Gender has been an important determinant for educational opportunities over time and across regions. When and where education was closely associated with making a living, parents assumed that women needed only domestic skills, and they were unlikely to educate their daughters. Still, there were always exceptions. For example, Pandita Ramabai (1858–1922) was given a Sanskrit education by her father, received a higher education in English as an adult, and was a strong voice for social reform to serve women's needs during the colonial period.
As compared with past women in modern times have achieved a lot but in reality they have to still travel a long way. Their path is full of roadblocks but there is more courage to overcome them.
Panini Kanya Mahavidyalaya, Tulsipur, Varanasi. UP
Panini Kanya Mahavidyalaya is a boarding Sanskrit school for girls, mostly from upper bramin class. Education is free but donations are welcomed. There are about 80 girls from the age of 8 till 20 live and study at this school. The school is categorised as a Gurukula type where students live under the instructions and care of a Guru as the centre of the community, doing concentrated study for years and form a particular school of thought, but historically and corresponding to the level of education it received the name ‘Mahavidyalaya’ which is equivalent to college.
Though the school is not gothernmental and does not provide with government approved diplomas, it became known throughout the country and even further. It sometimes attracts students from neighbouring countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Students receive titles of ‘shastry’ and ‘acharya’ after completing their education and are allowed to pass the exams and have official diplomas from Sampurnand Sanskrit University in Varanasi.
The education is focused on preservation and development of traditional methods of learning of the Vedas and vedangas (auxiliary disciplines for studding Veda) as it thought to be in the old age. It is unusual enough that the leading teachers (gurus) and their disciples (shishya) at school are all women and this fact does not go together with old assumptions of Manu Smriti that women are not allowed to read Vedas and become vedic priests. Thus, on the one hand, this gurukula follows tradition, that is rules and injunctions of traditional Brahmanical education, but those were meant for men only, so on the other hand, it is almost a revolutionary step towards education and empowerment of women. Girls here learn to perform vedic fire ritual as well as traditional sixteen Hindu sanskar (initiations) and even more interestingly, they are allowed to perform the sanskars for other bramins.
It tunes with some views of Arya Samaj movement, which encouraged Vedic prayer, provide education and encourage women writers. The school indeed has the connection to Arya Samaj and is supported by them. Still it remains fascinating how the ides are practically realized in real life and what is the future of the schools of this type? There are few schools which provide high quality Sanskrit education for women. It seems to remain an ambitious experiment but a successful one.
The main focus of girls’ education includes learning Sanskrit grammar (vyakarana), Vedic meters (chandas), and traditional etimology (Nirukta). It is done in a way as it was propagated by the founder of Arya Samaj and Vedic scholar Dayananda Sarasvati Maharshi (1824 - 1883) that is through memorising major traditional texts of the related disciplines following original order of the sutras (short formulas) of the texts and applying them into practice. The method of teaching essentially implies an intensive study of the Sastraic texts together with the commentaries. The texts are studied line by line, construing every sentence and every word in the sentence, squeezing out all its implications. Although the extent of study may not be impressive, the depth and thoroughness are remarkable. After 10 or 12 years to the study of the text or a group of allied subjects, students become masters of the subject. The knowledge is precise and ready; such students do not need notes, not even the book, for expounding the text or apply it into practice.
Apart from Sanskrit learning girls are involved in physical activities such as hathayoga and sports, they are trained to handle a bow and a spear, and perform some acrobatic tricks, also they learn sinning and playing musical instruments.
They publish monthly magazine ‘Panini Prabha’ in Hindi and Sanskrit, regularly organise workshops and open courses, performances and religious rites, members are invited to participate in cultural and religious events in Varanasi and other places. But most grandiose ongoing project is the construction of temple devoted to Panini in the campus of the school. This is the only temple in the world devoted to the author of the main Sanskrit grammatical text ‘Astadhyayi’ who is considered to be the sage. The temple is supposed to have all the text engraved on its walls.
The school is partially self-sustainable. It has cowshed and vegetable garden, but main funding comes from Ramlal Kapur Trast, established on the 26th of February 1928 in memory of Ramlal Kapoor.
The school is run by two sisters Acharya Medha Devi and Acharya Nandita Shastri Chaturvedi. At present Acharya Medha Devi is the principal and the main guru of the school. She was one of the disciples of Pandit Bramhadatta Jijnyasu (1892 - 1964) who is an important figure not only in the history of the school but in the history of Sanskrit studies in general.
Pandit Bramhadatta Jijnyasu is the founder of Virjanand Ashram in 1921 in Janpad, Aligarh , UP. Later in 1926, Ashram was moved to Varanasi. In 1952, he also established Panini Mahavidyalaya there, in Varanasi, which was a Sanskrit school for boys. Until 1970, teaching and studying was done in Panini Mahavidyalaya, while the lodging for students and teachers was arranged in Virjanand Ashram. In 1970, both the institutes were united, and moved to Bahalgarh (Sonipat), Haryana. The foundation of a school for girls, Panini Kanya Mahavidyalaya followed this event immediately. Dr. Pragya Devi, a close disciple of Brahmadatta Jijnyasu and elder sister of Medha Devi, started the school in 1971 in place of Panini Mahavidyalaya.
Sri Brahmadatta Jijnasu was a famous Sanskrit scholar. By virtue of his having developed expertise in many areas the President of India, Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishn, conferred on him the title of "Rashtriya Pandita" in 1963. Among his other works on Veda and Vedangas, Brahmadatta Jijnasu revised completed and edited the gloss on traditional grammatical text ‘Ashtadhyayi’ done by the founder of Arya Samaj Dayananda Sarasvati Maharshi (1824 - 1883). This work became a manual for Sanskrit grammar students throughout India. He also brought out in Hindi a book on teaching Sanskrit edited and published by Panini Mahavidyalaya, Banaras and Delhi, ‘Samskrta-pathana-pathana-ki Anubhuta Saralatam Vidhi.’ The book introduces an easy method for teaching Sanskrit grammar and arranges the course in about forty-five lessons, with a supplementary course of six months. The method is followed in the Mahavidyalaya at the beginners level and followed by the first one.
The movement Bharatiya Sanskriti aims to promote Sanskrit as a spoken language and encourages women to pursue education in Sanskrit. Women are admitted to Universities and colleges to study Sanskrit. What is special about Panini Kanya Mahavidyalaya? Is it the quality of education? Or may be the role of female priests?
Link to Mahavidyalayas web-page http://paninigurukul.in/kanyavidhyalaya.html