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Ghatika Educational System

The Ghatika - An Educational Institution of Medieval Karnataka
by Jyotsna Burde

First Published in 1965 in:
 Indica - Vol. II No. 2
Organ of the Heras Institute of Indian History and Culture
St. Xavier's College, Bombay-1

The meaning of ghatika as a time measure or twenty-four minutes is well known throughout India. But the fact that it also denoted an educational institution in ancient and mediaeval Karnataka is very little known. An effort is made here to show these ghatikas flourished as centres of learning and how private individuals and public bodies gave liberal grants for their development.

Nature of the ghatika

The word ghatika is derived from the Sanskrit original root ghat which means "to take place" or "form". Vatsyayana uses it in the sense of a religious assembly [1]. The term ghatika has been differently understood by scholars. Kielhorn interpreted it as an establishment for holy and learned men and identified it with brahmapuri or the Brahmin quarters of a city [2]. Barnett interpreted it as a meeting place or hall of learned and godly men and thus connected it with ghatige or ghalige which he takes to mean an assembly [3]. Pathak translated it as a religious centre [4], and Minakshi took ghatika to mean the place or institution where scholars and students strove after knowledge [5]. The frequent mention of this term without details in many inscriptions has led to these various interpretations. But we have positive evidence, in a few inscriptions, of ghatikas being institutions of advanced learning in mediaeval Karnataka.

The earliest mention of a ghatika in this sense is found in Kakusthavarman's Talagunda inscription [6] belonging to the earlier half of the fourth century A.D. [7]. It mentions a ghatika at Kanci, which in those days was a big cultural centre. Mayurasarman, the founder of the royal family of the Kadambas, went to this ghatika with his guru, eager to study "the whole sacred lore" [8]. Probably there was no such institution in his part of the country and the ghatiks of Kanci must have been well-known as a seat of higher learning. We find numerous ghatikas in the later centuries in Karnataka. Perhaps they were modeled on the ghatika at Kanci.

The ghatikas of Karnataka

The earliest example of a ghatika in Karnataka is to be found in Dharwar district at Kalas then known as Kadiyuru [9]. An inscription of that place, of 929-30 A.D., describes the land of Kadiyuru, and the learned men studying in its agrahara and ghatika. The transformation of ghatika into Kannada ghalige had taken place by the 10th century. In the ghalige of Kalas, the Brahmins studied grammar, polity, literature, history, the great logic of Ekkaksaramuni and commentaries on them [10].

Almost all other ghatikas belong to the time o the Western Chalukyas of Kalyana. Of these, those at Morigere (1045) [11] Nagai (1058) [12], Sudi (1060) [13], Hotturu (1064) [14], Tumbula (1068) [15], Rayabag (1127) [16], Puligere (1129) [17], and Henjeru (1167) [18], were prominent. Henjeru and Rayabag were Mahaghatikasthanas or the seats of the great ghatika. Pottiyuru (modern Hotturu in Dharwar district) was akhila ghatikasthana. Others are simply mentioned as ghatikasthana or ghalige. The only inscriptions which give complete details about the working of a ghatika are those of Nagai.

Three great institutions of Nagai

That the village of Nagai in Gulbarga district contained three big institutions of higher learning is clear from the three inscriptions of the place [19]. One of them connected with the Traipurusadeva temple is called both a ghatika and a sale [20]. The second is associated with the Madhusudana temple and is called a matha [21]; it may also have been called a ghatika because two of the members of its establishment are called ghatiyaras or officers of a ghatika [22]. We do not know that the third institution, which was connected with the Ramesvara temple [23], was called, because the inscription which describes it is incomplete. But if we suppose that a ghatika was an institution with a large number of students, this must also have been one, because it had a strength of more than 400. Then, there are the remains of a "big building with an outer courtyard with rooms on either side, with a big doorway which leads into a spacious hall, with a number of stone benches serving as pials (seats) [24]". This is supposed to have an educational institution, according to C.R. Krishnamacharlu. Whether these ruins are of the fourth institution of the place or one of the other three mentioned above is not clear. It is possible that all the three schools were parts of one big institution, having about 1,000 students, but living in three or four separate campuses, resembling the University of Nalanda. We now give the details of the organisation of the three campuses or schools as can be made out from the records.

The ghatika of Traipurusadeva temple: Madhuva or Madhusudana, an officer of king Trailokyamalladeva constructed this sale (school of higher learning) called ghatikasthana along with the temple of Traipurusadeva [25]. In this ghatika, two hundred scholars studied Vedas and fifty-two studied the sastras. Three teachers of the Vedas and three sastra teachers formed the main staff along with librarians called Sarasvatibhandarigar and a ghatikaprahari. O these, the three sastra teachers taught Bhattadarsana, Nyasa and Prabhakaradarsana, respectively. Provision was made for these members of the staff and the students for boarding and lodging. Land was allocated for their maintenance as follows:

30 mattars of land to the expounder of Bhattadarsana
30 ,, ,, ,, ,, Nyasa
45 ,, ,, ,, ,, Prabhakara
30 ,, ,, each Librarian
30 ,, ,, the ghatikaprahari 
and 1000 ,, for the manis (of Parishe) or the students [27].

The ghatika of Madhusudana temple

This temple school must have had an imposing pile of buildings with lofty porticoes, gatehalls and compound walls. It had a natsyasala or theatre in its precincts [28]. The three-storeyed entrance tower (muruneleya bagilvada) "vied with Indra's vimana in splendour" [28a]. A spacious building was built for the convenience of the inmates for carrying on their respective religious observances. The inmates were classed as Ekadandi, Tridandi, Snatakas, brahmacaris and ascetics of the Hamsa and the Paramahamsa orders [29]. A school existed for the study of the Rik, Yajus, Sama and Atharvana vedas with their several thousands of Sakhas and the vedangas [30]. And those connected with this school and the temple viz., Bhattopadhyaya, Brahmapuribhatta, Puranabhatta, stone-cutter, artisans, songstreses, drummers, and Kapina ghatiyaras [31] received grants of land. Of these, the Kapina ghatiyara and ghatika prahari deserve some explanation, because they throw some light on the working of the ghatika of Nagai. These terms are translated by C.R. Krishnamacharlu as watchman [32] and striker of hours [33] respectively. But they received emoluments equal to those of a teacher. Hence it is likely that they were not mere watchmen or time keepers. In the Vikramasila University, which also flourished like Nagai in the 11th century, there were officers known by the unpretentious name of Dvarapanditas or gate-keepers, but they were the guardians of the scholarship of the University. They were most erudite scholars, and it was they who took the entrance examination of incoming students and admitted only the ablest [34]. The ghatika was a seat of high learning and its guardians (Kapina ghatiyaras) may have performed functions similar to those of the dvarapanditas of Vikramasila.

Since the striker of hours (ghatikaprahari) received emoluments equal to those of the teachers, he may have been in charge of more responsible duties than merely striking hours. In Nalanda, every activity was carried on according to the striking of a gong [35]. In Nagai, where there were nearly 1,000 students, a similar practice must have existed. The striker of hours may have been in charge of framing the time-table and of seeing that every thing went on according to it. In one other respect also Nagai resembled Nalanda. Like the latter, it had a big library to look after which there were six librarians. This is one of the rare instances of the mention of a big library in mediaeval South India.

Ghatika of the Ramesvara temple

The last inscription of the same place mentions a certain Mahadevarasa and his charities in Nagai. He established a school for four hundred students, of whom one hundred studied works of Kavisunu (i.e. Sukara), one hundred studied works of Vyasa and one hundred, the works of Manu [36]. The damaged condition of the record does not enable us to determine what the fourth hundred students studied.

After studying the details about the working of a ghatika in one place, we may now turn to its relation to other similar institutions.

Ghatika and other institutions: With the available evidence it can be established that the ghatika was invariably attached to a temple. We have just now observed that the two ghatikas of Nagai formed parts of the temples of Traipurusadeva and Madhusudana [37]. Other similar examples of association of the ghatika with a temple are the following: The great ghatikasthana of Henjeru (Mahaghatikasthana) was part of the Nonambeshvara temple [38]. The ghatika or ghalige of Puligere was attached to the temple of Svayambhu Dakshina Somanathadeva [39].

The relation of ghatikas to mathas, agraharas and brahmapuris is equally clear. In Sudi, both a matha and a ghalige flourished together and separate provision was made for instructing the youths of a matha (mathada maniyar) and the youths of a ghalige (ghaligeya maniyar) [40].

The relation between an agrahara and a brahmapuri on the one hand and the ghatika on the other, appears to have been that the former were the residential places, and the latter, the place of instruction. This is confirmed by an inscription of Nagai where provision was made, besides students, for the maintenance of the teachers, brahmapuribhatta, puranabhatta and other employees of the temple, [41] who in all probability lived inside the temple precincts, while the students studied in the ghatika or college of the Traipurusadeva temple.

Ghatika and sale

The ghatika at Nagai is clearly mentioned as a sale, (ghatikasthnamenipa sale) [42]. The six librarians of that ghatika are referred to as saleya Sarasvatibhandarigar [43]. Sale, unlike at the present day, denoted then an institution of higher learning. The institution of Salotgi of the time of the Rashtrakuta Krisna (circa A.D. 950) was an agrahara and a sale as the name of the place itself indicates [44]. The village of Pavittge later came to be known as Salotgi, because it contained a remarkable sale. "To judge by the description of it given in the text, the sale must have been an establishment of some importance [45]." This institution was very big with well-furnished twenty-seven hostels (for students) where were scholars born in different lands [46]. Thus, it is clear that the sale was an institution of higher learning and at times was identical with the ghatika, though what made a sale into a ghatika cannot be known.

Students in the ghatika

 Students of the ghatika or ghalige are called manis in a number of inscriptions; for example at Morigere, Sudi, Nagai, Tambula, etc. All these inscriptions refer to grants of lands made to cover the needs of students. Ghatika was a place where highly merited students strove for knowledge and a person fortunate enough to enter and qualify himself in a ghatika seems to have been known as ghatikasahasa [47]. This word has come down to us in various forms. Ghayiya sahasa [48] is identified with ghaisasa [49] which is now a surname among many Brahmin families. So are the names Ghalisasa [50] and Ghalisa [51]. In addition to ghatikasahasa, we also come across persons having the title of ghatikavadi [52] or a debator in a ghatika. This probably implies that debates were held in ghatikas and those who shone in them received the title of ghatkavadi.

Mahajanas of ghatika

An undated inscription of Chalukya Vikramaditya II of Badami, at Kanci, refers to the mahajanas of a ghatika. The king, after his war with the Pallavas, restored the Kailasanatha temple and at the end of the inscription describing the restoration, it is said: " Those who destroy these letters and the stability of the king's charity.... shall enter the world of those who have killed the mahajanas of a ghatika [53]." Agraharas in Karnataka were administered by the mahajanas. Since ghatika and agrahara were interrelated in the way described earlier, it is possible that the mahajanas administered ghatikas also. The imprecation in the above inscription considers the killing of the mahajanas of the ghatika as a heinous crime, thereby emphasizing the sanctity of the institution. This belief is substantiated by an inscription of the time of Vikramendra Vakataka (circa 7th century A.D.) which refers to the store of merit acquired through a ghatika [54].

While the relation between the local government as represented by the mahajanas of an agrahara and the ghatika was close, the relation between the state and the ghatika is less explicit. Of course, it was the king or his officers who endowed the ghatikas with land and equipment, but did they stop with merely endowing these institutions or did they go further in controlling or supervising their activities? In Gujarat, under the Caulukyas, there was an officer called ghatika-grha-karana whose business it was to supervise the buildings of the ghatikas [55]. We may suppose that the governments considered it as their duty not only to provide buildings but also to maintain them in good condition. In Karnataka, maintenance of the ghatika buildings was done locally. A stone-cutter or a mason and other artisans were specially appointed for this purpose in the Madhusudana temple school at Nagai [56]. Beyond this neither in Gujarat nor in Karnataka is there ground to suppose that the state exercised and control over the ghatikas.

Duration and extent of the ghatika: From this brief survey it can be seen that the ghatika was an outstanding educational institution of mediaeval Karnataka, with a few characteristics which distinguished it from other similar institutions. These were:

  • A high standard of scholarship. 

  • Large number of students. 

  • Liberal endowments. 

  • A library

  • A time-table. 

The institution seems to have enjoyed great popularity and high esteem from the early centuries of the Christian era up to about the 15th century A.D. [57]. The merchant guilds of Karnataka known as Ayyavole claim to have established sixty-four ghatikasthanas. These guilds spread from Karnataka into Tamilnadu, where also they claimed to have established a number of ghatikasthanas. The institution was also known in contemporary Gujarat and Andhra [58]. In spite of its popularity for a long time, it has left only a few traces behind. Some terms obviously connected with the ghatika are still in vogue in Kannada. Thus ghatanughati and ghattiga are used to denote an intellectual giant and the convocation of a university is known as ghatikotsava. The survival of these words attests to the influence it exerted, long after the institution had been forgotten by the people. This influence was not merely academic; it was also spiritual and social, for as one record says, "the ghatika was both a supporter of dharma and abode of worldly enjoyment [59]."


1. Vatsyayana, Kamasutram (Marathi translation by B.M. Khuprekar, Satara, 1938) p. 76
2. Epigraphia Indica VIII p. 26 (= EI).
3. Ibid. XIII p. 336, v. 25 and XVI p. 87.
4. Indian Antiquary XIV p. 25n (= IA).
5. Minakshi, C., Administration and Social Life under the Pallavas, p. 186.
6. EI VIII No. 5 p. 24.
7. Sircar, D.C., The successors of Satavahanas in Lower Deccan, p. 233.
8. EI VIII No. 5 v. 10 p. 34.
9. EI VII, p. 329.
10. Ibid. p. 337 v. 10.
11. South Indian Inscriptions IX Pt. I No. 101 p. 73 L 53 (= SII).
12. Hyderabad Archaeological Series VIII pp. 15-23 (= HAS).
13. EI XV No. 6 p. 89.
14. Ibid. XIV No. 15 p. 84.
15. SII XX Pt. I No. 133 p. 116.
16. Kundangar, K.G., Inscriptions in North Karnatak and the Kolhapur State, No. 6 p. 75.
17. Annual Report on South Indian epigraphy (1935-36) p. 16 (= ARSIE).
18. Epigraphia Carnatica XII Si. 23 (= EC).
19. HAS VIII ins. B, C, and D.
20. Ibid..p.15
21. Ibid. Ins. C.
22. Ibid. Ins. C, P, 38-Ghatiyaras of Kapu.
23. Ibid. Ins. D pp. 38-42.
24. HAS VII p.1.
25. Ibid. Ins. B p. 15.
26. Ibid.
27. HAS Ins. B p. 15.
28. Ibid. VII Ins. C P. 38.
29. Ibid.
30. Ibid. p. 23.
32. HAS VII Ins. C p. 38.
33. Ibid. Ins. B p. 23.
34. Vidyabhushana, S. C., History of the Mediaeval School of Indian Logic p. 151.
35. Takakusu's I-Tsing p. 84.
36. HAS VIII Ins. D p. 39.
37. Ibid. Ins. B and C.
38. EC XII Si, 23.
39. ARSIE (1935-36) p. 160.
40. EI XV No. 6 p. 93 LL 41-46.
41. HAS VII pp. 37-38.
42. Ibid. p. 15.
43. Ibid. p. 15 LL 195-96.
44. EI IV No. 6 pp. 58-63.
45. Ibid. p. 58 ftn. 5.
46. Ibid. p. 63 v. 18.
47. EC III Md. 113 p. 165 L 41.
48. IA VII No. 305.
49. EI VI p. 245 ftn. 2.
50. EI V p. 21 and Karnatak Inscriptions Pt. II p. 141 and EC VII Sk. 235 p. 310 Kan. text.
51. SII VI No. 558 p. 197.
52. EC VII Sk. 235 p. 310 Kan. text.
53. EI III No. 48 p. 360.
54. Ibid. IV p. 196 L 14.
55. Majumdar, A. K., The Chaulukyas of Gujarat pp. 213-15.
56. HAS VII Ins. C p. 38.
57. EC V Cn p. 178.
58. ARSIE (1913) p. 99.
59. EC VII Sk. 197 p. 214 - Dharmakke nermamum bhogakkararamum ada ghatikasthananum.

See Also:

  • Old-timey Education -- Dr. Jyotsna Kamat hosts an amusing online exhibition of historical artifacts on education in India through the centuries

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