What was the essence of Gurukul Education?
Those who are fond of Gurukul education, know well its draw backs, but will not speak because of their vested interests. First thing gurukul was never open to the majority of masses. About 85 to 90 percent of population was outside the pale of Gurukuls. Only the 15 percent population was being catered by Gurukuls. That too, only the boys were admitted and not the girls, thus bringing the total possible population to be only about seven percent.
There were no criteria for admission apart from the caste and whims and fancies of the teacher. Examples of denial of admission to very meritorious candidates on the basis of caste are seen. Glaring example is of Eklavya. Not only the guru Dronacharya denied admission to Eklavya, but demanded Eklavya’s thumb as gurudakshina for education NOT imparted by him. Many people feel it is irony of fate and mockery of awards, that such a name is associated with highest sports awards in this country, without any protest from the sufferers of the system.
Second example is of Karna, who got admission to Parashurama’s class, which was exclusively reserved for the Brahmins, on false statement of caste. Benefit of his knowledge, labeled as unlawfully obtained, was withdrawal when his caste became known, which ultimately lead to his death.
Example of Satyakama Jabala is mentioned by many orthodox people to erroneously show that education in Upanishadic times was open to low caste people. This is a wrong inference drawn from his story. Satyakama was asked by his guru his caste. His mother sent a word to the guru that she did not know the exact father of the child as she had relations with many people. This frank statement, the guru declared, can only be a statement of a son of a Brahmin. So the admission to the gurukul was done on the basis of Brahmin caste. Not only that, the test applied by him, and his presumption of Brahmin caste, was derogatory to non-Brahmins, because it was his belief that only Brahmins could speak such a truth and non-Brahmins could not have uttered such truth. It may be noted that the declaration was made by the child’s mother, who had no right to education. How a bold statement by mother can decide the caste of putative father, is a mystery, nobody has ever talked about.