Indic Sciences for Today’s Children The Indian Sciences are highly interconnected and when introduced early on can be very beneficial for the cognitive development of children. This is an excerpt of Smt. Smrithi Ji's Talk on 28 April
It is clear that our modern education system has produced high intellectuals in various disciplines and definitely contributing a lot to the growth of the country. However, the individuals that come out of the current system are disconnected from the society they belong to, their environment and from their historical and cultural roots. For example, children study physics and chemistry as subjects, but do they know what their social impact is? The impact of one’s actions on the environment and society is not dealt with in the curriculum. Education that can help individuals connect to the society and environment is what is needed most. Most of us realize that we need an education system that imparts values to students. While generic values like honesty and sincerity are no doubt important, a solid grounding in Indic sciences becomes absolutely essential to connect individuals with our land, Bharata.
What is the significance of Indic sciences in transforming education? Let us look at what three important research works in the recent years have to say about it:
1) Sanskrit – Neuroscience effect
2) Clock genes (Nobel Prize in Medicine 2017)
3) Autophagy (Nobel Prize in Medicine 2016)
These three works confirm what ancient Indians had discovered and what was followed in every home.
Sanskrit – Neuroscience effect
A team of researchers conducted an experiment on Indian pundits, where they placed diodes on their heads as they chanted Sanskrit shlokas. They discovered that the entire place reverberated with the vibration during chanting. Further, they found during neuroimaging that the number of grey cells increased in the memory area. Chanting of shlokas enhances the memory and cognitive capability of children.
Cells have the capacity to regenerate themselves. Dead cells in our body are eaten up and digested by the surrounding cells. This process, called autophagy mainly happens during long gap in eating. Indians observe vrata (fasting combined with a spiritual practice) on certain days such as Ekadashi. Some people fast from morning until evening and break their fast with a light dinner. Such practices are commonplace in Indian families. The gap in intake of food enables the cells to regenerate and recycle, making the person healthy. The Nobel Prize for Medicine (2016) was awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi for his discovery of the mechanisms of autophagy, something that is built into the Indian tradition as a lifestyle habit.
This year’s Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to Michael W. Young, Michael Rosbash, Jeffrey C. Hall for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm. What they had discovered is that we possess “clock genes”, which get triggered when our body is exposed to sunlight in our environment. Indians had discovered in ancient times that our body changes with the movement of the sun and the moon. Another discovery they made was regarding the timing of administration of medicine. The time of preparation and administration of medicine or performance of surgery is important for success. In Ayurveda, dinacharya or the daily routine – what action is to be done during the day and what time to do it – is considered absolutely necessary to establish balance in a person’s body and mind by regularizing his biological clock.
So we see that the Indian sciences have tremendous scope in expanding our knowledge and definitely need to be revived. Studying and practising the Indian science leads to an immediate recognition of our culture. In the global context, when we are asked,”What is your culture? What is your way of life? How do you do things?” most youngsters don’t have an answer – an answer which reflects the depth and uniqueness of our civilizational knowledge and best practices. A systematic introduction to our traditional knowledge to connect with our land is not present in the current system.
The historical aspects
When we seek an ideal model of education, all of us, including children themselves think of our ancient Gurukulas. The Gurukula system has many aspects that children like. Discipline is a flow as the student lives with the Guru. The Guru’s life is the message. There is no preaching , only practising. Students simply start practising and the learning happens. In those times, the Guru used to dedicate his or her life for the cause of education. This was how beautiful and well-evolved the Indian education system was. Professor Dharampal, in his book, “The Beautiful Tree”, has taken records of Britishers on the Indian education system. It contains the evidence for the kind of education system that existed in India. Just to get a glimpse, in Bengal province alone there were 1 lakh schools. Everyone was literate. So it is not true that the Indian education system was in any way backward or primitive. In fact, the numeracy skill and IQ of household women was very high.
Beauty of the Indian sciences
Observable at home: The beauty of Indic sciences is that its principles are observable at home. For instance, the quantity of vitamins and minerals present in a food can only be measured in a laboratory. But Ayurveda has brought it to the kitchen – we refer to a balanced diet as aruchuvai unavu, which is food that is balanced in six tastes – sweet, sour, salty, spicy, bitter and astringent. Our daily cooking – rasam, curd and poriyal can be looked in terms of these six tastes. When such sciences are built into a home and are part of everyday life, children will develop pride in the traditional knowledge of our land.
Highly integrated: Another aspect which expresses the beauty of Indic sciences is that they are all highly integrated: one cannot be studied or predicted without the others. Today, we have biology students saying they don’t know mathematics and engineering students saying they don’t know biology. But when one studies Indic sciences, one will require background knowledge of all sciences to understand fully without gaps.
Ayurveda is the science of life. An important component of Ayurveda is Jyotisha, which is the science of aligning the timing of human actions with astronomical events. For example, to prepare Kashayam, picking the leaves of herbs and preparing the actual kashayam are both timed according to Jyotisha. Jyotisha requires knowledge of cosmology and geography, both of which imply a strong background in mathematics. A student of Ayurveda must know Jyotisha, and in turn mathematics also.
The knowledge of mathematics and astronomy is essential for temple design and construction. The buildings of today may last for 50 years or maximum of 500 years. But our temples are 3000 – 5000 years old. This could have only been because of the high precision engineering and mathematics that was used in their design. The Brihadeeswara temple, Badami cave temples in Karnataka, Hampi in Karnataka, Mahabalipuram temple are outstanding examples of beauty combined with mathematical precision. To revive such methods of design and construction, we need to revive the Indic sciences.
In the field of mathematics, India was the first to give zero to the world. Although it does not seem significant, zero is the most significant because it is what contains everything within itself. It is an empty placeholder that makes it possible for us to assign magnitudes to numbers. There were some civilizations that did not have the concept of zero. Without zero, there is no difference between 5 and 500, because there is no empty placeholder. In the Vedas, gigantic numbers such as 10 ^(billion) and 10 ^(trillion) are mentioned and used. This shows their depth of understanding of the scales encountered in our universe. The distance between earth and sun was calculated using trigonometry. In the field of medicine, our texts describe methods of plastic surgery as practised by the renowned physician, Sushruta as early as the 6th century.
In terms of economic output, India’s GDP was very high in the past. In 1 AD, India contributed to 40% of the world’s GDP. After that, there was a very strong decline. It is not a coincidence that India was invaded by several rulers and colonial powers during the period of the decline. It is obvious that a nation that produced such a high share of the world’s GDP was populated by highly intelligent people, because prosperity cannot happen without knowledge. The knowledge that drove such high economic output was imparted through education, which was based on the Indian sciences.
None of what is written here implies that the present sciences need to be removed from the curriculum of course. The western sciences can be there, but the Indic sciences need to be integrated into our education system.
Why are Indic sciences important for our children?
1)Better connect with our land
Studying Indian languages is very important to understand the essence of the Indic sciences. What has happened is that many of our greatest works have been translated by foreigners, who have interpreted the text in their own way, without an understanding of the Indian ethos.
In Europe, for example, students learn all their subjects in native language. It is only at the post-graduate level that they study subjects in English. And they are not apologetic about the fact that they are well-versed in their own native language but not English. They take pride in learning all their subjects in their native language.
In our country, it is only those students who do not obtain the marks required for a seat in other college degrees such as engineering and science, who take up BA literature. Such an important aspect of education as native language training cannot be sidelined to uninterested people. To go back to our roots, a systematic training in our basha, Indian languages such as Sanskrit, Hindi and Tamil, is essential.
2) Enhances multiple intelligences
The neuroscience experiment demonstrated that Sanskrit enhances verbal intelligence. There are a variety of words in Sanskrit, each of which can be traced to a seed sound, called Bija Mantra. Daily chanting of Bhagavad Gita and Thirukkural is extremely beneficial for the all round development of children’s intelligence.
Ayurveda connects children with plants and the land. An Ayurveda plant expert can identify 20-30 herbs in a small patch of land and list their medicinal properties. Such diversity in Ayurveda connects individuals with the land. In fact, students of Ayurveda do not even touch the plants with their feet to indicate them; that is how much connected they are with the plants.
3) Inherently value-based
It is evident that there is no value-based component in college education in terms of life skills and value skills. Indic sciences can transform that.
4) Creates socially and environmentally conscious children
The fundamental thread with which the fabric of Indian culture is woven is that everything is Divine. Every person, every being, everything is Divine. And this fundamental principle is embedded in each of the Indic sciences – Yoga, Ayurveda, Indian astronomy, Jyotisha, Vastu Shastra, and so on. No other land has this principle at its core. It is only in our land that we live this principle everyday.
What sciences can we introduce?
B – Basha: The Indian languages, which are scientifically designed, complete with variety of sounds and excellent code of grammar. Needed to understand Indic sciences in their original form.
I – Itihasa: meaning “as it is”, Indian history, Mahabharata and Ramayana which connect students with the true history of Bharata and realise the civilizational continuity; and which offer stories that inculcate values and inspire students to put in their best effort towards knowledge. For example, the stories of Arjuna and Guru Dronacharya.
J – Jeeva vidya : the science of life, Yoga and Ayurveda, to have the right understanding of life and how the human being and the universe are related.
A – Antariksha vidya : the study of space, Indian astronomy and Jyotisha, to inculcate the habit of observing the sky and develop awareness of the relationship between events in human life and astronomical events.
BIJA, meaning “seed”
Where can we start?
Night Sky Watching: Most children stay at home in the night and wake up only after Sunrise. Few minutes of sky watching every night, supplemented with tools like Google Sky Map can be very transformational as they observe the shape of moon, the positions of the planets in various constellations and how each planet transition with various speeds. Observing the northward and southward movement of the Sun can also be fascinating
Food and Impact on Body: Intuitive Indian health frameworks like Vata, Pitta and Kapha can help children observe the impact of various foods on their body. Mapping the foods they eat and the Ayurvedic principles can make children conscious about what they eat. Most problems arise later in life mainly due to unconscious consumption of food.
Yoga for Flexibility: For robust health it is not only important for children to have a strong body but a flexible one too. Yogic practices not only give a healthy body but also a mind that is free from stress and tension.
Value Based Stories from Ithihasa: The Mahabharata and Ramayana are replete with value-based stories. Introducing children to them can help them cultivate the right set of values needed to handle problems of the society and emulate good role models.
Introducing Sanskrit: Sanskrit has come through years and years of refinement and has one of the finest grammars. It is a mature and highly structured language. Daily practice of Sanskrit can have immense benefits to children including enhancing their verbal and cognitive capabilities. Some form of chants everyday can be introduced and gradual increase in the complexity of the chants can be truly beneficial.