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Revisiting the Beautiful Tree – 7

November 2, 2020 Authored by: Probal Ray Chowdhury

Institutions of Higher Learning

The 1822-25 survey of indigenous education in Madras Presidency also recorded the presence of 1,094 ‘colleges’ or institutions of higher learning where 5,431 students were reported to be studying.  Unlike in the case of elementary schools, the reporting on the institutions of higher learning by different collectors was not uniform.  While the collectors of Vishakhapatnam and Srirangapattanam, South Arcot and Tirunelveli gave no information on the ‘colleges’, those of Ganjam, Cuddapah, Madurai and Madras mentioned that there were such colleges which were run privately in agraharams[1], but they did not give any further details concerning them.  The collectors of Bellary and Nellore mentioned the number of such colleges; they however did not give the number of students studying in them separately, but added that along with the number of those studying in schools.  The available details of the number of colleges and the students studying in them are compiled in Table III.

Table III: Institutions of Higher Learning in the districts of Madras Presidency 1822-25

DistrictsNumber of CollegesNumber of Students
Rajahmundry2791,454
Machilipatnam49199
Guntur171939
Nellore107N.A.
Bellary23N.A.
Malabar175
North Arcot69418
Chengalpattu51398
Thanjavur109769
Tiruchirappalli9131
Coimbatore173724
Salem53324
Total:1,0945,431

Source:    Dharampal 1983:18-19.

Note:        N.A.: Not Available. The information on the number of students studying in colleges is not available for the districts of Nellore and Bellary.

The reports of the collectors also indicate that all those studying in these colleges were male and most of them belonged to the Brahmana community except for 5 students in Rajahmundry district who belonged to ‘Other Castes’.  The community-wise break-up of the 939 students studying in the various colleges of Guntur district was not provided in the collector’s report.

From Table III, it may be seen that, on an average, there were around 5 to 6 students per college during 1822-25.[2]  The highest number of colleges and pupils were found in the district of Rajahmundry, followed closely by Coimbatore and Guntur districts.  While districts like Salem, Chengalpattu, Machilipatnam, North Arcot and Thanjavur had slightly lower number of colleges, the college-student ratio in these districts was higher than the average of around 5.  Malabar had only one institution of higher learning (the college run by the Zamorin of Calicut[3]) with as many as 75 students.

Table IV: Subject-wise classification of Colleges in Madras Presidency 1822-25

SubjectsDistricts →RajahmundryMachilipatnamNelloreNorth ArcotCoimbatoreTotal
VedasColleges19811834394429
Students1,03366N.A.298              N.A.1,397
LawColleges6030152469198
Students35898N.A.117N.A.573
AstronomyColleges148821042
Students4935N.A.3N.A.84
Andhra SastraColleges77
Students1414
Hindustani MusicColleges11
StudentsN.A.
Total:Colleges2794910769173677
Students1,454199N.A.418N.A.2,071

Source:    Dharampal 1983:28.  Also the various reports of the Collectors included in the book.

Note:        N.A.: Not Available

The collectors of Rajahmundry, Machilipatnam, North Arcot, Nellore and Coimbatore gave the subject-wise break-up of the institutions of higher learning and, except in the case of the last two districts, also provided the details of the number of students studying in them.  These are summarised in Table IV.  Of the 677 colleges, for which this information is available, 429 (nearly 60% of the total) specialised in Vedas, 168 (25% of the total) in Smriti or Law, 34 in Ganita Sastra or Mathematics and Astronomy, 7 in Andhra Sastra or Telugu Poetics and 1 in Hindustani Music.

Table V: Higher Learning under Private Tutors in Malabar 1822-25

SubjectsBrahmanaVaisyaSudraOther CastesTotal HindusMuslimsTotal Students
Theology & Law474   474 474
Astronomy78231955108062808
Metaphysics34  3165 65
Ethics22  3153 53
Medical Science31 591001904194
Total:639232546721,58861,594

Source:    Dharampal 1983:34-35, 198-201

The report of the collector of Malabar also provided details of another 1,594 students who were studying with what he referred to as ‘private tutors’, in addition to the 75 students who were studying in the college run by the Samudrin Raja at Kozhikode.  These details are summarised in Table V.  Of the 1,594 scholars, 808 (constituting over 50% of the total) were studying Astronomy, 474 (nearly 30% of the total) Theology and Law, 194 Medical Sciences, 65 Metaphysics, and 53 scholars were studying Ethics.  Even more interesting is the fact that of the 808 scholars who were studying Astronomy, 195 students belonged to the Sudra community and 510 to the ‘Other Castes’.  Similarly, of the 194 scholars studying Medical Sciences, 59 belonged to the Sudra community and 100 to ‘Other Castes’.  The collector’s report also notes that of these 1,594 scholars undergoing higher instruction in Malabar, 41 were women, of whom 3 were Brahmana women studying Theology and Law, 5 Vaisya women studying Astronomy, and 19 Sudra and 14 women of ‘Other Castes’ who were also studying Astronomy.


[1] ‘Agraharam’ or ‘agrahara’ is the name given to the area in the village where the Brahmanas lived.  Sometimes, an entire village, which was inhabited solely by the Brahmana community was also named so.

[2] Most of these indigenous ‘colleges’ in the early nineteenth century essentially centred around a high scholar in whose household a number of students were staying and studying gratis.  This fact was noted by the collectors of Machilipatnam, Cuddapah, Guntur and Madurai in their respective reports.

[3] Zamorin of Calicut is the anglicization of Samudrin Raja of Kozhikode.

Centre For Indic studies
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