Munro was one British officer who was friendly to India. He was a friend of India. He was an officer, who unlike the other colonial officers, had great respect and admiration for the native customs of the land.
Sir Thomas Munro was born on 27th May, 1761 at Glasgow. He arrived in India in 1789.
In 1820s, the British did an extensive All India survey of the education system of the land, which was conducted by Sir Thomas Munro, who later went on to become Major General Thomas Munro.
British Survey of Educational System
As per Sir Thomas Munro’s survey, in every village, there was more than one Gurukula. Every temple had a Gurukula attached to it. Every region and kingdom prided in the Mahavidyalaya, the institutions of higher learning that were nearby, at hand.
He saw a vibrant education system that existed in India, prior to the imposition of the British education system.
His survey also showed that in the traditional education system, caste played no role, and was not restricted by gender or religion.
He started this survey from Bellary, which is in the centre of Deccan.
Prosperous Bellary of antiquity
Bellary was a prosperous land, rich in minerals. This Bellary was associated with the Kishkinda Kingdom of Ramayana times. Hampi, the capital of Vijayanagara Kingdom of Krishnadevaraya was also located in this Bellary area.
Bellary was thus not a backward area but a prosperous land from ancient times. In the recent few decades too, Bellary has yielded mining wealth of legendary proportions.
It is from such a well-to-do region, that Thomas Munro started his famous education survey. The survey was extended all over South India.
Survey of Madras Presidency
Thomas Munro was then posted in the Deccan region and was given the task of conducting an extensive survey of the schooling system that was prevalent there. He did a caste wise enumeration in each district that came under the purview of his survey.
His report is an eye opener for all.
The above statistics emphatically show that, in the Madras Presidency Area of those days, which covered most parts of South India, the Shudra and Athishudra children were the majority of students, uniformly in all the 4 language regions.
It can be observed that Madras Presidency Province extended from Orissa coast in the North to Kanyakumari in the South as well as to the Malabar Coast in the West. Adjoining kingdoms of Hyderabad, Mysore, Travancore and Calicut were also included in this extensive survey.
The survey also placed before all, district wise data of student of different castes studying in the same school together.
Going through these statistics in the survey report, we see that district after district, without fail, Shudra and other castes outnumbered the Brahmins in schools. The word Soodra was the way Shudra was spelt in those days.
This emphatically brings out the fact that, it was not only the Brahmins who went to Gurukula. All students of the society had equal opportunity to go to the traditional and native schools of India.
In the analysis of this chart, what comes out clear is that it was the kings, the Raja who did not send their children to Gurukula but instead seemed to prefer home schooling.
Whereas the students of Brahmana, Vaishya, Shudra and Athishudra, all studied together in the same schools, under the same teachers, in same classrooms and studied the same subjects. These statistics clearly bring out, that the interest of Shudra in education and enrollment in schools were in equal numbers or infact a lot more.
Religion and Gender not a barrier
Major General Sir Thomas Munro touched on the aspect of gender and religion, at Fort St.George, Madras on 10th March, 1826. As per what he said, in the Malabar region from 1822 to 1825, 11963 boys and 2190 girls went to school. Of these 1,122 girls belonged to Muslim families. He conducted this survey when he was posted at Malabar.
Thomas Munro’s experience at Mantralaya
When Thomas Munro was the Collector of Bellary, he made a survey of the lands and fixed rents and taxes on a uniform scale. However he was not able to appropriately determine the ownership of the lands that were in the hands of the Matnralaya Mutt, the place where Sri Radhavendra Swamy’s Samadhi is located.
The devotees of Swamy Raghavendra told Munro that even though Raghavendra Swamy has been in Brahma Samadhi for the last 130 years, He will continue to live for the next 700 years. They asked him to meet Raghavendra Swamy and seek from him clarification regarding the lands. Thomas Munro was moved seeing the faith of the people, and decided to meet the Swamy. He arrived at Mantralaya and sat by the Samadhi. He was astonished to see Raghavendra Swamy appearing before him in a manifested form.
The Swamy then explained to him in detail regarding the extent of the land belonging to the Mutt. He then became invisible again. Thomas Munro who was awed at getting darshan of the Swamy in person, passed the lands in the Mutt’s favour.
Sir Thomas Munro
Sir Thomas Munro passed away on 6th July, 1827 at Gooty, after being infected with Cholera, in the then Madras Presidency. He was buried at a graveyard in Gooty.
For His efforts of the education survey and his other such untiring efforts, such as redesigning a peasant friendly land revenue system and a more people friendly district administration system which survives to this day, Major General Thomos Munro was knighted as Sir Thomas Munro. That is the honour and importance that the British had accorded to his sincere efforts and the survey.
A magnificent bronze statue of Sir. Thomas Munro stands to this day in the centre of Chennai, erstwhile Madras city, as a sign of the high esteem, in which he was held by both Indians and the British.
The interesting bit of information on the side is that, this statue, made in Britain by Sir. Francis Chantrey, a popular sculptor, shows Sir Thomas Munro without a stirrup, stirring up a controversy on whether it was an oversight or a true depiction of Munro who loved to ride bareback.
Stirrup or not, popular sentiment overrode and Munro continues to sit astride on his horse, as one of the landmarks of Chennai.
More on Thomos Munro and his education survey in our book, Breaking The Myths – About Society.