The Education system in Mughal period during Akbar was in advance of his age and made an attempt to raise the intellectual level of the people. Although he did not establish a network of schools and colleges all over the country for the benefit of the school-going population and did not allocate a fixed percentage of the state revenue for expenditure on education, he encouraged education in diverse ways.
The Mughal education system consisted of primary and secondary schools, and even colleges. Some of them were established and maintained by Mughal government, while others depended upon private philanthropy. There was a maktab or primary school attached to every mosque where elementary reading, writing and arithmetic, besides the Quran, were taught. In addition to these, there were madrasas which may be called secondary schools or colleges. Akbar established colleges at Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Delhi and other places, and richly endowed them. His example was followed by his courtiers. Quite early in his reign Maham Anga had built a madrasa near the western gate of Purana Qila at Delhi. Khwaja Muin established a college at Delhi.
There were many such colleges in all important towns with a sufficiently large Muslim population. In these colleges Islamic theology, jurisprudence, philosophy, logic and astronomy were taught by distinguished teachers some of whom had received education outside India. There were schools and higher centers of learning for the Hindus in every part of the country. There was a remarkable revival of our ancient learning during the age of Akbar. There was a school in every village and in fact a school attached to every temple where reading, writing and arithmetic and religious books were taught. In higher centers of learning, Hindu theology, Sanskrit grammar, philosophy, literature, logic, astronomy, higher mathematics and other sciences were studied.
Akbar made an attempt to revise the curriculum and to include certain important subjects in the courses of study meant for grown-up boys at schools and colleges. These subjects were science of morals and social behavior, arithmetic, notations peculiar to arithmetic, agriculture, geometry, astronomy, physiognomy and foretelling, household economy, public administration, medicine, logic, sciences and history. Students of Sanskrit were required to study grammar, philology, logic, Vedanta and Patanjali. These were to be studied gradually. The teacher was only to assist the pupils to learn. Students were particularly advised to commit moral precepts and sayings to memory, and no one was to neglect “those things which the present time required.”
Probably, colleges were required to specialize in some of the above subjects. It is unlikely that every institution was required to teach all the above subjects. Another educational reform introduced during the Mughal period was to open the madarsas to Hindus. For the first time in medieval India, Hindus and Muslims received their education in common schools and read the same books. The reform was necessitated by the fact that Akbar had made Persian compulsory for all the state officials and by his desire to create a common nationality.
The Mughal educational system produced remarkable men in every walk of life who contributed to the success of the later days of Akbar and of the reigns of Jahangir and Shah Jahan and were able enough to shed luster on any age and in any country. This is enough to show that the reform had proved efficacious.
Akbar’s court was a centre of learning and art. The emperor, his courtiers and officials were liberal patrons of letters. The age consequently witnessed a cultural renaissance of a high order. Works of high literary value were produced in various subjects, particularly on historiography. The Hindi poetry of Akbar’s age is unrivalled and has become classical for all time. Such high production would have been impossible without proper educational organization and atmosphere.
The court played a very important part in the Mughal emperor’s scheme of the propagation of education and culture. Akbar encouraged men of letters and arts to produce standard scientific and literary works on a variety of subjects. Books on religion, philosophy, literature, biography, history, mathematics, astronomy, medicine and other subjects were brought out in large numbers. Poetry was not neglected. Fine arts like architecture, music and painting were also encouraged.
Inspired by the laudable ambition of creating a common culture, Akbar established a Translation Department and had outstanding works in Sanskrit, Arabic and Turki rendered into Persian, so as to enable the Hindus and Muslims to know the best in each other’s religion and culture. For the above purpose the services of high-ranking scholars in the country were requisitioned. Many famous scholars from outside India were also invited to assist the indigenous talent in the above work. Many a Sanskrit treatise, including the Vedas and the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, were rendered into Persian. Arabic works of repute on Muslim theology and arts were also translated into Persian.
A school of Indian historiography was founded and a large number of histories were written by eminent historians. Libraries were opened. The royal library in the palace was one of the most wonderful institutions of the kind in the world. It consisted of many thousand books, all of which were manuscripts, sumptuously bound and beautifully illustrated. The books were classified according to their subject-matter and the language in which they were written. There were Sanskrit, Persian, Greek, Kashmiri and Arabic works.
Hindi, which was coming into prominence, was patronized. Although the education in Mughal period, as planned by Akbar was through the medium of Persian which was the court language and compulsory for state servants, schools attached to temples and private institutions founded and maintained by the Hindus must have imparted knowledge through the medium of Hindi. The measures undertaken by the Mughal emperor indicated a desire on his part to raise the moral and intellectual standard of the people. It must, however, be admitted that the scheme was meant mainly for the upper and middle class people.