Tuesday, 28 April 2020

X is for... Xosh! ... Xoly Xow! ... it's Xoubting Xhomas!

You’d think finding music for X, and X doesn’t even exist in any Indian language that I know of, would be super impossible. But no…I have a positive deluge of tracks today. Yeah, I know. I'm as surprised as you are. First, there’s Chronic Xorn a hard metal band from Kolkata with a track titled Necropolis. Not exactly my kind of music, but hey...it's X and beggars can't be choosers.

Next I have for you Mysore Xpress with Freedom Rock, the lyrics are a mix of Hindi and Kannada,  languages spoken in North, Central and South India respectively. Nice and peppy for the Independence Day celebrations a couple years ago.

Now put on your headphones for this oldies goldies lilting track from the 2009 album called Xsuie by Lucky Ali. 'My heart keep on singing' is the specific title - Dil Gaye Jaa. 

And finally, this cover of xxxtentacion by chrms rounding off things quite nicely. Take a listen -

Xavier. Xenophiles. Xercises in education.

St Xavier's Relic. Goa.
This is a photograph of St Francis Xavier’s casket in the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa, India. St Xavier (1506-1552) was a Jesuit missionary from Navarre and a companion of Ignatius Loyola, who came east to India, Japan, China and other places in South East Asia in the 1540s. He was canonised in 1612. This silver casket is exposed every ten years when it is brought down to eye level and pilgrims can venerate the relic of the saint. 

St Xavier travelled east mainly to ensure that the Portuguese and other Europeans who went to these countries did not adopt the native ways and remained Christian in values and observances. He ended up building churches and educational institutions, evangelising and working among the poor and sick. The Society of Jesus, which Xavier co-founded with his mentor Loyola, today has more than 250 schools and nearly 100 tertiary level educational institutions with around 3.5 million students across India. They, along with other Christian evangelical organisations such as the Carmelites, the Society of the Sacred Heart and a million others, have a disproportionately huge share of quality education in India. They have often been the only ones to take education to the most underprivileged and to the remoter, inaccessibile regions of the country. 

Just some figures for you to chew over and to put things in perspective. The current population share of Christians in India is estimated at a little over 2%. The total student population in India is around 320 million, and the Jesuit schools alone have a share of 1% of that. As of early 2000, Christian missionaries ran 16500 schools and 8000 hospitals in India. There has been a lot of houha over their motives, over the 'forced' conversions to Christianity. I'm not sure I put much stock in that, I have legions of family members and friends who've been educated in Christian schools, all generations, all across the country - and not one of them has been converted, they remain as steeped in their Vedic traditions as they choose. So excuse my lack of faux outrage, but that's that.

Christianity in India

According to widely accepted tradition among Indian Christians, Christianity arrived in India with the Apostle Thomas ('Doubting Thomas') in 52 CE, in the first century after Christ. There is apparently no historical evidence for it, but St Thomas is supposed to have landed at Muziris on the Malabar Coast, evangelised and converted many Hindus in Kerala and Tamil Nadu and also performed miracles on his travels. He is believed to have been martyred in Mylapur near Madras (now Chennai) and is buried at the site of San Thome Cathedral. He founded seven churches in Kerala mostly along the banks of the River Periyar. The present day Syrian Christians claim forefathers who attended these churches. I'm not sure why St Thomas' gospel is considered heretical but it is. And why other sources which mention his mission to India are also not considered authentic and therefore inadmissible. However, the tradition is deep seated and as we say 'bishwas e milay Krishna, torke bohu dur,' which translates to faith gets you Krishna, debate keeps Him remote.

Whether or not St Thomas brought Christianity to India, and to me it seems perfectly plausible that he did - why shouldn't he? think about it, trade routes between Rome and India were well established even before the time of Christ. The Western/Middle Eastern worlds knew of India as a rich and populous land, Alexander had opened up India to the West, the Mauryas sent ambassadors to Hellenistic courts and vice versa. There were Jewish businessmen settled along the  coast of India in the time of Christ. So, if early Apostolic missions could go out to Nubia and Ethiopia and Parthia and Bactria, then why not India? Anyways, however that may be, it is known that there were Nestorian Christians in India by the 4th century, all with pukka and proper proof.  By the the time the Portuguese landed in India in 1498, there were already 150 churches in India. Read more about early Indian Christianity here.

From ancient Vedic to Mughal liberal

Traditionally, education in ancient India was through a system of Gurukuls, characterised by living with the guru or teacher, away from the student's family. Education was available to all based on ability without gender or caste discrimination in antiquity - knowledge was the path to moksha or spiritual liberation as given in the Vedas. The Rigveda mentions female poets called Brahmanvadinis, for instance, there were female scholars such as Maitreyi, Lopamudra, Gargi, Apala and Ghosha who were learned. Maya the mother of Buddha was an educated woman. However, education was still dominated by men, many more of them in teaching and learning as compared to women.

With time the focus changed from a generalised knowledge of Indian languages, mathematics, philosophy etc to specialised, livelihood-based knowledge imparted to different castes - a Brahmin learned the Vedas and Vedic rituals while a Kshatriya (warrior) learned martial arts, Vaishya and Shudra the skills specific to their respective trades. By 600 BCE the Vedic culture developed into a highly ritualised cult system and  education became confined to an elite group of Brahmins and higher castes, and therefore alienated the common folk. This gave rise to two different belief systems - Jainism and Buddhism.  From the early centuries of the common era to middle age Jain and Buddhist systems of religious education through monasteries and temple based schools were predominant. Buddhist scholars travelled between India and China frequently and expanded the knowledge base of both countries.  

The Muslims came to power in India in the 12th century - the vihara based learning institutions were sometimes disrupted, sometimes destroyed in deliberate acts of victory or as collateral damage. During Mughal times, Akbar the Great (1542-1605), majorly overhauled the Indian education system. Akbar set up both Islamic and Hindu schools where free instruction was available to anyone. The curriculum was widened to cater to the needs of individual groups. Special provisions were made for women's education at home or at a minimal distance from home. Persian was introduced as the court language and all Mughal subjects were encouraged to learn it to secure jobs at the court. At the same time, Akbar took a keen interest in translating Sanskrit texts and made them available to Islamic scholars. The court received scholars and travellers from many foreign lands and several centres of learning emerged in Bidaun, Agra, Delhi, Gulbaga, Bidar, Jaunpur etc. Delhi vied with Cordoba and Baghdad in drawing erudite minds. Clearly, Akbar was a xenophile. He merrily and most energetically fused the Indian culture his grandfather had conquered and his own Perso-Arabic heritage into a refined and sophisticated whole.

For two generations after Akbar, the Mughal emperors took an active interest in education, literature and the arts and continued with the same system. Akbar's great-grandson, the more orthodox Aurangzeb however, instructed some of his governors to close Hindu schools in 1669. As the Mughal Empire declined after Aurangzeb's death in 1707, so did its liberal values and education system. In the first half of the 18th century India was essentially one ginormous power vacuum, a free-for-all in which one Mughal vassal state after another broke away and the colonial powers fought for supremacy. And somewhere along the line, women and underprivileged groups had again fallen through the gaps. 

Mughal to Missionary

The East India Company took over the administration in 1757 and exiled the last Mughal Emperor to Burma. Note that by then, the first missionary educational institution - St Paul's College, set up by aforementioned St Xavier, was already in operation for more than two centuries. In 1608, a French traveller - Francois Pyrard de Laval had visited Goa and written in his travelogue about the College, that 3000 students from all over Asian missions studied a gobsmacking variety of subjects there, free of charge. So when the British took power, there were already Hindu, Islamic and Christian mission schools operating in India. However, education by then was available only to select sections of the society.  

Once the British were in charge, missionary activity in India increased significantly. Missionaries like William Carey, Joshua Marshman and William Ward landed up in India by the close of the 18th century. They translated the Bible into local languages, translated the Indian epics into English, set up the first newspapers and journals. William Carey also set up the first degree granting university in Fredericknagar (modern day Srirampur) just outside Calcutta. By 1813, activists like William Wilberforce and Charles Grant had lobbied and convinced the British parliament that the East India Company had a duty to educate the 'natives.' Accordingly, missionary schools proliferated through the 1820s and beyond. 

Opinion among the Company senior echelons was divided, however,  on how this duty to educate was to be discharged. One side thought Indians should be taught in their own systems and languages, Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit. The others thought the Indian system had nothing of any benefit to the colonialists and English should be the medium of instruction. The latter, driven by Macaulay under Lord William Bentinck, won and accordingly the English Education Act was passed in 1835. And so another major overhaul was undertaken, this time by the British introducing Western education into India, for the specific purpose of creating a class of English speaking Indians who would act as an intermediary between the colonial rulers and the common folk. 

The British established a rather dense network of schools roping in wealthy Indians where possible (these were mostly targetted at boys, the first girls' school didn't happen till 1848). By 1890, over 60,000 Indian men had matriculated. Men like Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah finished their schooling in India and went to England to acquire a degree. The exposure to Western style education and democracy led to the articulation of demands and the subsequent movement for Indian independence from foreign colonial rule. So the British in a way shot themselves in the foot in the end. Further educational reforms were undertaken after independence, but through all the upheavals, the missionary schools have retained their reputation for and focus on quality education. Take the top schools in any Indian metro and there will still be missionary schools among them even after two centuries.

How has the education system changed in your own culture over the years? When was the first girls' school established in your country?

A-Z Challenge 2020


  1. Hari OM
    In the UK, once girls were permitted to be educated other than at home, girls schools were the go. No mixing you know! Not sure when the first one was - that would need some research. I do know the Scottish system was somewhat different to the English during my time at school -but now is not so much... Thanks for the potted history. Good to have you back. YAM xx

  2. I love the xxxtentacion song, and the basilica is beautiful!
    X is for…

  3. Ha! Good for you! I was wondering what you'd come up with for X.