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Admission to Medical studies In Ancient India

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

There were many factors that were taken into consideration which governed admission to medical studies. We give below a long list of the qualifications required in a student of medicine and it is clear from its perusal that equal importance was given to moral, physical and intellectual fitness. Though many scriptures denote that the insistence on moral fitness was the greatest as noticed from the fact that the vast majority of the required qualifications concern the ethical side of the student's personality. Moral emphasis was of utmost importance and the elaborateness with which it was set out in ancient days was no doubt due to the consideration that moral excellence is the base of true education. But this is less readily ascertainable than intellectual and physical worth.

This probably is the reason why moral fitness in the students have gradually been ignored, although a general decline in the standards of public and private morality cannot be denied its share. We should remember in this connection that the aim of all education, including medical education, was not to just to enable the student to earn a livelihood so much as to inculcate in him a love for the good life.

Teacher & Student Relationship[edit]

With regards to the practical difficulties in ascertaining whether a student had the necessary moral equipment, they did not exist, as under the ancient system of Gurukula education, the relation between the teacher and the pupil was as intimate as that between the father and the son. In fact, during the entire period of education the teacher was actually in the place of the father, the pupil being fed, clothed and housed by him. Thus two of the most common names for a Śiśya or a student are Antevāsin and Chatra. These both names denote this intimate association, while the word 'Ācārya' signifies that his primary business was in helping his pupils to develop a sound character.

Entrance Procedures[edit]

Great care was taken to see that no undesirable candidate got admission to the studies. The university of Vikramāditya, as per the Chinese traveler, was guarded scrupulously by the most erudite scholars who held the examination for admission which was difficult to pass. The members of this admission committee were aptly called Dwāra Panditas whose business was to see that the standard of the University's scholarship was not lowered by the average student's enrollment. Strict selection was the most important which is even denoted in Caraka's statement:

Knowledge like a sword or water requires a clean repository. Weapons, learning and water are wholly dependent for their merits or demerits on their holder.

As a result only two of three of them could have admission for studies. If the person possessing knowledge is unworthy of it, it is fraught with danger. It was accordingly prescribed that before a prospective student was admitted to studies, he had to undergo a period of probation which extended from six months to one year.

Thus, we find Vāgbhatta saying in the Astāṅga Saṅgraha that it is only after the teacher has been fully satisfied of the character and worth of the candidates that the actual schooling should begin and this schooling once begun should continue till the student had mastered the subject both in theory and practice. A disciple who is capable and possessed of modesty, purity and arts and who has served a probationary period of six months, should be taught as long as he gains perfection in the theory and practice of the science.

Thus the danger of morally unworthy persons acquiring the power that comes through knowledge as well as the danger of incompetent practitioners being let loose upon society are avoided. The system of probationary trainee is not altogether absent in modern education; it is still there in certain western universities though the rules governing such probationership are neither so stringent nor so complete as compared to those of the medical institutions of ancient India.

Other Factors for Admission[edit]

It is true that considerations of the caste and lineage of the candidate played an important role in the determination of his admission for the studies contemplated, but even thev underlying factor was purely one of moral worth. Thus in the famous story of Satyakāma, the sou of a serving woman, the teacher is confronted with the problem of deciding the eligibility of the boy who is unable to provide him with a Gotra or paternal lineage but who is otherwise eminently fitted for the life of a student. Uddalaka Aruṅi, the teacher concerned, decides that no one who was not a Brāhmaṇa could tell the truth so boldly as Satyakāma and accordingly commands him to fetch wood for the sacrificial fire, a token that he has been admitted to apprenticeship.

Admission as per Upaniṣads[edit]

It is clear from this story related in the Chāndogya Upaniṣad that only Brāhmaṇas were normally received as the student by the great teachers of the day. This privileged position of the Brāhmaṇa in the sphere of learning continued for long, but in the course of time, Kśatriyas and Vaiṣyas were admitted in increasing numbers into the guarded preserve of the Brāhmaṇas and later even the Sudra as mentioned in Śuśruta and Kaṣyapa was considered eligible.

Some say that one should teach even a Sudra possessed of good lineage and qualities withholding the instruction of Mantras and also the sacred thread. By whom should Ayurveda be studied? It should be studied by Brahmaṇās, Kśatriyas, Vaiśyas and Śudras. This gradual enlargement of what we may call the educational franchise was in keeping with the progress of the times.

Admission through Inheritance[edit]

There is everything in favor of a specialized learning such as medicine and surgery being imparted to the members of families with long medical traditions rather than others. This was the practice in ancient India, a practice which derived its sanction from considerations of heredity and home environment. It was believed that one belonging to a medical family would have a better aptitude for medical learning and practice than one who is from non-medical family.

In support of this statement Dr R. K Mookerjee says in his ancient Indian education that:

'Social psychology has proved that every individual has his own equipment of emotions, action attitudes and ways of thinking, which is the gift of the traditions and social environment in which he is brought up. Each scheme of training must therefore take into account the concrete individual, a product of biological gifts and social heritage. A neglect of this basic situation renders the process of education less fruitful and sometimes even risky to the personality.

The investigation of Haggerty, Nash and Goodenough show further that the educational status and vocation of the parents have a significant correlation with the level of capacity of the children as indicated by the intelligence quotient. For instance, the children of professional parents of those of a higher academic standing possess, on the whole, a higher value of I. Q. The implication of such facts cannot be ignored in schemes of national education.


It is neither necessary nor indeed possible here to comment on all desiderata, item by item. Two of the requirements, both connected with the moral equipment of the student, may however be noticed in passing. These are Brahmacarya and Jitendriyatva and both are the qualities whose importance in the life of a student cannot be over-emphasized. The life of the one who is following the pursuit of learning is a dedicated one and the votary of knowledge should therefore be able to turn his back on all the sense-pleasures in the manner of the boy Naciketas, who when tempted by king Yama to give up his determination to seek the truth said:

Keep thou thy chariots, thy dancing girls and singing; I will have none of them.

It is then and then only that the great king of the the Dead considered him worthy of being taught, saying:

I know that you Naciketas, are a true seeker after knowledge, for you resisted all the temptations I put before you.


  • The Caraka Samhita published by Shree Gulabkunverba Ayurvedic Society, Jamnagar, India