Takshashila, now known as Taxila, is an important ancient town situated in India (Divided into Pakistan during Partition) – in Punjab. Takshashila today is just a shadow of what it was centuries ago. It was the First University in its world. It wasn’t a real university in today’s sense, but was home to several great Professors.
Takshashila in reference to the Ramayana which states that the city was named in honour of Bharata’s son and first ruler, Taksha. India has a long and venerable history in the field of higher education. In ancient times, the country was known to have been home to the oldest formal universities in the world. More than 2700 years back a huge university existed in the ancient India where over 10,500 students from all across the world came for higher studies. This was the Takshashila university of ancient India (wrongly spelled as Taxila today). It was an important Vedic/Hindu and Buddhist center of learning but wasn’t as well organized as the Nalanda University.
Taxila is also described in some detail in the Buddhist Jātaka tales, written in Sri Lanka around the 5th century. In this text, Taxila has been mentioned as the capital of the kingdom of Gandhara (Modern days Afghanistan) and a great learning center.
The site initially began to develop as a loosely connected group of buildings where learned persons resided, worked and taught. Over the years, additional buildings were added; rulers made donations and more scholars migrated there. Gradually a large campus developed, which became a celebrated seat of learning in the ancient world.
The campus accommodated students who came from as far as Babylonia, Greece, Arabia and China and offered over 64 different fields of study like Vedas, Grammar, Philosophy, Ayurveda, Agriculture, Surgery, Politics, Archery, Warfare, Astronomy, Commerce, Astrology, Music, Dance, etc. There were even curious subjects like the art of discovering hidden treasure, decrypting encrypted messages, etc.
10 Interesting Facts About Taxila University
- Admission into this university was purely based on merit. Students were admitted to this university at the age of 16 after they had completed their basic education in their local institutions.
- Takshashila had no structured syllabus or mode of instruction. Several great teachers taught large numbers of students here.
- One could attend the classroom of any teacher he wished to learn from. And the teachers could teach any number of students, depending upon their liking. No king or ruler ever tried to interfere in the workings of Takshashila.
- Entrance exam to Takshashila was very difficult and only 3 out of every 10 students passed the admission test.
- Takshashila is perhaps best known because of its association with Chanakya. The famous treatise ArthaShastra (Ancient Indian treatise on statecraft, economic policy and military strategy, written in Sanskrit) by Chanakya, is said to have been composed in Takshashila itself. He was also mentor and Professor of Chandragupta Maurya who founded the Great Mauryan Empire, and also served as the prime minister of the Mauryan Empire. Even Chandragupta Maurya studied at Takshashila.
- Another great student from Takshashila university was 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.
- Panini was another great Professor of this university. He was an expert in Language and Grammar and authored one of the greatest works on grammar ever written called Ashtadhyayi.
- Charaka, the famous ancient Indian Ayurvedic physician was also Professor of Takshashila university. He originally authored the Charaka Samhita.
- Jivak was another Professor who came out of the Takshashila university. He was a Doctor and an expert in Pulse Reading. 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.
- Under the king Ashoka of Mourya Empire, the city touched its peak in terms of development. Taxila after this saw the most creative period under the rule of Gandhara. In the next 200 years, Taxila became a center of great learning.
During the 800 years Taxila was operational. It gained popular fame. The University consisted of:
- 300 lecture halls with stone benches for sitting
- Observatory for Astronomical Research
- Massive Library call Dharma Gunj (Mountain of Knowledge) consisting of 3 blocks.
How Taxila University Ruined
Being the north-west frontier of India, Takshashila had to face the brunt of attacks and invasions from the north and the west. Thus the Persians, Greeks, Parthians, Shakas and Kushanas laid their destructive marks on this institution. When Alexander’s armies came to the Punjab in the 4th century B.C., Takshashila had already developed a reputation as an important seat of learning. Thus on his return Alexander took many scholars from there with him to Greece. In the second half of the 5th century, it was severely damaged by Huns invasions. They destroyed the whole city, University and all Buddhist monasteries which never again recovers. During the 7th century it was gradually abandoned by its inhabitants.
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