Study of the Vedas, technically termed ‘adhyayana,’ was considered not only as part of education but as part of religious life as well. Since a change of svara (intonation) would often entail a change of meaning as well, great care was exercised in preserving the oral musical tradition of the Vedas.
The student desirous of learning the Vedas had to live in the house of the guru, after first completing the sacrament of upanayana. Avoiding the days known as ‘anadhyayana’ (or anadhyāya) (See ANADHYĀYA.) on all other permissible days he could approach the guru for Vedic studies after finishing the daily religious chores like the sandhyā. He had to sit facing north. The guru would recite the Vedic mantras pāda by pāda (i.e., a quarter of a stanza) and the student had to repeat them at least twice. Once he learnt the correct pronunciation and intonation and also committed it to memory, the guru would proceed with the next part. The student had to revise the lessons by himself or with the help of senior students the same day. The study would cover the Saṁhitā, the Brāhmaṇa and the Upaniṣad parts of the particular śākhā (branch) of the Veda to which the student belonged. It would normally take twelve years to master one’s śākhā.
Along with the Vedic studies, a study of the Vedāṅgas (subsidiaries like grammar) dharmaśāstras, itihāsas and purāṇas as also some secular sciences would also be pursued.
As for teaching (adhyāpana), it was expected that the teacher (adhyāpaka or ācārya) should be well-versed and competent and of a sinless life. He could teach anyone eligible for Vedic studies, on any of the following three conditions: