The world famous ruins of ‘Nalanda University’ are located near Patna– the capital city of an Indian state named Bihar! The place was a large Buddhist monastery that flourished in the reign of ‘Magadha’ kingdom. ‘Nalanda’ which is also known as the ‘ancient seat of learning’ is considered by many historians as the first residential university of the world wherein 2,000 teachers & more than 10,000 students used to inhabit at a time when the university was going through its golden period!
The ‘University of Nalanda’ was founded in the 5th century AD & was famous as the abode of Buddhist learning. The university attracted myriad scholars & students who came here from all over the world in search of the knowledge. Students from Tibet, China, Greece, Iran & various other terrains had studied here with peace until the place was raided & destroyed in 1197 AD by the notorious legions of Bakhtiyar Khilji of Muslim ‘Mamluk Dynasty’, who vowed to uproot the Buddhism from the world.
‘Nalanda’ is among the rarest of the places which was exceedingly fortunate as two notable persons from two different religions had spent valuable years of their lives at this place in preaching as well as learning various philosophical values & knowledge. The first person was the founder of Buddhism- ‘Gautama Buddha’ & the other person was the last ‘Jain Thirthankara’- ‘Vardhaman Mahavir’! The presence of such scholars made this place the leading powerhouse in imparting the knowledge to the rest of the world & to study or have studied in ‘Nalanda’ became immensely prestigious among the scholars of that era!
HISTORY IN BRIEF:-
In early days, ‘Nalanda’ was a small village situated along the major trade route going through the city of ‘Rajagriha’ (today, it is known as Rajgir), the then capital of Magadha dynasty. Buddha was supposedly used to preach in nearby forest named ‘Pravarik’. As per the historians, the university was established during ‘Gupta Dynasty’ & was provided the patronage by the successive emperors like ‘Harshavardhana’ & later on by the emperors from ‘Pala Dynasty’.
The ‘Pala Dynasty’ played a major role in establishing myriad monasteries in ‘Nalanda’. Apart from that, they also established four great ‘Mahaviharas’, namely- ‘Vikramshila’, ‘Jaggadala’, ‘Somapura’ & ‘Odantapura’, which along with ‘Nalanda’, formed an interlinked network of educational institutions. The university was supported by various greatest empires of that era such as ‘King Ashoka’ & ‘Harshavardhana’ who built many monasteries & temples on the premises. At its prime position, ‘Nalanda’ was the greatest learning center of Buddhism.
The Muslim invasion in 1197 AD, lead by ‘Bakhtiyar Khilji’ saw the decline & the gradual end of the greatest university of ancient period. As per the Persian historian ‘Minhaj-i-Siraj’, thousands of monks were either burned alive or beheaded & the opulent library was torched up to destroy all the manuscripts, which kept burning for at least three months. However, the buildings in the ‘Nalanda’ didn’t suffer much, although most of the surviving monks decided to escape to Tibet where they tried to resurrect their heritage.
Lots of the things regarding the buildings in ‘Nalanda’ & the quality of the education imparted have been written by the great Chinese scholars & travelers like ‘Hieun-Tsang’, ‘Yijing’ & ‘Xuanzang’, who spent here many years of their lives!
THE ARCHITECTURE: –
‘Nalanda’ was a residential school which is often referred as a ‘Mahavihara’. The complex of ‘Nalanda’ was spread over a huge area, although only 14 hectares of the area have been excavated till date, which, as per ‘Xuanzang’, constitutes mere 10% of the total area occupied by this greatest university of a bygone age!
The school at ‘Nalanda’ consisted of a colossal building strengthened by hefty walls & sturdy gate. The complex was made up of eight separate complexes, ten temples, myriad meditation halls & lecture rooms. Lakes & parks were also there to adorn the complex & also to make the atmosphere pleasant.
The rich library was the most significant feature of this university which made it an exceptional & the most prominent educational hub of the ancient time. The library at ‘Nalanda’ was a huge complex, which was called as the ‘Dharmaganga’. Three colossal buildings, namely, ‘Ratnasagara’, ‘Ratnadadhi’ & ‘Ratnaranjaka’ used to house the innumerable scripts & books which were arranged precisely using the incredible classification scheme designed by the greatest Sanskrit linguist called ‘Panini’.
The buildings of libraries were truly imposing & were gilded to reflect the sunshine. The books were stacked up nicely on iron shelves & were covered with cloth. It’s not possible to estimate the exact number of books & scripts, but supposedly, the number was in the range of hundreds of thousands. The books were based on all possible knowledge areas known at that time, including religions, grammar, logic, literature, astronomy, astrology, mathematics as well as medicines.
During the excavations, myriad ancient Buddhist structures were found which include stupas, chityagruhas, temples, monasteries along with the dormitories for the resident students & teachers. The ‘Gupta’ kings built here many monasteries using ‘Kushan’ style of architecture consisting of a row of cells around a courtyard.
RESURRECTION OF THE UNIVERSITY:
The supremeuniversity of the ancient epoch was resurrected recently on September 1, 2014, when the first academic year was commenced in the modern version of the ‘Nalanda University’. The new complex of the university, however, is located in the nearby city of Rajgir, which is as old as that of ‘Nalanda’. The government of India has taken the strong initiatives in the resurrection of this veteran university after being sidelined for more than 800 years. The university has offered huge 455 acres of land & has been allotted around $ 454 million (INR 2727 crores) by the government towards garnering the old heritage & prestige that, once upon a time, Nalanda used to boast! The governments of China, Australia, Singapore, Thailand & other nations have also laid their helping hands for the resurgence of this iconic maiden university in the history of mankind!