The mystery of life was more vivid to the men of ancient times than it is to us, and when we read the records of the remote past we are struck by these questions that they put to nature and the answers they received from her. With all credit given to our modern theories of education and experiments' in the field, nonetheless our educational insights seen puerile compared with those which the ancients developed. For instance, to speak of pre-natal education in the context of our sophisticated mental attitudes is to invite a shrug of indifference. For we are not stirred numinously by the wonder and mystery that the infant represents and so we are not inspired to inquire what this little being is and whether it may not have had a mysterious and wonderful past in the womb of its mother. The ancients, however, not only inquired into this question but arrived at some remarkable conclusions. Unfortunately the ancient literature is so symbolic that it is very difficult to arrive at a precise idea of its meaning and import. But it is fairly certain that they considered the pre-natal stage a very important one. They know that a great activity goes on with the formation of the body, and that this activity is not merely physical but also psychological.
In India there was a tradition that a couple desiring to have a child should perform a sacrifice and invite the gods (which are symbolic of psychological powers and functions) to preside over the mating and the formation of the body of the child to be. It was also prescribed that the period of pregnancy should be marked by a phase of retirement from the routine of ordinary life and should be devoted to noble thoughts and aspirations. It was held that the thought, feeling and action of the mother during this period had a profound influence upon the psychological formation of the child in embryo. Indian epics and Puranas present us with numerous stories giving evidence of the Indian psychology of pre-natal education. Especially interesting in this respect is the famous story of Abhimanyu in the Mahabharata. It is said that once upon a time Sri Krishna paid a visit to his sister, Subhadra, who was married to Arjuna. Subhadra was naturally very happy and during his visit fell into a long chat with him. Late that night she requested him to tell her a story. Sri Krishna, the Lord
incarnate, knew all the past, present and future, and on this particular occasion chose to narrate a story of something that was to happen in the near future ‒ the story of Kurukshetra, the battle between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. Subhadra became very much interested in this story, as she was herself the wife of Arjuna, that most distinguished among the Pandavas. The story was long and Subhadra began to feel drowsy, but presently Sri Krishna came to the most important part of the story. He said that the victory in the battle would depend upon a knowledge of the strategic positions of the armies of the Kauravas. These strategic positions would be seven, he said, but they would remain a complete secret to all except a chosen few among the Kauravas. "But surely you know this secret," said Subhadra, "and will you not tell me?" Sri Krishna smiled and started the narration. He described the first strategy, then the second and third. By then Subhadra felt very sleepy indeed, but the story was so interesting that she tried her best to keep awake. And thus she went through the narration of the fourth, fifth and sixth strategies. Now only the last remained, but as he was about to explain it to Sri Krishna found that Subhadra had fallen into a deep sleep. And so he stopped and prepared to leave her chamber. Suddenly, however, he heard a voice: "Why, uncle, have you stopped? Please tell me of the seventh strategy, won't you? Sri Krishna was startled. What was this voice? Subhadra was fast asleep. Was there somebody else listening to the secrets that he was revealing? In an instant he understood, Subhadra was not alone; a child was in formation in her womb. And in another instant he knew the destiny of this child, and so refrained from revealing anything more. Subhadra's child was none other than Abhimanyu, who was destined to play a decisive role in the battle of the Mahabharata. When this battle began, he was barely sixteen years old and had just married the beautiful princess Uttara. In the early hours of a certain morning Uttara had a dreadful dream in which she saw her husband being killed in battle. She was terribly frightened and resolved not to permit Abhimanyu to go to the battlefield. But that was not to be. The Kauravas had formed their armies into seven strategic positions, and the Pandavas were at a loss to how to make any headway against them for it seemed certain that they would triumph.
Then the Pandavas summoned all their allies in order to launch full-scale war against their enemy. Abhimanyu too was called, and he rushed to the battlefield with all the enthusiasm of the Kshatriya Youth, ignoring the protests and wailings of Uttara. Among all the Pandavas and their allies, Abhimanyu was the only one who knew of the strategies of the Kauravas; he had learnt of them before his birth, from Sri Krishna himself. With this knowledge he went from position to position and from strategy to strategy without any difficulty. The Kauravas were amazed and shocked. This young lad of sixteen was proving the equal of all their assembled armies. Through Abhimanyu the final victory was imminent. But the last strategy remained unknown. His uncle had not obliged him when he had asked for this knowledge also. Thus he was trapped in the Kauravas' seventh formation and killed. What is important for us, for our present purpose, is what this story suggests about pre-natal education. The ancients clearly knew that child in embryo could be quite conscious, that it could learn, and that the education received during this period could be of the utmost importance. This knowledge has been lost to us, but will it remain lost forever? It is impossible to come to an understanding of it by any external methods of study or scrutiny of ancient records. The ancients themselves, it seems, had some inner or occult method by which they unravelled the mystery of passing on knowledge to unborn. We too need to develop these methods, to unravel this mystery; then we can look forward to massive insights in education and new grounds of perpetual education, not merely life-long but from pre-birth through life and on into life after life.