Mughals are not only credited with bringing unprecedented unity to the subcontinent but are also acknowledged for many groundbreaking measures they planned and implemented. One aspect of their far-reaching agenda for rule related to devising a credible education system and their emphasis on literature. There is no doubt that their education system was qualitatively different than English education but it does not mean that it was ineffective or purposeless. Education in Mughal system was prudently taken care of because the Empire required educated and qualified administrators to run its vast domains. The Empire insisted on all round learning and encouraged teaching scientific curricula. In addition the Mughals took active care of teaching non-Muslims who formed a significant part of the Empire’s administrative network.
Like everything else in the Mughal Empire, Emperor Akbar established firm rules for imparting education to his subjects. Abul Fazl, Akbar’s scholarly adviser, laid out rules, curriculum and system of education in schools in his chapter ‘Ain-e-Amuzish’ of his magnum opus ‘Ain-e-Akbari’. He records that Akbar was very apprehensive about boys being made to learn consonants and vowels for years and ordered that every schoolboy should first learn to write the letters of the alphabet along with learning to trace their several forms. Every student was required to learn morals (akhlaq), arithmetic (hisab), accountancy (siydq), agriculture (falahat), geometry (hindsah), astronomy (nujum), physiognomy (ramal), rules of government (siyasat-i-madan), medicine (tibb), logic (mantiq), physical sciences (ilm-e-tabi’i), history (tarikh) and spiritual sciences (ulum-e-Elahi). The education imparted by the Mughals was largely supported by the state and vast state patronage was behind it.
During their rule Mughals undertook vigorous educational activity that was witnessed in the length and breadth of the country particularly capital of the Empire, Delhi and provincial cities such as Sialkot, Lahore, Ahmadabad, and Burhanpur. These educational centres inspired enormous cultural achievements of the Mughal Empire. True to his eclectic temperament Akbar focused on the mental sciences–logic, philosophy, and scholastic theology–and assigned them top priority. Along with his philosophical education a considerable improvement in religious sciences took place. Akbar’s conquest of Gujarat laid open access to Muslim religious centre in Hejaz through port of Cambay and Surat and a large number of students from North India went to acquire religious education from there. The excellence of future religious luminaries such as Sheikh Abdul Haq Muhaddis proves the efficacy of the learning they acquired through this source that also opened up doors to extensive study of Hadis.
The permanence of educational mores propounded by Mughals ensured that Muslim education did not decay in the 18th century despite steep decline of Muslim political authority. The educational standards actually improved as teachers became free from official engagements and devoted more time pursuing academic and literary work. A number of educational institutions and foundations, including colleges were established in Delhi by Ghazi-ud-din Khan Firuz Jang, Sharaf-ud-daulah, and Raushan-ud-daulah.
Nor was education confined only to men as Mughals encouraged educating women. A host of Mughal royal ladies were patrons of education and literature and were themselves accomplished writers. Gulbadan Begum, Akbar’s aunt, was encouraged to write her memoirs that were renowned for their accuracy and literary merit. Salima Sultan wife of Emperor Akbar was a recognised poetess and so were Empress Mumtaz Mahal, Aurangzeb’s sister, Princess Jahan Ara Begum and his daughter Princess Zeb-un-Nissa.
Many schools were organised under imperial sponsorship since the time of Humayun. Akbar’s foster mother, Maham Anaga started a madrasa known as Madarsa-i-Begum that was subsequently called Khairul Manazil. Numerous references point out at presence of Madrassah or school imparting education to royal princes inside imperial palaces particularly at Fatehpur Sikri. Famous tourist historian Monserrate was deputed by Akbar to educate and train imperial wards. Jahangir provided further impetus to madrasa through his edict of first year of his reign that in case of death of a person dying without heir, proceeds from his property would be utilised in good works like repair of mosques, wells, sarais and madrassas.
Abdul Haq Muhaddis Dehlavi was educated in Madrasa-e-Delhi during Jahangir’s reign. These madrassas and maktabs were generally day schools having two sessions with a recess in between them. Jahangir also directed to open hospitals in all great cities of the empire whose expenses were to be met from ‘khalisa sharifa’. Such hospitals sometimes served as medical schools (maktabs) as has been corroborated by Monserrate who visited a ‘school of medicine’ in Sirhind. Another government sponsored facility was ‘darus-shifa’ in Ahmadabad whose incharge, Hakim Mir Muhammad Hashim, was appointed by Shahjahan.
Shahjahan established two schools, one at Agra and one at Delhi and appointed their teachers himself. Shahjahan’s reign saw emergence of Lahore, Ahmadabad, Burhanpur, Bharatpur, Sirhind, Thanesar and Ambala as celebrated seats of learning attracting a large number of students from all over the subcontinent. Aurangzeb tried introducing free education but his efforts did not succeed. However he experimented with a madrasa he opened for Bohras of Gujrat in which a system of monthly examination was introduced whose results were communicated directly to the emperor.
Muslim education was standardised during Mughal rule and a cogent educational curriculum was designed and implemented. The celebrated Dars-e-Nizamiya, named after Mulla Nizam-ud-din of Farangi Mahal, Lucknow still holds sway in religious instruction throughout the subcontinent and it was the only educational curriculum available to people in mid-eighteenth century. The universality of Dars-e-Nizamiya could be gauged by the fact that it taught grammar, rhetoric, philosophy, logic, scholasticism, tafsir, fiqh, hadith, and mathematics. Although short on scientific subjects per se the syllabus provided good mental discipline and its general adoption was responsible for the widespread interest in intellectual and philosophical matters. Madrasa-i-Rahimiya, the forerunner of the modern seminary of Deoband was specifically meant for religious education but for those needing a general education to qualify for the posts of munshis, qazis, or religious preachers, Dars-i-Nizamiya provided a satisfactory basis until modern times.
The inveterate British critic of local system, Colonel Sleeman, who wiped of Thaggi and whose critical report resulted in annexing kingdom of Oudh in 1856 that brought about Mutiny in 1857, made a specific observation about Muslim education in Mughal India. He wrote that perhaps there are few communities in the world among whom education is more generally diffused than among Mohammadans in India. He who holds an office worth twenty rupees a month commonly gives his sons an education equal to that of a Prime Minister. They learn, through the medium of Arabic and Persian languages, what young men in our colleges learn through those of Greek and Latin—that is, grammar, rhetoric, and logic.
The spread of knowledge and intellectual development is linked up with the growth of libraries. No Muslim noble was considered cultured unless he possessed a library. Although printing was not introduced in northern India till after the end of Muslim rule but hundreds of katibs (calligraphists) operated in cities working for large number of clients. The royal palaces contained immense libraries comprising rare manuscripts and books on every subject. Famous traveller to India Manrique mentions the library of Agra in 1641 containing 24,000 volumes, valued at six and a half million rupees. TW