assume that the number of those privately studying Theology, Law, Astronomy, Metaphysics, Ethics, Poetry and Literature, Medical Science, Music, and Dance (all of which existed in this period) was perhaps several times the number of those who were receiving such education institutionally.


The data from Madras regarding the number of boys and girls receiving tuition at their homes is equally pertinent. In comparison to those being educated in schools in Madras, this number is 4.73 times. Though it is true that half of these privately tutored were from amongst the Brahmins and the Vysees, still those from the Soodras form 28.7% of this number, and from the other castes 13%. Furthermore, the Bharatiya part of Madras city at this period was more of a shanty-town. In comparison to the older towns and cities of the Presidency, it was a relatively badly organized place, the status of its Bharatiya inhabitants being rather lower in the social scale than their counterparts in other places like Madura, Tanjore, Trichinopoly, etc.

It may be quite probable, therefore, that the number of those privately educated in other districts, if not some 4 to 5 times more than those attending school as in Madras city, was still appreciably large. The observation of Thomas Munro that there was probably some error in the number given of 26,903 being taught at home in Madras city a remark incidentally which has been made much of by later commentators on the subject does not have much validity. If the number had been considered seriously erroneous, a new computation for the city of Madras, to which alone it pertained, would have been no difficult matter, especially as this return had been submitted to the Governor a whole year before this comment.

It was perhaps required of Thomas Munro as head of the executive to express such a reservation. Undoubtedly, it was the sort of comment which the makers of policy in London wished to hear.55 This draft, however, was followed by the remark that the state of education here exhibited, low as it is compared with that of our own country, is higher than it was in most European countries at no very distant period. As may be guessed from the data pertaining to Britain, the term at no very distant period really meant the beginning of the nineteenth century, which had been the real start of the Day schools for most children in the British Isles.

Education of girls

As mentioned earlier, the number of girls attending school was very small. Leaving aside the district of Malabar and the Jeypoor division of Vizagapatam district, the girls from the Brahmin, Chettri, and Vysee castes were practically non-existent in schools.

There were, however, some Muslim girls receiving school education: 56 in Trichnopoly, and 27 in Salem. The Hindoo girls who attended school, though again not in any large number, were from the Soodra and other Hindoo castes; and, according to the collectors of Masulipatam, Madura, Tinnevelly, and Coimbatore, most of them were stated to be dancing girls, or girls who were presumably going to be devadasis in the temples. Table 8 presents the district and caste-wise number of the girls attending school or said to be receiving private tuition.

As will be noticed from Table 9, the position in Malabar, as also in Jeypoor Zamindary of Vizagapatam district, was much different. The relative numbers of girls and boys attending school in these two areas56 are presented in Table 8 below:

In percentage terms of the total, the proportion of girls to boys in school was the highest, 29.7%, in the Jeypoor Zamindary of the Vizagapatam district. Even more surprising, the proportion of Brahmin girls to Brahmin boys in school was as high as 37%. Similarly, in Malabar, the proportion of Muslim girls to Muslim boys in school being at 35.1% is truly astonishing.57 Even amongst the Vysees, the Soodras, and the other castes in Malabar, the proportion of girls to boys was fairly high at 15.5%, 19.1%, and 12.4% respectively; the proportion of the totals being 18.3%. That two such widely separated areas (Malabar on the west coast while Jeypoor Zamindary being in the hilly tracts on the southern border of Orissa) had such a sociological similarity requires deeper study.


(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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