Nalanda University – An ancient center of Learning

Nalanda University was an ancient higher-learning institution in Bihar, India. The site is located about 88 kilometres southeast of Patna, and was a religious centre of learning from the fifth century AD to 1197 AD. Nalanda flourished between the reign of the Śakraditya (whose identity is uncertain and who might have been either Kumara gupta I  or Kumara gupta II) and 1197 AD, supported by patronage from the Hindu Gupta Empire as well as Buddhist emperors like Harsha and later emperors from the Pala Empire.

Founded in the 5th Century A.D., Nalanda is known as the ancient seat of learning. 2,000 Teachers and 10,000 Students from all over the Buddhist world lived and studied at Nalanda, the first Residential International University of the World.

The university was considered an architectural masterpiece, and was marked by a lofty wall and one gate. Nalanda had eight separate compounds and ten temples, along with many other meditation halls and classrooms. On the grounds were lakes and parks.

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The university attracted scholars and students from as far away as Tibet, China, Greece, and Greater Iran. Nalanda was ransacked and destroyed by an army of the Mamluk Dynasty under Ikhtiyar ad-Din Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khilji in 1193. The great library of Nalanda was so vast that it is reported to have burned for three months after the invaders set fire to it, ransacked and destroyed the monasteries and drove the monks from the site.

University of Nalanda was established during the reign of a king called Sakraditya, of the Gupta Dynasty.  Both Xuanzang  and Prajnavarman cite him as the founder, as does a seal discovered at the site.

History of Nalanda University

The history of Nalanda university “falls into two main divisions—first, one of growth, development and fruition from the sixth century to the ninth, when it was dominated by the liberal cultural traditions inherited from the Gupta age; the second, one of gradual decline and final dissolution from the ninth century to the thirteen—a period when the tantric developments of Buddhism became most pronounced in eastern India.”

Nalanda was visited by both Mahavira and Buddha in sixth and fifth centuries B.C. It is also the place of birth and nirvana of Sariputra, one of the famous disciples of Buddha. Many of the famous Buddhist scholars had studied or taught at Nalanda including Nagarjuna  formalised  the concept of Sunyata, Dinnaga founder of Buddhist Logic, Dharmapala, the teacher of Xuanzang, Candrakīrti, Śīlabhadra, Dharmakirti logician Jinamitra, Santaraksita  founded the first monastic order in Tibet, Padmasambhava master of Tantric Buddhism, Atisa.

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Courses at Nalanda University

The subjects taught at Nalanda University covered every field of learning. The courses offered at Nalanda included the study of scriptures of Mahayana and Hinayana Schools of Buddhism, Brahminical vedic texts, Philosophy, logic theology, grammar, astronomy, mathematics and medicine. Its importance as a monastic university continued until the end of the 12th century. It attracted pupils and scholars from Korea, Japan, China, Tibet, Indonesia, Persia and Turkey. Nalanda eventually developed into the greatest ancient centre of Buddhist learning.

During the Pala period, the Nalanda was less singularly outstanding, as other Pala establishments “must have drawn away a number of learned monks from Nalanda when all of them came under the aegis of the Palas.”

The library was destroyed in 1197–1203 during the Muslim invasion in which Bakhtiyar Khalji sacked it and set it to flames. According to Tibetan legend, the university and library were reportedly repaired shortly after by Muditabhadra, a Buddhist sage. Unfortunately, the library was again burned by Tirthaka mendicants.

India’s first Multimedia Museum was opened on 26 January 2008, which recreates the history of Nalanda using a 3D animation film narrated by Shekhar Suman.

Based on inspiration from ancient Nalanda University, Naropa University was established in 1974 at Boulder, Colorado in the United States of America.

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