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How does a gurukul function?

Gurukuls had an important contribution to the development of Indian civilization and culture. Gurukuls were often run by Brahmin householders both inside and outside the villages or cities. Grihastha scholars and sometimes even Vanprasthi would attract learners from far and wide. They keep them in their family for many years (ideal and legislation was up to twenty-five years) and educated them.

Constituents of a Gurukul

The analogy of the human body fits perfectly on a Gurukul. Acharya is like the head of a gurukul who runs a gurukul.

  • Acharya
  • Building or location
  • A pattern (method) for delivering education
  • Subjects taught e.g. Vedas, Vedangas, Mathematics, Language, etc

Methods of teaching in the gurukul system

Gurukul’s system of learning employs many methods. Some of these methods are very well known and employed extensively like learning by memorization. But the Gurukul education system goes much beyond the traditional methods of learning/teaching. It employs experiential learning, natural learning, practical learning methods, etc.

In the traditional system, a student has very limited avenues of learning. He learns mostly inside the rooms. In contrast, a student in a gurukul is not limited by the walls of the classroom. Instead, the whole environment around him is treated as a laboratory. He learns from the conduct of the acharya. He learns from everything around him/her.


As a reward, the Brahmacari child either offered his services to the Guru and his family. They could also pay off the fee at the time of completion. But gifts containing such financial rewards and other things were given as Dakshina only after initiation and before starting the Guru Vidya Daan. The doors of the Gurukuls were open to all the deserving students, rich and poor.

Disciple’s, as well as Acharya’s life, was simple, reverent, devotional, and based on renunciation. The disciple would learn from the Guru’s personality and conduct by staying with the acharya. In the Gurukuls, all the scriptures and sciences known till then were taught. Upon completion of the education, the Guru would test the disciple and give initiation.

After completing the Samavartan Sanskar, the acharya would send him/her to their respective family. The disciples would then give Dakshina to the guru according to their power. But poor students could also be freed from it.

Types of institutions

Various types of institutions were used for knowledge sharing and learning in ancient India:

  • Gurukul – where students stayed in the ashram and studied with the Guru
  • Sabha or Council – where experts would discuss & share the knowledge attained by them.
  • Tapasthali – These were big gatherings and discourses held here yielded knowledge. Naimisharanya was one such place.
  • Shashtrarth: Not an institution but a tradition that helped in the refining of knowledge. India has a tradition of Shashtrarth of at least 18000 years.

The system of Gurukuls continued for a long time in India. The state considered it its duty to make all arrangements for the maintenance of the acharyas and gurukuls. When Kautas, the disciple of Varatantu, despite being very poor, urged him to get some Dakshina, the Guru got angry and asked for an impossible amount of fourteen crores of gold coins. Kautas considered it right to get that money from King Raghu, and that unfortunate king who donated everything in the Yagya decided to attack Kubera to fulfill the demand of that Brahmin child.

Ujjain’s world-foremost astronomical observatory attracted great astronomers like Aryabhata, Vrah Mihira, Brahmagupta, etc.

Admission process in Gurukuls

Upanayana Sanskar

Upanayana sanskar or the sacred thread ceremony is usually performed at the age of 8 to 12 years. The student is taken to the acharya and if the acharya accepts him to be his shishya, he performs an Upanayana Sanskar also known as Yajopavit sanskar.

Upanayana ceremony is usually held on Shravani Parva (Raksha Bandhan) which falls on the Purnima of Shravana month which marks the beginning of a period of learning. The month of Shravana is named after Shravana nakshatra but is also related to Shruti (Vedas). Shravana month is dedicated to learning, reading, and hearing scriptures like Vedas, Ramayana, etc.

Read more about 16 Sanskaras of Hindus in our post.

A typical day in gurukul

The routine followed in Gurukuls is very rigid. A typical day in a gurukul starts in the early hours of sunrise usually 3:45 am and includes Yoga, martial arts, Yagya, learning & daily chores like cleaning, cooking, etc.

What is taught in gurukul?

It is widely assumed in society that gurukuls only prepare brahmins who can perform some rituals. Instead, in addition to the study of Vedas, many subjects are taught in a gurukul.

The gurukul system takes care of the holistic learning of a child. The main subjects offered in the gurukul system are as follows:

  1. Astronomy
  2. Darshan (Philosophy)
  3. Mathematics
  4. Science
  5. Dharmasutras (Study of Laws)
  6. Brahmanas
  7. Arthashastra (Political Science)
  8. Ayurveda (Medicine)
  9. Dhanurvedam (Defense Studies)
  10. Vedas
  11. Vedanga

These are just a few subjects that used to be taught in gurukuls. There are many more like music, pottery, etc. Skill development is one of the main advantages of the Gurukul system. The flexibility of the gurukul system makes it a viable option in these modern times of fast-changing requirements.

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