NALANDA, BIHAR: Nalanda, ancient university and Buddhist monastic centre southwest of Bihar Sharif in central Bihar state, northeastern India. Nalanda’s traditional history dates to the time of the Buddha (6th–5th centuries BCE) and Mahavira, the founder of the Jaina religion. According to a later Tibetan source, Nagarjuna (the 2nd–3rd-century CE Buddhist philosopher) began his studies there. Extensive excavations carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India indicate, however, that the foundation of the monasteries belongs to the Gupta period (5th century CE). The powerful 7th-century ruler of Kanauj (Kannauj), Harshavardhana, is reported to have contributed to them. During his reign, the Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang stayed at Nalanda for some time and left a clear account of the subjects studied there and of the general features of the community. Yijing, another Chinese pilgrim a generation later, also provided a minute account of the life of the monks. Nalanda continued to flourish as a centre of learning under the Pala dynasty (8th–12th centuries), and it became a centre of religious sculpture in stone and bronze. Nalanda was sacked during Muslim raids in Bihar (c. 1200) and never recovered.
According to pilgrims’ accounts, from Gupta times the monasteries of Nalanda were surrounded by a high wall. The excavations revealed a row of 10 monasteries of the traditional Indian design—oblong brick structures with cells opening onto four sides of a courtyard, with a main entrance on one side and a shrine facing the entrance across the courtyard. In front of the monasteries stood a row of larger shrines, or stupas, in brick and plaster. The entire complex is referred to on seals discovered there as Mahavihara (“Great Monastery”). A museum at Nalanda houses many of the treasures found in the excavations.
- Fact 1 – Nalanda University was founded during Gupta dynasty
According to historical studies, University of Nalanda was established during the era of the Kumaragupta. He was a famous Gupta emperor. Prajnavarman and Xuanzang, both claimed him as the laying founder of the university, which is also proved by the seal discovered at the site of ruins of the Nalanda University.
- Fact 2 – The university was attacked thrice by the invaders- Huns, Gaudas and Bhaktiyar Khilji
During the reign of Skandagupta, Huns were the first one who tried to destruct the university under Mihirakula. But the library was restored and improved with bigger building and better faculties by Skanda’s successors. The second invasion was done by the Gaudas which was again restored by Harshavardhana; the Buddhist king. Khilji was an illiterate person who was hired by some Turkish rulers due to his military skills. But the army led by Turkish leader Bakhtiyar khilji did the most destructive attack in 1193 who tried to destroy the roots of knowledge, Buddhism and Ayurveda, from the country.
- Fact 3 – The library kept burning for more than 5 months
At that point of time, the Library was a very prestigious and renowned repository of the Buddhist knowledge throughout the world. The library of the Nalanda University was called Dharma Gunj which meant the “Mountain of Truth”. The library constituted of three main buildings, which stood up to nine stories. It was composed of hundreds and thousands of volumes of books. This is quite evident from the fact that it took about 3-6 months for it to burn down completely, at the time when it was set aflame by the Muslim invaders. The three library buildings were called upon by their respective names that included Ratnasagara-The Sea of Jewels, Ratnarañjaka-Delighter of Jewels and Ratnodadhi-The Ocean of Jewels.
- Fact 4 – Ruins still have a lot to say
Till today, a number of ruined structures survive at the ruins of the university. The excavated ruins are known to extend over an area of about 150,000 square foot meters. According to the report, it is believed that 90% of the remains at Nalanda University is still unexcavated.
- Fact 5 – At that time it was the only international university in the world
In 6th century B.C. during the reign of Narasimha Deva, the university was built to serve the quench of knowledge of the world. It remained the best for over 800 years with around 10,000 students and nearly 2700 faculties who came from all over the world like Korea, Japan, China, Tibet, Indonesia, Greater Iran, Persia, Greece, Mongolia and many more.
- Fact 6 – The glory of the library was matchless
With the smoke, all the knowledge that mankind has collected and stored went into the flame. It is not tough to understand the vastness of the library of Nalanda University from the information that it took so many months by the invaders to burn it down completely and the smoke of the burning invaluable books and nearly 9 million manuscripts stayed there for many days.
- Fact 7 – Renowned alumni cum scholars of the university
Some of the very famous scholars who studied at Nalanda University include Dharmapala, Vasubandhu, Suvishnu, Dharmakirti, Asanga, Harshavardhana, Shantarakhsita, Aryadeva, Nagarjuna, Padmasambhava and Xuanzang. Xuanzang had even worked as a professor for one year in Nalanda University.
Buddhism is a major religion in India which had seen a setback for around hundreds of years due to the loss of the religious texts.