Women Education in Ancient India: A Rethinking

Runismita Pritipuspa

Research scholar(Dept of Sahitya)




Every enquiry of ancient Indian education goes back to the Vedic Period. Vedas are self-revealed and others being originated later from them. They are the ways and means of achieving the spiritual goal of life the Puruṣārtha Catuṣtaya1. The equivalent words of education in Sanskrit are Vidyā, Śikṣā, and Jñāna. According to A.S. Alteker, from Vedic age down wards the central conception of the India has been that it is a source of illumination giving us a correct lead in the various sphere of life.2

Knowledge is the third eye of man which makes him capable to see the real object.3 Upaniṣad says education is for liberation.4 It nourishes us like the mother, directs us to to right path like the father and gives us pleasure and removes our pain like the wife. It is just like a desire-yielding tree that fulfills our desire.5

The status of women was held high during the Vedic period. According to scriptures women were regarded as Goddess, the embodiment of Śakti. They were worshipped as the symbol of fertility6. A sincere attempt has been made in this paper to discuss in details about women education in ancient India. The topic covers from the Vedic period to the Buddhist period.

Key Words: Ancient, Education, Women, Period

System of Education:

There was gurukula system of education in the Vedic period. Teacher was regarded as Guru or Ācārya. Education of the students started with Upanayana ceremony. The ceremony was continued for three days. During these days the Guru holds the disciple within him as in a womb impregnates him with his spirit and delivers him in new birth.7

After the ceremony the student emerges as a Brahmachāri and the teacher is designated as his spiritual and intellectual father.

Upanayana of Girls:

Without undergoing upanayana saṁskāra, nobody can recite Vedic mantras offer Vedic sacrifices. It was obligatory for the girls undergo upanayana.8 Even Manu has mentioned the importance of upanayana for girls. The Arthavaveda refers to maidens undergoing the discipline of Brahmacarya.9

Participation in Vedic Sacrifices:

No sacrifice was complete in which the woman as the spouse of the man performing the sacrifice.10

In Agrahāyaṇa ceremony a number of Vedic hymns were recited and the harvest sacrifices were performed by women alone.11 In the Rāmāyaṇa we also find Kauśalyā was performing a sacrifice alone in the morning of her husband valī was about to leave the palace to meet Surgreeva in fateful encounter.13

We can record the instance of Sītā offering her Vedic prayer during the days of her captivity in Laṅkā.14

We also find examples from Mahābhārata that Kunti was well-versed in the Mantras of Atharvavedas.15

Center of Education

During the Vedic period the family played a greater role in the educational system. As professional teachers were not available the father was treated as the usual teacher and the home as the usual school. We find so many examples in Vedic and Upaniṣadic literature of father teaching their sons. Prajāpati was the teacher of his son, devatās, asuras and men.16 Āruṇi had initiated his son Śvetaketu in the study Philosophy.17 We find rare cases of girls being educated at boaring school or colleges. But in Mālatimādhava we notice that Kāmandakī was educated at a college along with Bhurivasu and Devarāta.18 This is clear case of sending girls outside for their education. Dharmasūtras also point out that the girls should be taught at home by their male guardians like the father, the brother or the uncle.

Co-education :

Co-education is not new to our civilization. It was prevalent in Vedic India. Both boys and girls sitting on the lap of the natural in the so called Tapovanas of the forest acquired education in an ideal way from the same Guru. It has been mentioned in Gṛhyasūtra that the three castes excluding the last one were required to undergo a period of religious studentship. We have also some evidence from Chānogyopaniṣad where king Aśvapati says that there is no ignorant person in my kingdom.19 In Uttararāmcarita, we also find Ātreyī receiving education along with Lava and Kuśa.20 So it is clear from the fact that education was not denied to women during Vedic time.

Type of Student

There was no strees of child marriage in that period. Majority of girls used to get married at the age of sixteen or seventeen. Only few of them could prosecute their studies after that age. The former classes were called Sadyovadhūs and the latter class Brahmavādinis. Along with the study of Vedic hymns and sacrifices, music, and dancing we taught to Sadyovadhūs. Brahmavādinis used to marry after their education was over. We find in the Rāmāyaṇa that Vedavatī, The daughter of sage Kuśādhvaja never got married.

Arrangement for teaching

Not only the male teachers but also the female teachers used to teach the girl students. The male teachers were called as Upādhyāyas, and the female teachers as Upādhyāyā. Further the wife of a teachers was known as Upādhyāyinī. Pāṇini refers to bording houses for girl students, Chātraśālās and these śālās were under the supervision of the Upādhyāyās or lady teachers.22 But we do not have any clear evidence of the activities of lady teachers and the management of girls boarding. Girls of rich families must have received good education.

Lady Scholars

During the Vedic period the girls who remained unmarried for longer time, used to have mastery over the Vedic literature.23 Lady student s of Kaṭha and Bahvṛcha school were known as Kaṭhi and Bahvṛchi respectively. Kathivṛndārikā denoted the foremost female students of the Kaṭha school, indicating the success of some woman students in Vedic branch.24 Kāśakritṣṇin has composed a treatise on Mīmāṁsā. The girls who studied the subject were known as Kāśakṛtṣṇā. Poetesses like Viśvavārā, Sikatā,Nivāvari, Ghoṣā, Romāśā, Lopāmudrā, Apālā, Urvaśi had composed Vedic hymns. Some distinguished laady scholars like Sulabhā, Vaḍavā, Prāthiteyi, Maitreyī, and Gārgī contributed a lot to the Vedic literature and philoshophy. Gārgī and Matreyī took part in philosophical discourse along with the Ṛṣis.

Names of several South Indian poetesses like Revi, Rohā, Mādhavi and Śaśiprabhā were mentioned in the Gāthā-Śapta-Sati or Hāla.25

Education in Cultured Family:

The conditions of cultured families were fairly good. The ladies of the royal families achieved a lot in the field of literary education and became good poetesses.26 They could appoint special teachers for their girls. Special training was given to them in the fields of domestic arts and fine arts like music, painting, and dancing, garland-making and house hold decorations.27 It has been said in Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣada that a parent desirous for birth of a daughter perform rituals. He should pray that his daughter must be a learned one and live for hundred years.28

Education in ordinary family:

Unlike cultured families, the ordinary families could not employee special teacher for their girls. Literature and fine arts were te subjects of study for them. The women took resort to spinning and weaving during their leisure time to help the family and children.29

Women education in Buddism

Women were allowed to join Saṅgha. This resulted an indirect impectus to spread women education. Like Brahmavādinis, several ladies became nuns and poetesses to lead a life of celibacy and other went outside India to preach Buddhism. Among the nunscholars Subhā, Anupamā, Sumedhā, Vijayaṅkā and Sanghamitrā were famous. Monastery was the center of education. Girls from well-to-do families and rich merchants used to get education. Monks and nuns were living separately.


From the above discussions we may conclude the following:

  1. Our ancient civilization is unque in respect of the position of women in the society.
  2. Education was not denied to women in ancient India.
  3. Ladies took parts in performing sacrifices along with the gents
  4. Child marriage was not prevalent in the society.
  5. Most of the educated women engaged themselves with philosophical discourse to know the ultimate reality of life.
  6. At last we can creat awareness among the people to bring back the past glory of women to the present fold.


  1. ālaukikaṁ purūṣārthopāyaṁ vetti aneneti/
  2. Education in ancient India, P.4.
  3. jñānaṁ tṛtīyaṁ manujasya netraṁ samastatatvārthvilokadakṣaḥ/

tojo’napekṣaṁ vigatāntrāya prabṛttimatsarva jatttrayepi// (subhāṣitaratnasandehaḥ) p-194

  1. Sā vidyā yā vimuktaye
  2. Māteva rakṣti piteva hite niyukte kānteva cāpi ramayatyapaniykhedam/

lakṣmītanoti vitanoti ca dikṣukirtiṁ kiṁ kiṁ na sādhayti kalpalateva vidyā// (subhāsitaratnabhaṇḍāraḥ)3.Iv.14

  1. Yatra nāryastu pūjyante ramante tatra tatra devatāḥ/ (Manusmṛtiḥ)
  2. Ācārya upanaymāno brahmacāriṇaṁ kṛṇute grbhamantaḥ/ Atharvaveda-XI)
  3. Aminttrikā tu kāryeyaṁ strīṇāmāvṛdaśeṣataḥ/

saṁskārārthe śarīrasya yathākālaṁ yathākramam// 2/66

  1. brahmacaryeṇa kanyā yuvānaṁ vindate patim/
  2. ayajñno vā eṣa yo’palikaḥ/ śatapatha brahmaṇa V.1.6.10
  3. Parāsaragṛhyasūtram/(III.2)
  4. Sā kṣobhavasanā hṛṣṭanityaṁ vrata parāyaṇā/

agniṁ juhoti sma tadā mantra viskṛtamaṅgalā// II.20.15

  1. tataḥ svastayayanaṁ kṛtvā mantravidvijayaiṣiṇī/ (tatreva) (IV-16.12)
  2. sandhyākālamanāḥ śyāmā dṛvamesyti jānakī/

nadīṁ cemāṁ śubhrajalaṁ sandhyārtha varavarṇinī/ (tatreva) (V-15.48)

  1. Mahābhāratam II.20

16. Bṛhadaranyakopaniṣad [ 6.2.1]

  1. Chāndogyapaniṣad[5.3.1]

  2. aṅka-1

  3. V.II.5.

  4. aṅka-2

  5. VII.17

  6. chātradayaḥ śālāyām/ VI.2.86

  7. A.S.Altekar, Education in India.P.-210

  8. I,II,III,& IV

  9. kāvyamīmāṁsā –P – 53

  10. kāmasūtram1.3.16

  11. VI.4.17

  12. Arthaśāstram/ II.23


  1. Altekar,A.S. (1975), Education in ancient India, Manohar Prakashan, Varanasi-1
  2. Dash, B.N. (1994), Foundation of Educational through and practice, Kalayani Publishers, New Delhi-2
  3. Pathak,P.D(1974) Bharatiya Shisha Aur Uski Samasyaen, Vindod Pustak Mandir, Agra-2
  4. Chāndogyopaniṣad, Greeta Press, Gorakhpur.
  5. Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣad, Geeta Press, Gorakhpur.
  6. Manusṁṛti,(1987), Chowkhamba Sanskrit Pratisthan, Delhi-7

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