Education in Pakistan: A historical socio-cultural perspective >> Part 2: Ancient India – Hindu and Buddhist Influences

Today’s post is the second in a six-part series reviewing the historical and current context of education in Pakistan. These posts include:

  1. Introduction
  2. Ancient India – Hindu and Buddhist Influences (this post)
  3. Islamic Influences
  4. British Influences
  5. A Separate Nation
  6. Education in Present-Day Pakistan

Some of the information in this series is drawn from the book, “Going to School in South Asia” edited by Amita Gupta, interwoven with my own understandings of context, values, and beliefs in Pakistan.

Ancient Ruins at Moen-jo-Daro, Sindh. This site includes the ruins of an ancient citadel as well as a monastery.  Copyright Sadaf Shallwani. All rights reserved.

Ancient Ruins at Moen-jo-Daro, Sindh. This site includes the ruins of an ancient citadel as well as a monastery. Copyright Sadaf Shallwani. All rights reserved.

Ancient India – Hindu and Buddhist Influences

Over the centuries, rulers have changed and borders have evolved in the South Asian continent. Pakistan’s history is thus closely intertwined with India’s, and with other parts of South Asia such as Afghanistan. In fact, it was only in 1947 – less than seven decades ago – that Pakistan was partitioned from India and formed into its own nation. Thus, for much of the below historical description, I will refer to ‘India’ – which includes the land and people who are now considered separate as ‘Pakistan’.

Importance of Education and Knowledge in Ancient India

There is anthropological evidence that advanced thinking and education has been part of Indian civilization for at least 5000 years, if not longer. At Harrapa and Mohenjodaro (part of Sindh, currently in Pakistan), ruins date back to 3300 B.C., and indicate advanced tools, arts, streets, and sewage systems. Moreover, there is evidence of monasteries that educated and supported scholars, as well as language scripts on seals suggesting a literate society.

From about 2500 B.C. until 1500 A.D., the Indian subcontinent experienced various Hindu/Vedic periods, as well as some Buddhist periods (Gupta, 2007). In Hindu/Vedic philosophy, teaching and learning are highly valued. In fact, the word ‘Veda’, which are ancient Hindu scriptures at the foundation of Hindu faith, comes from the root ‘vid’ which means ‘to know’. When Vedic/Hindu influences were predominant in India, education encouraged philosophical, spiritual, and secular learning and intellectual development. As the caste system evolved in Hinduism, education became more discriminatory, such that different types of education were available or unavailable to different castes. Over time however, Buddhist influences become predominant. Buddhism was embedded in the Hindu concepts, but rejected dogma and rigidity. During Buddhist periods, education – including both Buddhist theology as well as secular subjects – was freely available to all those who desired to learn.

Dharma and Karma

Two fundamental ideas from the Veda are the concepts of ‘dharma’ and ‘karma’ (Gupta, 2007). Dharma is important for societal stability and harmony – a person’s dharma is their roles and responsibilities towards their family, their community, society. Karma is the idea that individuals make decisions and actions, and there are consequences to those decisions and actions. Dharma and karma are both important for individual and societal well-being. Thus, learning and development of cognitive skills are important in order to understand these matters and to make appropriate decisions in life.

These values and beliefs continue to hold strong in present-day India and Pakistan. Responsibility towards family, community, and society is regarded as fundamental. Learning and thinking are also considered critical to making appropriate decisions.

Esteemed Role of Teacher (Guru)

Historically, the role of the teacher was highly esteemed (Gupta, 2007). The teacher was responsible to guide the student’s intellectual development. Education was intended to ‘enlighten’ students: the teacher was known as a ‘guru’ – one who removes darkness (‘gu’ = darkness; ‘ru’ = removal). In this way, parents were responsible for a child’s birth, but the teacher was responsible for the child’s intellectual and spiritual development.

This belief prevails in some senses in present-day India and Pakistan. Teachers and parents consider the role of the teacher to be fundamental to ‘opening’ the child’s mind. Parents entrust teachers with their children’s secular, religious, and societal formation.

Next: During the 11th century, Islamic influences gained predominance in India. See my next post for a discussion of Islamic influences on education in Pakistan.

Please share your thoughts and comments below.

Sadaf Shallwani


Gupta, A. (2007). Schooling in India. In A. Gupta (Ed.), Going to School in South Asia (pp. 66-111), Westport, CT: Greenwood.

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