The antiquity of Indian culture can be understood by the classical nature of the deeply evolved twin languages—Tamil and Sanskrit. The South Indian tradition, right from the Sangam age (3rd century BCE–3rd century CE), has held both the languages in high esteem. Sangam Tamil anthologies repeatedly highlight the significant position that Vedic practices and beliefs had on the population. Starting from that period, the monarchs such as the Cholas, Pandyas and Pallavas held Sanskrit in high regard, patronising it in both academic and professional settings.
The Cholas, who claim their origin from the Ikshvaku dynasty and hence that their ancestry includes Sri Rama, have given special consideration to the Sanskrit language. At different phases of their rule, they created benevolent endowments for Vedic learning and propagating the language. Across the Chola country, several institutions with hostels flourished where specific Vedas and Vedangas were taught. Temple-centric schools and colleges had endowments that were created by the royal family members and affluent patrons to support the propagation of specific parts of Vedic texts.
A Vedic school that functioned at Anoor near Chengalpattu, taught Vedas and Ashtadhyayi to its students. The inscription also details out the qualifications of the teacher, which included mastery of the Vedas, Alankaras, Panini’s Vyakarana and Mimamsa.
At Ennayiram near Villupuram, Rajendra Chola directly intervened to set the remuneration for the teachers at the Vedic college and endowments to feed the students. This Vedic school was fairly popular and well-documented. With 270 junior students and 70 senior students mentored by 14 teachers, the school offered several choices for specialisation. Among the junior students, 40 of them learnt the grammar text Rupavatara, 75 each learnt the Rig and Yajur Vedas, 10 learnt the Atharva Veda, 20 each learnt Vajasanneya, Chandokya and Talavakara samas and the remaining learnt Baudayana Gruhya Sutras. In the senior category, 25 students learnt grammar, 35 learnt Prabhakara Mimamsa and 10 learnt Vedanta. An interesting note from this inscription is about a measured quantity of paddy paid as a monthly stipend to the students.
Another interesting aspect about this school is that it functioned as a part of a temple dedicated to Vishnu as Narasimha. Assuming it to be a school following Sri Vaishnava agama, it’s interesting to note Vedanta lessons were being taught there even before the Sri Bhashya of Ramanuja was authored.
Epigraphic record also documents specific details about the remuneration paid to the teachers of different departments. The best paid were the teachers of Vedanta, followed by the Mimamsa and Vyakarana teachers. While other teachers were also remunerated through a measured quantity of gold annually, teachers of Vedanta were only compensated through paddy, as it was against their dharma to accept gold in exchange for their knowledge.
Yet another well-documented Vedic college existed in Tribhuvanai, a small settlement in the outskirts of Pondicherry. With a total strength of 260 students and 12 teachers, the codified Dharma Sastras authored by Manu, Satyasada Sutras, Vaikhanasa Agama, Mahabharatha and Ramayana were also taught. With remuneration similar to the school at Ennayiram, the students and teachers from this college were exempted from participating in the activities of the local administrative council to ensure their commitment to academics was not disturbed.
In Vikrama Chola’s reign, medical students studying Vaghabhatta’s Ashtanga Hrudaya, Caraka Samhitha and Rupavathara were fed at a mutt associated with the temple at Tiruvavaduthurai. An important inscription in itself, this also gives interesting details about a medical school and a dispensary associated with a temple. And the students of the school studied grammar texts too.
A 13th century CE inscription details the Puranic episode of Lord Siva delivering the 14 sutras of grammar to Maharshi Panini. Interestingly this traditional belief was regionalised by constructing a cloistered mandapam called vyakarana dhana mandapam and the pavilion was endowed with land to maintain the school that was functioning there.
The Vedic school and hostel functioning along with a hospital at Tirumukkudal, near Chengalpattu, in the reign of Vira Rajendhra, is probably the most well-documented institution from the Chola era. Apart from details about subjects taught and the respective remunerations, the inscription speaks about hostel amenities like mats to sleep on, provision for oil bath once a week for the students and herbal medicines that were available in the attached dispensary.
These epigraphic records help us understand the status that Sanskrit as an academic language enjoyed under the Chola monarchs. Traditional schools that taught and trained students in Sanskrit, its grammar and philosophy, and in traditional works like the Ramayana and Mahabharatha were instituted in important cities and towns. It’s equally interesting to note not many records exist for a similar structured teaching of the Tamil language and its nuances.
Architect, serves on the government-instituted panel for conservation of temples in TN