India had world’s first university

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A Letter From Grandpa

By Niranjan Shah

My dear Nikita and Sanjna:

More than 2700 years ago, a huge university existed in ancient India, where 10,500 students from across the world came for higher studies.  This was the Takshashila University of ancient India, wrongly spelled as Taxila today. Takshashila, the place where this university existed, is currently in Pakistan, and gets its name from Taksha, who was the son of Bharat (the brother of Lord Rama). Taksha ruled over the kingdom of Taksha Khanda which extended beyond modern-day Uzbeki-stan. The students from all across the world used to come to attain specialization in over 64 different fields of study like Vedas, grammar, philosophy, ayurveda, agriculture, surgery, politics, archery, warfare, astronomy, commerce, futurology, music, dance, etc. Students were admitted to this university at the age of 16 after they had completed their basic education in their local institutions. Every single graduate, who passed out of this university would become a well sought-after scholar all across the subcontinent. Admission into this university was purely based on merit.

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Some of the students, who graduated out of the Taksha-shila University, included the great political master Chanakya (also called Kau-tilya), who not only authored the world’s finest work till today on political duties, statecraft, economic policies, state intelligence systems, administrative skills and military strategy, called the Artha Shastra, which consists of 15 books,  but who also guided Chandragupta Maurya as a mentor who founded the Great Mauryan Empire, and also served as the prime minister  of the Mauryan Empire.  Other great students from Takshashila University were Vishnu Sharma, the author of the great book that teaches the art of political science in the form of simple beautiful stories called the Pancha-Tantra (meaning the five techniques); Charaka, the famous ancient Indian ayurvedic physician,  who authored the Charaka Samhita, simplifying an even older ayurvedic work called the Agnivesha Samhita, which along with Sushrutha Samhita, Ashtanga Sangraha and Ashtanga Hrudayam forms the root of modern Ayurveda; Jivak, a doctor and an expert in pulse reading (understanding the health status of the body by just listening to the person’s pulse!) whose area of specialization was Pancha-karma, Marma and Surgery, was the personal physician of Buddha and who also cured the Nadi Vran of Buddha! There are over 15000 handwritten manuscripts of Jivak’s expertise passed on by generations to their children and  are still preserved in India even today. Philosophers  gathered at Takshashila to have their own schools of thoughts and great scholars imparted instructions in military science, medicine, political science, philosophy, religion, language, literature, and grammar. Other famous products from this University were Jovial, Commander-in-Chief of the Bananas King;  Jivaka, a physician of the Magadhan King, Bimbisara and   Physician of Buddha: King Prasanjita of Kosala  modern Ayodhya; Prince Chandragupta, founder of the Mauryan empire, Kautilya the author of Arthsastra, a book of political science, Charaka, a great physician of all time and Paatanjali, author of Paatanjali Yoga sutra. 

Historically, Takshashila lay at the crossroads of three major trade routes: the royal highway from Pataliputra; the north-western route through Bactria, Kapisa, and Pushkalavati, and the route from Kashmir and Central Asia, via Srinigar, Mansehra, and the Haripur valley, across the Khunjerab pass to the Silk Road.

Takshashila University contains the ruins of the Gandharan city of Takshashila, an important Vedic and Buddhist  center of learning. In 1980, Takshashila was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Takshashila is considered a place of religious and historical sanctity by Hindus and Buddhists. The former do so not only be-cause, in its time, Takshashila was the seat of Vedic learning, but also because the strategist, Chanakya, who helped consolidate the empire of Emperor Chandragupta Maurya, was a senior teacher there. The institution is very significant in Buddhist tradition since it is believed that the Mahayana sect of Buddhism took shape there.

— Grandpa’s blessing

Niranjan Shah, a civil engineer, who pioneered famous high-rise buildings in Baroda, is a broadcaster in India and the USA and a prolific writer. Under “A Letter from Grandpa.” he has been writing since 2002 on India’s historical, philosophical, and literary heritage. He can be reached at nshah32@hotmail.com

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